Love

What is Your M.O.?

Frustration filled the voice of the caller. She had just had a meeting with someone and they were inflexible, unkind, and unhelpful. The real rub was that the person she had just talked to was supposedly a Christian–the kind that actually holds to what the Bible teaches.

This can often be the M.O. ( *modus operandi) of Bible-believing Christians. I am not sure how or why this is but, too often, the terms “unloving” and “harsh” apply all too well to those who call themselves believers.

On the other hand, love and kindness are often what we encounter when we meet up with Christians that care very little about doctrine. Despite their disinterest in most of the Bible, for some reason they have grabbed hold of the passages about love in the scriptures and they take them seriously.

Why is this? Why is it so hard to be passionate about truth and love?

There are probably a few reasons that make sense. A commitment to truth can yield arrogance in a prideful heart. Because of that commitment to truth, they consider themselves better than those who are not committed to truth. Another reason may be that they believe to be separated from the world means not talking to, not conversing with, having nothing to do with the world and so they respond coldly to anyone seeming to be from the world. And, of course, for most it may simply be cultural. They know no different and they have never even thought of being different. They are like their parents and their grandparents and their aunts and uncles. This is the way of the church they grew up in. The legalistic, judgemental church where you must wear the right thing, say the right thing, and do the right thing in order to be a “good Christian”.

In an age where the majority of those who call themselves Christians are ignoring all biblical commands in favor of living a worldly life, there are still a handful of us clinging to biblical truth.

But how is God going to use us if, as we cling to truth, we forget about love?

Loving others should be part of who we are. In fact, in I John 4, we read this–

 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.

Loving others is not simply a command. It is a test for whether or not we are a true believer!

Love is not an option but it is, rather, a natural outpouring of God’s work in our lives. If it is missing, we have serious cause for concern.

Now, of course, let me say here, there is a worldly definition for love that does not apply when we are having this discussion, right? The kind that agrees with sin, that applauds the sinner in their sin, that affirms and approves, no matter what the choice. That isn’t love. That is foolishness.

But when it comes to real love and kindness–what would people say about you?

Personally, I have come to realize that when I get in a discussion regarding something I feel passionate about, I can become rather intense as I discuss. I don’t mean to be harsh or unkind but I have finally recognized that this is how some people perceive me. I have gone back to apologize more than once and try to stay very conscious of this tendency, but I am still learning how to balance my passion for truth with heartfelt love.

It is important to consider what is our M.O. as we walk through our lives. When our family and friends think of us, do the words love and kindness come to mind?

I have written many posts about loving the truth because it is so important and because it is so terribly lacking in today’s church. But we also need to recognize the importance of love.

Let’s consider three reasons that we should–and even must–love others–

First, it is commanded and proves that we are a true believer. This could not be clearer, as demonstrated by the verses above.

Second, no one wants to listen to us talk about anything–much less God and truth–without love. If someone speaks to you in a harsh, unkind, or sarcastic way, do you even care what they are saying? They have already discredited themselves and their words considerably.

And, third, life is so much sweeter when we love. Have you thought about that? If we are all caught up in manmade rules and policing others, we lose so much joy. When we can understand that God takes each person on their own journey of spiritual growth and that we are not responsible for them, it yields so much more peace and joy in our lives. Whether it is our child, our spouse, or a friend, we must release them to God and just keep loving them and challenging them with biblical truth as we are given the opportunity. But there is no need to pound truth over their heads or to spend our lives frustrated and irritable. And there is certainly no cause for thinking that we are somehow better than they are. There, but for the grace of God, go I!

 

Oh, how important and necessary is this balance of truth and love. One without the other is like the day without the night. Both must be present in order to function best as a believer. The fact that both are present is not only an assurance of our salvation but is a demonstration to the world that we belong to Christ.

So go out and show some kindness! Love the people God has placed in your life today!

 

* modus operandia particular way or method of doing something, especially one that is characteristic or well-established.

 

How Do I Respond to My Enemies?

So often Christians find themselves at odd with other Christians. There will be two true believers who just do not agree. Whether it’s a disagreement over something as simple as a remodeling project at church or it’s a deeper issue of how a certain scripture passage should be interpreted, we will always find someone that we will disagree with about something.

What keeps two people who disagree with each other from being enemies? What brings true Christian unity?

Please keep in mind that this post is referring to unity between true believers and not to the “fake” unity that warmly embraces all perversions of the Gospel and even religions that don’t adhere to the Gospel at all to be unified under the broad term of “Christianity”. We know that this kind of unity is not biblical, according to Galatians 1:9–

As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

But there is something that is called true, Christian unity. This unity can only exist between brothers and sisters in Christ. This kind of unity keeps us moving toward the same goals and embracing the same purpose. This unity builds bridges instead of walls. It will fill Christians with loving concern for one another instead of filling them with grudges, resentment, and jealousy.

This sounds so wonderful, doesn’t it? But it is often hard to find. Why is this?

