Peace

Leaning Into God’s Will

The encouraging posts about God’s love and care for us are in abundance these days. You will find them on blogs, social media, and in many articles. We so desperately want to be reminded that He will see us through whatever lies ahead. And it is so important to be reminded of this. I share this message often myself here on the blog and over at the Growing4Life Facebook page.

But there is something else that we really need to remember.

Many years ago, I read a book called Green Leaf in Drought. I was so impacted by it that you will find it on my Favorite Books page here on the blog. I hadn’t read it for years, so I decided to pick it up again. It seemed like it might be even more relevant the second time around, given the concerns and fears we’ve experienced over the past year.

Yesterday, I finished it. It’s a short little book and I highly recommend it (I’ll add a link below for anyone interested). When communism started to fully infiltrate China, most of the missionaries left immediately. However, a few were unable to leave. This book is about a family that was held there for almost three years before they were released by the government to come home.

The lessons that they learned are important lessons for us all. I am not going to say a whole lot about their story so I don’t give too much away for those who want to read it. But I do want to share one important lesson they learned that is critical for us all. Perhaps especially right now.

When they were about a year and a half into their coerced stay in China, things were really bad. They were almost starving, fuel was hard to come by, and people were punished if they talked to the “Imperialists” (as they were known) which led to extreme loneliness. And then, on top of it all, imagine being a missionary and being told by the foreign government that you are not allowed to talk to anyone or to leave your house? Their whole purpose for being there could not be carried out and they were left in the nondescript corner of a foreign country with few resources and even fewer friends.

At one point the wife, in a state of fretting and restlessness, waited impatiently for the Lord to rescue them. She was frustrated with the Lord’s timing and, though she was submitted to His Will, she was none too happy about what that “will” was. One day, as she spent time with the Lord in His Word and in prayer, something dawned on her. What would happen if she would gladly and joyfully yield to God’s Will for her life instead of begrudgingly agreeing to it? What if she were to act more like a daughter carrying out a loving mission for her Father than a slave that was forced to do the master’s will? She resigned herself to lean into God’s Will and thus began a change of heart.

As she took this step of joyful submission, the peace and joy that had been missing from her Christian life came flooding in. She recognized that living a joyful life dedicated to the Lord in spite of their trials would be a light that the Chinese Christians could see, even if they never said a word. These conclusions were drawn in the midst of horrible circumstances that neither you or I could even imagine and will hopefully never have to endure. A few months later, God helped her husband understand the very same thing.

As they purposed in their hearts to have a good attitude, Satan did his best to discourage them and they were hit with even harder trials than before. But the peace never left them. The peace and joy they experienced was completely unrelated to their circumstances, just as we are promised in scripture.

I believe this is more than a little relevant for us today.

Or shall I say I find it relevant for me?

You see, I find my heart filled with sorrow and even anger when I think of the world we are living in currently. I feel like I am on the set of a movie that just won’t end. The masks, the social distancing, the vaccine, the economy, the dying small businesses, the election, the unbelievable compromise of Christians we trusted, and then there are the strong opinions about all of these things. The realization that whatever world my kids and grandkids grow up in (if the Lord tarries), it’s going to be quite a bit different than mine. The awful uncertainty of what lies ahead, always there like a dark shadow in the back of all of our minds, no matter where we live in this world. All of this makes my heart just ache and I can even grow angry if I am not careful. The world we lived in is no longer. And life as we have known it is over.

But this book convicted me. We—you, me, all of us—are here right now because God has ordained it. We are in His Will for our lives. We are going to be relatively ineffective as believers if we are focused on all that we don’t like about this new world instead of leaning into His will. We are going to be filled with dread, unhappiness, and fear if we are begrudgingly living in this new world. But if we joyfully submit to where God has us right now, we will show a lost world that God is true to His Word and we will be able to encourage and edify struggling fellow believers.

Do we want to be bright lights for Christ in this new world? If the answer is yes, than I am convinced we need to lean into God’s Will instead of resist it.

On a practical level, we will be faced with a variety of small tests and trials each day. How do we show this in the midst of family disagreements over the whimsical “laws” put in place by over-reaching governors? How do we show this in the midst of our disappointment in the way our churches, workplaces, or schools are handling things? How do we show this when someone asks us to wear a mask or move away from them? How do we show this when we hear more bad news? How do we show this when yet another discussion comes along regarding all that’s going on? How do we show this each and every hour of our lives?