Why does someone decide they do not like someone?

Sometimes we don’t care for someone based on a shallow, silly thing. And then there are also better reasons, based on things like biblical error or a prideful, arrogant spirit that is consistently divisive.

But we have to ask ourselves: Are any of these reasons good enough? If you were to stand before God today and tell Him your reason for not liking a certain person, would He say, “Way to go, my child. I agree with you completely.” ??

Of course we know the answer, don’t we? Because we know that God is love. We shouldn’t view anyone as an enemy, much less a brother or sister in Christ.

Romans 12:8 puts it like this–

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

We should, to the best of our ability, work at being at peace with everyone, believer and non-believer. This verse naturally brings two thoughts to my mind.

First, what if someone won’t be at unity with me?

Of course, since we know that the world will hate us (John 15:19), we know that it isn’t always possible to be at peace with those in the world. But sometimes it is a fellow Christian who refuses to forgive us. Or perhaps they just don’t like us but won’t tell us why. What then? These kinds of situations are heart-breaking and lead to feelings of helplessness as we try to navigate the back-biting, the whispering, and the cold shoulders.

I have a friend who taught me an important lesson about this very thing. Our daughters were playing soccer together and something happened to her little girl that could have started some real drama on the team. And this was her advice to her daughter, “kill them with kindness”. I heard her say that so often when her daughter would feel slighted or frustrated about something. And then, following her example, I started to say this to my kids. Yes, this is what we are called to do.

In fact, Jesus takes it even further in Matthew 5:43-44, telling us to love them, bless them, do good to them, and to pray for them!–

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 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.

This is a tall order, is it not? But there it is. Commanded by Jesus in the Holy Bible. Instead of gossiping, instead of returning the coldness, instead of resentment or anger, we love, we bless, we do good things, and we pray for them.

But we do this because it is right, not because it will necessarily change anything. Let’s go back to the beginning of Romans 12:18–

“if it is possible, as much as it depends on you”

We know from these words that Paul realized it isn’t always possible. It is part of living life as a sinner, alongside sinners, in a fallen world. Sometimes we just have to follow Jesus’s words and find contentment even when there is no resolution and no forgiveness. A hard thing, indeed. But, you know what? This is just another thing that God uses to grow us and to teach us that we must find our peace and joy in Him alone.

Second, we won’t be best friends with everyone.

Even among truly unified Christian brothers and sisters, there will be those who are “kindred spirits” and those who are not. And that’s okay. But so often special friendships between Christians are viewed with resentment or jealousy. As believers we should realize that we will be better friends with some than others. It is how God designed us. Remember David and Jonathan? If you read I Samuel 18, you will realize that their friendship was very special. Once in a while, God will bring these special Christian friends into our world. They are true treasures and, instead of feeling jealous, we should be glad for others if they have found a special friend.

If we are still longing for this type of friendship, then pray and ask God to bring you a friend. I remember as a young mom feeling the need for this type of friend and so, unbeknownst to me, my mom started praying. And within a year or so of her prayers, God led me to Deb. We realized we were kindred spirits as we sat in a group of women and chatted and, shortly after, became best friends. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer if you need a friend!

And then there are those fellow Christians in our lives who could never be a kindred spirit. In fact, some of them drive us a little crazy. We may feel guilty if we don’t appreciate a Christian brother or sister like we know we should. What then?

God made us all different and certain personalities may grate on us. We may find them hard to get along with or their mannerisms alone might irritate us. They may be boastful or arrogant.

But if we take a look at Philippians 2:1-2, we have to acknowledge that God doesn’t give us any caveat for difficult people–

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

We are to be like-minded with all Christians–as much as it depends on us. We obviously can’t control the other person.

So how do we do this? How can we be like-minded? These verses show us–we have the same love, the same accord, the same mind as our fellow Christians. This can only be done if we are diligently studying the scriptures together, submitting our desires and wills to God, joyfully obeying the commands we find there, while increasing our knowledge of God. When people are not getting along, it often goes back to this. Biblical illiteracy once again rears its ugly head in church matters.

And, along with knowing God’s Word, we find the oil that keeps things working together smoothly in Colossians 3:14–

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

I Corinthians 13:4-6 gives us a description of this love that will break down barriers and bind Christians together in perfect unity–

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

And I Peter 4:8 is further confirmation of this idea that love will bring unity–

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

Even when we don’t particularly appreciate a fellow Christian, we can love them. We are commanded to love them. And we should thank the Lord for them, for they are helping us to grow in patience and self-control!

Enemies are just part of life. If we are going to take any stand at all on the things that matter, we will have enemies. We cannot control how they treat us, but we can control how we treat them. And let’s intentionally work at not having needless enemies. We must back away from the stuff that doesn’t matter. Will it matter in a hundred years what color carpet is used in the church? Is a slight difference in how someone interprets the book of Revelation really a cause for division? Let’s wisely and, oh so carefully, choose our battles. Most hills we choose to stand on are just not worth dying on. We don’t always have to be right. We don’t always have to have our way. So often it just doesn’t matter.