I am not sure of the “how” but I am sure of the necessity of this. You see, if we are dragging our feet and have a bad attitude, then this will show in all of our words and actions. (I am talking to myself here as much as to you!) But if we joyfully yield our will to God’s, then this, too, will show in all of our words and actions.

Look, we are all here. Stuck on a ride we can’t get off. Watching the prophecy of scripture come to life in a way we never thought we’d see. But I can say with 100% confidence that this is where God has placed us.

For such a time as this.

No amount of railing, wailing, or flailing is going to change it.

While I am not saying that we don’t work actively to help change what we are given an opportunity to change, it’s pretty fair to say that most of this is completely outside of our control.

But it’s not outside of God’s control and, in His vast knowledge and incomprehensible Sovereignty, He knows exactly where He’s placed us in the history of this world.

So let’s not just resign ourselves to live in this new world but let’s choose to joyfully live in this new world. Let’s show the world that God’s peace and joy is not based on circumstances.

And, on a bright note, living in this time of history may actually mean we are the generation that is raptured! How awesome would that be? It seems more and more likely each day.

So may we all ask God to help us be joyfully submissive as we walk this path we don’t really want to be on. He is sufficient and He will supply our needs. And, eventually, this will all be behind us as we face the prospect of a marvelous eternity together with Him in heaven.

 

 

—If you are interested in being encouraged further by reading the story of Arthur and Wilda Mathews as Isobel Kuhn writes it in Green Leaf in Drought, you can find it here. (This is not an affiliate link and I receive no compensation for you clicking on it. I am merely pointing you to where you can find the book.)

 

 

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.)

 

 

The Path to Peace

Sometimes we are forced to travel a path that we just don’t want to be on. We diligently look for options to get off the path and find none. It is at that time that we are forced to make a choice.

First, we have the option to sulk, moan, complain, or get angry at God. When we cannot accept God’s sovereignty in our lives, this is the place many of us find ourselves. We do this over big things–like physical illness and death –but, sadly, we also do this over small things. When life isn’t the wonderful thing we imagined or we don’t get our own way, we so often fall into these sinful responses.

This choice to choose anger and/or sadness over our circumstances yields so many bad fruits.

Two of the most common fruits are bitterness and depression. When we are unwilling to accept the hand we’ve been dealt by God it can potentially drive us to extreme sadness (depression) or extreme anger (bitterness). Both of these turn us into people who are hopeless, unpleasant, and generally ineffective not just for God, but often within our own families or circles. They rob us of our very lives. I’ve seen this over and over. Is there anything more tragic than a person with tremendous potential for God’s Kingdom who has spent most of their adult life in bitterness or depression?

Second, we have the option to work feverishly at fixing our circumstances. We panic and then we pull ourselves up by our boot straps and we decide that, if God isn’t going to help us, we will help ourselves. We try all sorts of things and, as a rule, make things so much worse. All of it often ends in frustration and discouragement when we are forced to recognize that, whatever it is, is outside of our control. In fact, most of us end up at option one (above) after we’ve tried option two.

But we do have one other choice: We can surrender our will and trust God. What does this look like? Well, let me tell you.

I had the opportunity to spend a few days with my brother (Pastor Dean) a few weeks ago. As most of you already know, he lost his wife this past April to cancer after a year and a half of uncertainty. Through all of that, their family remained at peace. They lived out Philippians 4:6-7.

I saw that same peace recently. He is on a path he would not have chosen. He has to do the things he always relied on his wife to do. He is no longer part of a couple when he goes out. He has to grocery shop and clean. But, most importantly, the person he confided in and talked with is no longer there.

And, yet, I have not heard one word of complaint. Oh, he doesn’t pretend that it’s all great. We know this wouldn’t be his preference, but he doesn’t complain. He has told me that he has submitted to God’s will in this and God is providing for Him. This does not mean it’s fun and pain-free. It means that it is bearable and that he experiences the peace promised by God in His Word.

I have to confess that this has gotten me really thinking about the importance of surrendering my will to God’s every single day of my life. Even in the small stuff. Maybe, most importantly, in the small stuff. Because it is this surrender that prepares us for the large stuff.

What are some of these things we must surrender to the Lord?

We face so many different and varied troubles. I think of so many of you that have shared with me your burden of an unsaved spouse or child. How tempting it must be to grow discouraged and angry that God isn’t answering your prayers on your timeline (option 1) or to play the “Holy Spirit” and try to manipulate them into salvation yourself (option 2).