And most of all, when we find ourselves in the midst of a heated disagreement with a fellow Christian or facing a full-blown enemy, then let’s love them. Love them, bless them, do good to them, and pray for them. If you don’t remember anything else from this post, I hope you will remember these words of Jesus.

 

What Does Your Love for Self Cause You to Do (or Not Do)?

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The last week or so, I have been really reflecting on how much we all do because we are concerned about our own selfish good. This has come about through a couple of conversations, through a sermon of by Pastor Dean (found here), and through our Sunday School study of Philippians. As I mulled these things over during the past few days, I recognized the two things they all pointed to: A Savior that never did anything–not even one tiny thing–out of selfishness. And, second, the weakness of believers–those that the Savior has saved–that can hardly do anything without at least a tinge of selfishness.

Selfishness gets almost all of us in one way or another, doesn’t it? Sometimes we are obvious in how we go about it–we demand our way, our rights, our desires. We are very noticeably selfish. But, for others of us, we are viewed as the nicest, most unselfish people in the world, even while we are being selfish. We agree with everyone, we don’t confront, we don’t have the hard conversations–all because we hate conflict and we don’t want to rock the boat. We will selfishly do anything to avoid even a hint of controversy.

For others of us self takes on a whole life of its own, as we grasp for praise and glory, growing comfortable in a life of boasting so that we can make sure others see how great we are. Pride grows out of self-absorption and we start to believe we know everything and, along with this, comes the insatiable desire to win every argument and always be “right”.  Even when it doesn’t matter at all.

And then for others, we like our comfort and our relationships and our churches and we just aren’t willing to sacrifice them to stand up for what’s right. Again, love of self rears its ugly head. When it comes right down to it, we’d rather have a friend go to hell and still have them as a friend, than to risk that friendship to share the Gospel.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I am not saying that we should always speak up. There is great wisdom in knowing when not to speak. I tend to be one of those that speaks up too much and I have spent a lifetime working on timing and, most often, not speaking at all and praying instead.

But sometimes we do need to speak up–especially when it concerns the Gospel and other biblical matters. Knowing how to do that gently and with love is important. I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my greatest concerns in the area of discernment is how unloving these “discerners” can be–treating it as if they are on a treasure hunt and it is some great competition. Some even seem to gloat with glee when they discover something. Pride is often rearing its ugly head in these scenarios. (Okay, that was a bit of a rabbit trail, but I just had to say it!)

Our struggles with selfishness show themselves in our homes as parents and spouses (As we fervently avoid battles, insist on being right, are lazy in nurturing and disciplining our kids, and as we lack a servant’s heart–home always tells the true tale); in our churches (as we insist on certain ways to do insignificant things and as we are unwilling to call out sin); and in our work places (as we demand our desires or stay quiet at the water cooler.) This is the nitty gritty of Christian living for all of us. If you will allow me to use a cliche: This is where the rubber meets the road.

The key is this: We always have to ask ourselves–why are we speaking up? Why are we not speaking up? Why are we doing a certain action? Or not doing a certain action? Why are we thinking what we are thinking? And then we must run it all through the grid of the Word, making sure that our own desires aren’t getting in the way of speaking, doing, and thinking what’s right.

Truthfully, I don’t know most of you at all. I don’t know how SELF worms its way into your thinking. I don’t know if you are one who demands your own way or if you are someone who sits back and says nothing to avoid conflict. I don’t know if you are someone who is always pushing your own agenda and opinions on others or if you are someone who timidly won’t say anything so as to not rock any boats.

But what I do know is that all of us–in one way or another–fight a battle with our greatest enemy of SELF. Today would be a good day for all of us to take a good look in our hearts and see how we are doing in that battle. Are we winning? Or losing?

Philippians 2:5-8 encourages us to have the mind of Christ. If we read verses 3 and 4 right before this section, we can understand that an important part of having the mind of Christ is diminishing our view of self.

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.Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Do we really understand exactly what Christ did by coming to earth?? This is probably worthy of its own post, but, I will just say this: As we begin to grasp and gain a deeper understanding of exactly what Christ did so that we could be saved from eternal damnation, our battle with self takes on a new importance and we gain a deeper desire to win that battle! Our enemy of self must be beaten if we are to be like Christ and if we are going to live effectively for Christ. There is no other way. Selfish people are useless in–and even detrimental to– God’s Kingdom.

As my pastor said the other Sunday in this challenging sermon: There is only one throne in our hearts. Who is on yours?

I leave you with these wise words of John Newton, the former slave trader, who was amazingly saved by grace (and who actually went on to write our beloved hymn Amazing Grace)–

Beware of SELF! This is the worst enemy we have to deal with!
 
Self-will,
self-wisdom,
self-righteousness,
self-seeking,
self-dependence,
and self-boasting.
 
It is a large family–and I cannot count up all the branches! They are all nearly related to Satan–and they are all a sworn enemy to our peace.
 
If we lie low–then the Lord will raise us up.
But if we will be something–then His arm will surely pull us down.

That monster SELF has as many heads as a Hydra, and as many lives as a cat! It is more than twenty-five years since I hoped it was fast nailed to the Cross! But alas, it is alive–and still mixing with and spoiling everything I do!

 

And to that I say a rousing AMEN!!!

 

 

(Note: The Hydra was a serpentine mythological water monster with many heads.
For every head chopped off–the Hydra would re-grow a couple of new heads.)

 

Four Ways to Love Our Men

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I awoke yesterday to hear that Matt Lauer had been fired. Now, I knew he was extremely left-leaning and a typical reporter, but, as newscasters go, I did think he seemed like a nice guy.

As I tried to wrap my brain around the latest casualty of the sexual harassment and abuse accusations, I felt sad. There have been several over the past few months and, while not surprising, they are just…sad. I know as much about these guys and their accusers as I do about the peanut head bug (yes, a real insect) that lives in the Amazon Rainforest (i.e. nothing), so I have no idea what the truth really is and I will refrain from sharing any opinions on such tragic situations. But perhaps these accusations can raise a conversation that we Christian women should probably have.

Let’s think for a moment about men.

Men love sex.

Sure, there are exceptions, but as a rule, most men were created by God to love sex. As young men, they can hardly go a few minutes without thinking about it. This obsession might diminish slightly as they grow older but their love for it remains. Men love sex.

And Hollywood and marketers use this love for sex to achieve ratings and sales. Anywhere you turn, sex is being sold. It doesn’t matter if it’s a war movie or a commercial for deodorant, sex is often what’s for sale. It is appalling.

On our TV screens, fornication and naked bodies abound. Crude and dirty jokes are the norm. And many–even Christians– just watch, with nary a thought to turn it off. Radios croon out lyrics encouraging premarital sex, cheating, and all other varieties of sexual sins and it is justified by the excuse that it’s only the tune they like–they are not listening to the words. (Impossible, by the way, since your subconscious mind hears everything.)

The internet is loaded with pornography that is hard to escape. Even a simple search on a site we consider safe will sometimes bring naked images to our screen.

And this push to sell sex has reached us in personal ways we never imagined. Co-workers show cleavage, church ladies wear short skirts. Even at homecoming dances, our teenagers wear the latest styles that leave little to the imagination–torturous for the young men accompanying them.

Men cannot escape the constant battle and efforts of this culture to remove the purity of their minds. There is nowhere they can turn. Even in church this battle is fought, as even the sanctuary is no longer a sacred place where a man can get away from women who are dressed immodestly.

I think we can see that Satan has hijacked sex. Literally. He has mangled and destroyed it, warped it and corrupted it until it has become something Christians don’t even want to talk about. But sex is a beautiful gift from God the Father. He designed it specifically for a married couple. And when used in this way God is not only pleased but He is also glorified.

And so we can see that there are two utterly opposing views–the world’s view of sex and God’s view of sex. And Christian men are often caught in the cross-hairs of these two viewpoints–knowing the view they should have, but constantly being pulled to the world’s side of things wherever they go.

So while a man is absolutely and completely responsible for his own sexual purity, I do want to raise the conversation that there are four things we women can do to help our Christian brothers as they fight this tough battle of purity in their own lives–

1. As girls and women, we can dress modestly. As parents, we can require our daughters to do the same, explaining that this is a way we can show Christian love to the boys and men around us. We can make sure that we and our daughters are clothed in such a way that it doesn’t lead a man to think sexual thoughts.

2. As moms, we must keep our young and teen-aged boys away from sexually impure entertainment and work hard to protect them from online pornography. We can and should help our husbands in this area as much as we are able to, as well. This may well be one of the most challenging and important jobs we will ever take on.

3. As women who love the men in our lives, we can pray for them. Pray hard, that God would protect them as they walk through a world that is obsessed with sex at almost every turn.

4. And as wives, we must be sure to love our husbands in all ways, including in the bedroom. God designed sex to be beautiful and wonderful in its biblical context. If our husbands don’t feel loved in this way we leave them open to temptation.

 

Life is often ugly and messy. This is one of those things we don’t even like to talk about. But sometimes things just need to be said. Again–let me be clear–men are 100% responsible for their thoughts and actions. They will be accountable to God for what they think and what they do. But I hope, as Christian women, we can come alongside our Christian brothers in love and support as they fight to stay pure in a culture fixated on sex.

 

 

Five ways to know that you are too in love with yourself

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Somewhere in the second half of the last century, psychologists started declaring that many of the ills and woes we experience are simply because we just do not love ourselves enough. Somewhere in the late 70’s or early 80’s the church jumped on this same bandwagon and started promoting self-esteem as a biblical concept (it isn’t).