Or you may be facing your own uncertain medical diagnosis and it’s thrown you for a complete loop. Or financial difficulty. Or a job you hate. Or a wayward child. Or a much-beloved church that is leaving its solid foundation. Or a move across the country that took you away from all that is familiar. Or a… the list could go on and on and on.

Big burdens and little burdens. Life is full of them. Everywhere we turn, they are there, revealing themselves as tests.

Will we allow them to make us angry, bitter, sad, or depressed? Will they tempt us into sulking and complaining? Or will we harken back to the promises of God?

As I have watched Dean lean into this trial rather than grow angry or fall into a pit of despair, I have to admit that I have been so encouraged. Dean is no saint (I should know–I grew up with him!) and he doesn’t claim to be one. He gives all praise and glory to God for seeing him through this trial. We are so thankful for this rich reminder that God does keep His promises to those that trust Him and surrender their will to His.

This doesn’t mean we will always get our way. Of course, we won’t. We can’t. But what it does mean is that God walks with us through these things and provides the grace we need to bear them (2 Corinthians 12:9). And that, if we love God, then every single trial we face, both big and small, will yield good things for God’s Kingdom (Romans 8:28).

But this can only happen by surrendering our lives daily to God. There is only one path to true peace and that is submitting our will to God’s. This is no easy task. To say the least. But it is the one thing that will bring the peace and joy that God has promised us in His Word.

 

Please Note: This post is for believers–those who have acknowledged their sin, repented of them, and have trusted in Jesus alone for salvation. If you have not done this, then there is really no way for you to experience eternal peace, as salvation is the only true way to be reconciled and at peace with God. If you have any questions about this, please feel free to email me at leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net.

 

Starting With What We Know

I have a jigsaw puzzle app on my iPad. I will often put a “digital” puzzle together while I am watching TV or listening to my audio Bible or a sermon. I am a chronic multi-tasker and need to keep my hands busy!

I normally choose puzzles that have plenty of differences, as the ones that have the same shades of color throughout can frustrate me. The most recent one I put together was a little bit of both. There were areas that were different and there were areas of sameness. When I first started to put it together a few weeks ago I decided to first work on all the pieces that looked the same. I wanted to get the hard stuff out of the way.

But, after a few days, I found this puzzle very frustrating and I left it in favor of easier ones. I was having such a hard time figuring out where all of those green pieces went.

A few weeks later, I decided to give it another try. As I stared at the puzzle and thought about how to best work it out, it came to me: Work with the obvious pieces first and then the rest will fall into place.

And you know what? That was exactly right. I filled in all the different areas and when it came time to place all of the green pieces it was so much easier.

But I first had to place what I knew before I could figure out what I didn’t know.

As I was thinking about that puzzle, it dawned on me that puzzles in life can be a little like this. We want to know all the answers. We want to know where all of those hard-to-define pieces are going to fit and how it’s all going to end. But, if we are a believer, we should first start with what we know.

And what do we know? What pieces can we put into all of our puzzles (i.e. trials, frustrations, storms, adversity) first?

Let’s talk about some of them–

Piece ONE— God loves us so much.

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. I John 3:1

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Piece TWO–God is working all things together in the way that is best for me. Even if it doesn’t seem that way at the time.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

Piece THREE— God desires me to be conformed to the image of His Son. In fact, we are predestined for this! This is more important than my happiness, my dreams, or having an easy life.

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Romans 8:29

Piece FOUR— Sorrows and troubles are part of our journey here on earth; We cannot avoid them.

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Piece FIVE— God is aware of the minutest details. He hasn’t abandoned us.

So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not [l]arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. Matthew 6:28-32

Piece SIX— Our first priority is to seek God and His Kingdom.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Matthew 6:33

Piece SEVEN–Puzzles and trials are testing me and perfecting me.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces [a]patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be [b]perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:2-4

Piece EIGHT–Supernatural peace though Christ Jesus is possible–no matter what the circumstances.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Piece NINE–This life is temporary and the best is yet to come!

But as it is written:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” I Corinthians 2:9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance [b]incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been [c]grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not [d]seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. I Peter 1:3-9

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When we put these nine pieces in our puzzle first, the other pieces will slowly fall into place. Oh, it doesn’t mean it will be easy–but it will be easier than if we don’t do this.

Life has its ups and downs. And sometimes we face things that do not make sense; things that are horribly painful; things that are unexpected.

In the swirl of thoughts that goes on whenever we face a trial, we may forget to first contemplate these nine truths from scripture that apply to every situation–no matter how great or small.

I hope this is an encouragement to someone today. I don’t know what you are facing but God does.

 

 

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.

Releasing Our Grip

Who do you depend on?

Most everyone that calls themselves a Christian says “God” because they know that is the right answer. But is it really a truthful answer?

The one thing I find that an easy life breeds is dependence upon self. We don’t really have to depend upon God if we have our physical needs met, our relationships in order, and all aspects of our lives going just as planned. While we enjoy those times, it takes much more effort to be intentional and purposeful at keeping our focus on God and to remember that we rely on Him for even our very breath. Oh, don’t get me wrong–we can most certainly glorify God and grow in the good times. But it’s when we are forced to release our {supposed} control on our lives that the reality of our Christian life has the opportunity to shine with authenticity and to confirm our claims that we depend on God.

There is an old Christmas movie that ends with a little girl in great distress running out of the house and climbing up a tree to one of the top branches. The branch she is holding on to cracks and she knows she is going to fall. The man of the house comes running out and stands beneath the tree with his arms outstretched as he promises to catch her.

“Let go, Zoe,” he says, “you can trust me.”

Zoe closes her eyes, releases her grip, and, screaming all the way down, lands in the strong arms of the man.

In a way, this reminds me of our relationship with God. We are holding on to the world. So. Tightly. And we are doing fine. Even better than fine. Some of us even make a comfortable nest in the tree, not recognizing the frailty of the branch that is holding us. And then the wind starts to howl. Sometimes we can see the storm on the horizon and we have time to prepare or sometimes it comes without any warning at all. But, no matter how it comes, we end up with a cracked branch. And, suddenly, we are forced to recognize our vulnerable state. But right below us is our Heavenly Father with outstretched arms, coaxing us to release our grip and promising to catch us.

All of our failures, our broken relationships, the hard times–God uses each one to release our grip on this world just a little bit more. Some of them send us falling into His safe and strong arms. At least for a little while. But then, if we aren’t careful, we find ourselves scurrying right back up into that tree that represents all of the things of this temporal world.

The other day at the store, the cashier started talking about the state of this world. I sensed that she knew the Lord and I had the opportunity to enjoy a short conversation with her, in which I tried to encourage her with the reminder that none of this is outside of the Lord’s control. She smiled and said, “you are sure right about that,” and then went on to share with me how the Lord had taken such amazing care of her and her husband through the death of her son and then subsequent illness of her husband that brought with it an inability to work. She smiled as she said it and I could see that the Lord had indeed been faithful to her and her family.

But this conversation was a good reminder for both of us, I think. If our grip is tight on this world, then the state of it and where it’s headed is absolutely terrifying. And if our grip is tight on this world, then the changes and the diseases and deaths of those we love not only gets us down but they can potentially shipwreck our faith or, at the very least, eliminate our effectiveness for God’s Kingdom.

Only eternal perspective yields peace.

God has really been working on me in this area. I have so far to go. He graciously continues to teach me that my joy and peace cannot be grounded in the precarious, worldly branch of my choosing but that I must be grounded in the immutable and immovable love of the Father, trusting in His Sovereignty.

As life changes over the years I can feel that, little by little, God is releasing my grip on this world. I think He does this for all believers throughout the course of their lives. Each one of us faces trials and challenges. They are all different for each one of us, but none of us is exempt. Our branches sway and sometimes break and it forces us to fall into the arms of the Father. Most of us keep climbing back into that tree over and over again.

But with each sway in the wind and with each fall, our grip grows just a little looser on the things of this world and it changes how we view things, reminding us of what will really last for eternity. This change in perspective gives us a greater passion for the lost while giving us peace and joy for our soul as we rest in God’s sovereign care for both ourselves and for those we love.

This is a lifelong process–recognizing the reality of our vulnerable, powerless state and the great love and care that we find in God alone. We humans naturally tend to rely on ourselves for our own needs until we are forced not to.

Thankfully, our God is so merciful and His marvelous grace covers our treks up that tree and our subsequent falls when the branch just keeps breaking. His love is not fickle or temporary but remains constant even as we fail. And that is something for which we can be incredibly grateful.