While, of course, we read in scripture that we are created and loved by God, scripture also makes it clear that self-esteem is not our issue. Several places we find that self-love is an attribute we all have and the command is to love people as we already love ourselves (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Philippians 2:3-4).

Part of our sin nature is to be in love with ourselves so much that we end up hurting others around us. As the culture and the church has encouraged us to love ourselves more we haven’t seen it solve problems but instead create them. We have seen a rise in family breakdowns, church splits, shootings, racial tension–to name just a few. I think it is safe to say that self-esteem is not the answer to the world’s or the church’s problems.

But the damage has been done and even we Christians have soaked up a bit of this by just living in this culture. As I thought about my own life over the weekend, I can see how my love for myself can be so damaging to my relationships. And I thought of these five ways that demonstrate that we are really just far too in love with ourselves. Think about these things in light of how you relate to your family and your friends. At church, at work, even as a spectator at your child’s sports activities. Think about these in relation to yourself instead of someone else who might come to mind. It is my hope that my own personal examination will encourage you to do your own personal examination–

1.  We are easily offended. Our offense is based on the fact that we have been hurt personally. Whether the offense is actual or just perceived doesn’t matter. This will often lead to holding a grudge and being bitter. This is a sure sign that love for self is dominating our actions.

2. We are difficult and grumpy when things don’t go our way. We all get a little frustrated when our plans go awry. This is certainly natural. But when we love ourselves too much we take our internal frustration and let it affect us externally, making life miserable for all around us if things aren’t going the way we think they should.

3. We grow defensive if anyone dares to confront us. Instead of humbly listening and carefully evaluating, we immediately lash out and close our ears. This is a sure sign that we care more about our own personal feelings than we do about growing in Christ.

4. We only want to talk about things that interest us. Have you been in one of those conversations where someone is animatedly talking about themselves but as soon as you mention something about your own life, their eyes glaze over and they walk away? That is the extreme form of this but many are the one-sided conversations that exist in this self-centered age. If we only talk and never listen, it is a good sign that we are too in love with ourselves.

5. And, last but certainly not least, we arrange all of life for our own comfort and convenience. We won’t serve because it’s inconvenient. We won’t stand up for truth because we don’t want the pain of being mocked. We don’t attend church because we are tired. We will sacrifice God’s scriptural principles on the altar of our own selfish desires.

Now, look, these five things should prove to us that we are too in love with ourselves. We all are. It is probably the biggest battle we Christians face as we struggle to grow in our faith and in obedience. Sure, a few of you may have won this battle, but I know I certainly haven’t and I am guessing most of you haven’t, either.

But we must fight this battle because so much is at stake. If we lose this battle, we lose so much. We lose the respect of those watching us (and people are watching–family members, co-workers, church and school families). We lose close and warm relationships, because people are afraid to tell us the truth. Our relationship with God suffers because we are not living in obedience to the scriptures. And we lose our power of living as an example for others to follow, as we are the people that no one wants to be like.

I feel like this is a battle I have struggled with all my life and I still remain in the trenches fighting against myself. In Luke 9:23 Jesus makes it clear that this is what the Christian life is all about–

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.

We can see from this that–no matter what pop psychology and philosophies are saying–that the only way to serve Jesus well and faithfully is to deny ourselves. This is in direct opposition to what we hear in most churches and is unpopular in the extreme. But it is what we read in scripture–not only in Luke but in others places as well, such as Luke 14:25-27, Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 2:20, and Ephesians 5:1-2.

The Christian life has us swimming upstream in a world that is going downstream in a raging river. It is no easy task and we have the opportunity to clearly show that we have chosen to swim the opposite direction of the world (and most of the church) in how we respond and react to the circumstances around us as we face the daily trials of sickness, financial woes, relationship difficulties, and disappointment. This is an often neglected and ignored light that all of us can shine in this dark world obsessed with “self”.

 

Some Lessons for All of Us

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

So, first, how I have really been doing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

The Real Description of Love

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What is love? The word “love” is tossed about freely, without much regard to its true meaning. But as I was reading I Corinthians 13 this morning, making a careful list of all that describes love in this passage, it gave me pause. Somehow evaluating each of these words individually was way more convicting than simply reading through the familiar verses.

I wasn’t actually planning on posting today, but as I wrote and pondered, I realized that perhaps some of you, too, would be challenged and convicted by these verses in a way you haven’t been before.

Love is a big word, isn’t it? And it has multiple definitions. But Paul gives us such a beautiful description of love in this chapter. Here is a breakdown of what love looks like in a Christian’s life. Read and be challenged–

  1. Love is patient.
  2. Love is kind.
  3. Love does not envy.
  4. Love does not boast.
  5. Love is not arrogant.
  6. Love is not rude.
  7. Love does not insist on its own way.
  8. Love is not irritable.
  9. Love is not resentful.
  10. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing.
  11. Love rejoices in the truth.
  12. Love bears all things.
  13. Love believes all things.
  14. Love hopes all things.
  15. Love endures all things.
  16. LOVE NEVER ENDS.

And then let’s not forget this–

We can do all kinds of fabulous things for the Lord. We can speak marvelous, challenging words that encourage people to grow spiritually. We can play beautiful music that leads people in worship. We can even die for Christ. But if all of these things are done without love, they are nothing. They mean nothing. We gain nothing.

Think about that–ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

Imagine with me for just a moment what would happen if all people who claim the name of Christ would put this list into practice. It would literally transform marriages! Heal families! Revolutionize churches! This is a powerful, powerful list.

Unfortunately, this will never happen. But we do have the ability, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to live these out in our own life. May we continue to strive to do this as we grow for life and seek to be like our Savior!

 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (I Corinthians 13:1-8)

Have a great day! And thanks for letting me stop by your in-box on this Wednesday morning! :)

 

What Makes a Healthy Family?

Healthy Family

Have you ever wondered why some families are so close and some seem so distant? Why some seem so full of love and some are so full of anger? And why some seem so happy and some seem so sad?

All families are imperfect. In fact, all families are dysfunctional in one way or another. The degrees differ, but they all are!

So what makes for a healthy family? One that, even through life’s hard struggles, remains generally close, loving, and happy?

We can find the answer to this question from the Word of God, where we see principles we can practice for healthy relationships and close families. I want to look at two passages and pull a few principles from them that we can practice in order to have healthy families–

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, 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.  (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

1. They are loving and kind. It is no secret that the Bible teaches us to be loving and kind. Many of us manage this outside of our homes but when we get home we throw off our good behavior and become who we really are inside–selfish and rude individuals who want our own way. But having a healthy family requires lots of love and kindness. And it starts with you and with me. We can’t expect our kids to be kind if we can’t manage it ourselves.

2 They are joyful. This word can haunt those of us who really struggle with being melancholy or with a flaring temper. But families overshadowed by sadness and anger make for kids who just want to leave and never come back. We cannot let the trials and struggles of life steal all of our joy. We will all have bad days–even bad months– but healthy families still find joy. And while laughter isn’t required, it is certainly good medicine for any family (Proverbs 17:22). Families that laugh together are happier. You have heard it said that families that “play together, stay together.” How important it is that we intentionally spend time together with our families, enjoying one another and practicing joy. We must ask ourselves: Do we bring joy to our family?

3. They are faithful. “Faithful” means loyal; reliable; steady in allegiance and affection; trusted; true to one’s word. As we read these adjectives, we can see how this would be invaluable to the health of a family. When we can’t trust each other, walls go up quickly. Let’s consider if we are true to our word? If we can be trusted to do what we said we are going to do? Whether it is making a promise to our spouse and then not doing it or threatening to discipline our kids and yet never following through, we must understand that this principle has a lot more facets than we would first think.

4. They are self-controlled. Ohhhhh, this is a tough one, isn’t it? This means that we practice self-control not only on the obvious things (such as our tempers) but also on the not-so-obvious–like our finances, our eating habits, and how we spend our time. Healthy families are balanced in how much they spend. They aren’t encumbered by debts they can’t pay and their houses aren’t full of things they can’t afford. Healthy families don’t drink soda and eat fried foods at every meal (or they will be unhealthy in more ways than one!).  And healthy families don’t spend all of their time in front of the TV or allow their kids to play video games or be on their phones without boundaries. Healthy families are self-controlled. Do we understand how important it is to set up boundaries for ourselves and for our kids that lead us to practice self-control?

5. They are patient and not easily angered. Oh, dear. Another really tough one. At least for me. But there it is in I Corinthians 13 (and many other places in scripture, as well!) Healthy families do not have members that are easily angered but instead practice patience with each other. Have you noticed how those members of the family that don’t practice this bring such strife to the family? This one can really add dissension to the family quickly–particularly if the other members of the family don’t practice principle #9!

6. They are gentle. What does gentle mean exactly? The dictionary tells us this–moderate in action, effect, or degree; not harsh or severe. Does this describe you? This is easier for some of us than for others, isn’t it? Sometimes I will say something and my family will tell me I sounded harsh–and I didn’t even realize it! I just told my daughter the other day that I just can’t seem to gain victory over the tone of my voice. It can be rather discouraging for me–but I keep working at it! I don’t want to sound harsh or severe. When we do this, we tempt our family members to be defensive and angry. Think about the last time you were unhappy about something and then ask yourself: Did you express your concerns gently?

7. They rejoice with one another instead of envying each other. Oh, another really big one. How much grief and strife come from brothers and sisters envying one another? We only need to look at Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37) to see what comes of envy in a family. And this story has played itself out over and over and over again throughout the centuries. (Note to parents: Favoritism has no place in a healthy family! We parents have to take this so seriously, lest we destroy our families). When we are jealous instead of happy for family members that get a break or who succeed, this leads quickly to an unhealthy, unhappy family. Do you envy a sibling when they get something you wanted or are you able to rejoice with them? And another important question: Do you show favoritism with your own kids? (How would they answer that question?)

8. They value the truth. Families that are close communicate truth. There are few secrets between mom and dad (if any!). Communication is clear and truthful–not sarcastic and “beaten around the bush”. Healthy families talk about the important things and the big questions in life. Christian families use these discussions to grow their kids’ knowledge of the Word of God and the ultimate truth that is found there. Do you love truth? Do you share truth with your family?

9. They practice repentance and forgiveness. This one is talked about a lot and cannot be overestimated. Families that don’t keep forgiving, soon have walls so high, no one can break through. Unforgiveness leads to bitterness and bitterness is a destructive root that weaves its tentacles through almost all parts of life, but particularly through a family’s well-being. Of course, forgiveness is much easier to give when the party who has offended practices true repentance over their sin. Oh, how important it is that we give genuine apologies that do not have any “buts” after them. You know what I mean–the ones that go something like this–“I shouldn’t have done that but you…” Those aren’t apologies, they are excuses. Do you give genuine apologies? Do you practice forgiveness “seventy times seven” in your own family?

10. They keep loving unconditionally–lots of grace and no grudges. All of these can be wrapped up with this final principle. Healthy families offer lots of grace to each other. They don’t sweat the small stuff. They keep on loving each other despite all of the imperfections and failures and sins. They don’t hold grudges when one member doesn’t live up to the expectations of another. Healthy families overlook small offenses. Do you give lots of grace? Or is your love conditional on your family members meeting your expectations?

And there you have it! Ten principles for a healthier and happier family. Of course, we live in a fallen world, so none of us can practice these perfectly. As I wrote, I was challenged on several of these that need much improvement in my own life.

I know that this list looks impossible to some of you. Some of you have a spouse or grown kids who aren’t practicing many –if any– of these. They may be selfish or angry or distant and they have no interest in changing or in working at building a healthier family. What to do?

I just want to encourage you to build a healthier family as best you can by incorporating these things into your own life. The tone of your family will change as you put these into practice. It won’t be easy and it won’t–most likely–be miraculous. But a few years from now you will look back and see how your obedience to the Word of God and the principles found there has changed your family. Just start with one principle today. Look at this list and determine which one of these you most need to work on.

While this list of ten principles is certainly not exhaustive, I do hope that I have encouraged you today to build a healthier and happier family! This is a never-ending endeavor and we can never be satisfied with status quo when it comes to our families, for we are investing for eternity!

 

{Please note: I am taking a break from Learn to Discern this week; more posts are coming.}

The Ticking Clock

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I have always been one of those people who is very sensitive to the noise and light around me. I can drive those who love me just a little crazy with this propensity.

For instance, a few weeks ago we were staying in a lovely hotel for a few days during our college visit. Our room had a lovely view of the harbor. Unfortunately for me, in that harbor was a nightclub. Around 11pm, I figured they’d probably be closed by midnight (Yes, I realize now that this thought was a bit naive of me! After all, it was a night club!) But they were still going strong at 1am, and then 2 am, and, yes, even at 3am. Now everyone else was sleeping soundly, seemingly unbothered by this sound. But, me–well, I tossed and turned for most of that night, finally downloading a sleep machine app at 3am and putting the sound of “pouring rain” in my ears to drown out the night club.

I am also one of those people that could never possibly read while there is music with words on or while the TV is blaring in the background. I just can’t do that. I wish I could.

So a month or two ago, we re-did our living room. It had been painted a dark red shortly after we moved in–in style at the time but quite out-dated now. And so we bought some new furniture, re-painted, and replaced the old, dusty curtains. And then as the final step, I found some accents and frames to complete the project. One of those accents was an adorable little clock. Since this is the room where I do a lot of my Bible Study and morning devotions, I specifically wanted a clock so I could keep my phone and iPad out of the room and yet still have some idea of the time.

One evening, I put the room back together and carefully placed my accents. I set the clock on the end table right beside me (see photo above). And then I stood back, looked over the room with its calming neutral colors, and snapped a few photos of my finished product.

The next morning, I came downstairs, ready to have my prayer and devotion time in my new room. As I started to pray, something invaded my peace.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, Lord, thank you for…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, I just want to ask you to be with…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

What to do?

I decided to move the tiny culprit, picking it up and setting it on the piano across the room.

As I started to pray, the clock, while a little less noisome, was still a frustrating distraction.

It was at that time that I realized that I could choose whether or not to be annoyed by that ticking clock. It didn’t have to annoy me. That was my choice.

I decided to take my thoughts captive and to choose to ignore that clock. And guess what? A few minutes later, I didn’t even think about it being there. Now I rarely think about it. When the ticking sound does make its way into my thoughts, I choose to turn my thoughts away. As ridiculous as I know this sounds, this has become a little exercise for me in training me to take my thoughts captive!

I do realize that this is a very roundabout way to get to my point, which is–

We choose what bothers us. 

So often we are tempted to blame others for our angry reactions or annoyances or irritations. When we are driving, we blame the guy who cut us off for making us angry. When we are at home, we blame our spouse for irritating us because they didn’t put something away.

But we get to choose how we respond. No one does it for us.

As I sat there listening to that clock, the verse that just kept coming to me over and over was this one–

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

You see, we can’t control anything or anyone but we can control ourselves.

I am dismayed at how often I still allow others to control me. Oh, sure, I can change where I set a clock or even remove it from the room altogether. But I can’t change people. And I can’t change circumstances. Do I take my thoughts captive or do I let them spiral me downward into a state of fear, anxiety, or frustration?

Unfortunately, I already know the answer. I live with my sinful self every single day.

But I continue to work on this! I believe this is one of the ways that the Word changes us. We know that ungodly reactions and concentrating on the wrong things leads to a defeated life. And so we must choose to take our thoughts captive and act and react in a godly way, knowing that the Holy Spirit is there to comfort, strengthen, and guide us.

The clock was painfully prominent when I focused on it. But it faded to the background when I chose to put my focus back on the Lord.

So, too, does this same thing happen in life. Our trials and struggles are so prominent when we focus on them. Hurtful and difficult people are ever-present in our minds. Until we remove our focus from them and turn it to the Lord and His Word.

And making this choice to change focus changes our whole outlook. And trials and difficult people become a way to live out and prove our faith, rather than being a threat to our faith.

 

 

Love Trumps Hate?

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Last night my daughter showed me this picture she drew. It was her expression of feeling regarding the hypocrisy of what has gone on over the past few days. I have been trying to process it, as well. For a campaign that talks so very much about love and freedom, it would seem that love is only for those who are on their side and freedom is not for everyone.

Now, first, let me state that, just as I don’t want to be lumped along in with every person using the name of Christ, I don’t want to lump all Democrats together. I am sure there are many who are appalled at what people are doing in the name of their party.

But they are doing it nonetheless. Making threats. Spewing forth malicious venom. All while getting lots of coverage from the liberal media. I think we always knew that Hollywood leaned far left but this election has most certainly given us a whole new understanding of that, hasn’t it?

Even Trump’s ten-year-old son hasn’t escaped the vitriol of a world gone mad with hatred.

What kind of person picks up a mic and speaks such malevolent words? What kind of person tweets such hateful, ugly things about a child?

It is a person full of hate and wickedness. It is someone like…you and me.

It is who we could be without Christ. Who we were before Christ. Every single one of us has the same propensity to act in such a wicked way.

It is who Paul was before his conversion, as we read in Galatians 1:13-16a —

For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. 14 And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles,

God saved Paul and he took on Christ’s righteousness, having his sin covered by the blood of Christ. He then went on to be used by God in tremendous ways.

In many ways, these people who are so full of hatred who we have watched these past few days are no different than Paul was or than any other person who has singled out a person or a group of people and persecuted them. Many times even unto death.

So the question that begs to be asked is what should be our response?

I have to confess as the new stories of such hatred have clogged up my Facebook feed, filled the airwaves, and covered our TV screens, I have not been filled with Christ’s love. My natural inclination is to feel hatred back. To reciprocate. To build the hatred between two very different groups of people with two very different dreams for this great country.

And yet–

I remember Jesus, on the cross, in pain and agony and hated by the masses–

And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:33-34)

Father, forgive them. Such love. Such incredible love.

And I remember this, too–God forgave me. Wicked, sinful me. He reached out in love and washed me with his blood. I love how Paul puts this in I Corinthians 6:9-11–

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

And so it is best not to forget who we were before Christ. Who we could be without Christ.

So does love trump hate? Yes, it most certainly does. But it is not the kind of love that hates when it doesn’t get its own way. It is not the kind that feels it can say or do whatever it wants to advance its agenda.

The love that trumps hate is the kind that speaks truth. It is love that will sacrifice personal glory and reputation so that even one man can be saved from eternal damnation. It is the kind that responds kindly when attacked by the enemy. It is love that only Jesus Christ can give.

My daughter reminded me last night, as we talked about the hopelessness we feel in this world gone mad, how the one encouraging thing about this is how brightly we shine as believers in such darkness. She’s right, you know. Even a small light shines in the darkness with an intensity that would dissipate in the company of brighter lights.

And so this is our opportunity to shine with the true love of Christ. May we embrace the challenge instead of joining the hating, throbbing malicious mass on either side of the fence. Let’s stand firmly on the Word of God, loving with a love that doesn’t make sense to the world and speaking the truth of God’s Word without apology. And may we never forget who we were–who we could be– without Christ.

 

 

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