 

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)

Shopping for Furniture

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She was standing there when we entered the store. She quickly moved towards us, asking if she could help us. We courteously told her what we were looking for and that we wanted to look around. As we browsed the left side of the store, she hovered behind us, throwing in little tidbits of unwanted information. As we moved to the right side of the store she faithfully followed us, until we were seated on a sofa set, discussing a different sofa set from the other side of the store. At this point, she stood {too} close by and inserted some piece of information completely irrelevant to our discussion.

I can only assume that, thinking we looked like serious shoppers, she wanted the commission of the sale.

As we walked around and then finally decided not to purchase anything, she made us feel a bit guilty for not buying something. As we prepared to leave she asked if she could give us her card. My husband said sure and, as she dug around in the little purse she had at her side for it, she asked us to find her again should we return, explaining that she only works on weekends.

When we left the store we felt so relieved. I know that she may have circumstances we know nothing about, but someone should tell her that she is not doing herself any favors trying to sell furniture in that manner. It was positively stifling!

She was driven wholly by her desire for a sale.

We then drove across town to a different furniture store. As we entered the store, we were greeted by a friendly man who filled us in on the sale they were having and then told us to find him if we had any questions. As we wandered through the store, we didn’t see him anywhere, although when we did have some questions, he was close by. Soon, I found my husband with him, setting up our room on a big computer screen, placing and moving pieces around to see if the furniture we wanted would fit. He was kind but not overly kind. He was interested in us personally but not overly interested. He offered suggestions that made sense. The experience was in direct contrast to the lady at the first store.

A little later I found out that they don’t work on commission at this store. He didn’t care if we bought anything.

What a difference!

Now–before I move on–let me say that I have worked with salespeople who work on commission that are not quite so obnoxious and desperate. But commission sales are a tricky business, as it is hard to trust someone that is going to benefit from what they are selling you. And, in this day and age where there is such little regard for truth, it is hard to really know if the salesperson is telling the truth. It was a relief to go into a furniture store that wasn’t working on commission. The difference was like night and day.

My mind was turning about this all weekend long. What spiritual lesson is there to learn from this experience?

I believe it is this–

Many “Christians” follow Christ for the rewards they can get. They want a happy life. They want to have peace. They want personal purpose and fulfilled dreams. And compliant kids. And good health. And financial security. Their entire motivation for following Christ is based on what they will get from Him. Like the saleslady, who was driven by her own selfish agenda with little care for the customer, so they, too, are driven by their “commission” (what they will get from God) with little care for really knowing God.

And when they don’t get what they expected, they become disenamored with God. These people respond one of two ways when this happens. They either walk away from God or, if they are true believers, these times become what God uses to grow them and help them realize that the Bible never promises a perfect life.

Contrast that to the guy who just worked because it was the right thing to do. There was nothing in it for him at all. Oh, I rather suspect that the company may reward their best salesmen at a yearly banquet or evaluation, but his work day-to-day was done because of his work ethic and loyalty to the company that has provided him his livelihood for over a decade.

As believers, we need to be more like this guy. Knowing our rewards come later, we should love and obey Christ because it is the right thing to do. We need to follow Christ through the good times and the bad times, without expecting rewards here on earth. And without expecting that everything will go as we planned.

This can be hard to do in a “Christian” culture where preachers and teachers, using the name of Christ to peddle their false doctrine, are literally telling their followers that you can “speak your destiny” or that you will become rich, healthy, and have your dreams come true if you follow Christ. This is not only something that we never find in scripture, it is also a lie that Satan uses to lead people into a wrong and disillusioned view of God.

In fact, we read quite the opposite in several places–

John 15:18 assures us that the world will hate us. We can deduct from this that life will not always be easy and that we won’t be all that popular if we sincerely follow Christ.

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Paul shares his own trials and how he has learned to be content in Philippians 4:11-13. This passage makes it clear that there will be times of great trial and struggles but that Jesus Christ is enough.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

And James in James 1:2-4 tells us not only that we should expect trials but that we are supposed to be joyful during them, knowing that they are producing faith and steadfastness in us.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

So I hope our trip to the furniture stores has encouraged at least one of you to reconsider why it is that you follow Jesus. While we do know that we have eternal rewards coming (Matthew 6:19-20) and while Jesus does give us peace (Philippians 4:7), it is not the peace as the world defines it (John 14:27), where life becomes perfect.

And, finally, as an aside, I have noticed that the times when life isn’t so perfect are what lead me into growing as a believer and in removing my affections from here on earth. God accomplishes great things in our lives when our circumstances are less than perfect. Why do we strive so for temporal rewards? (That was rhetorical–as, of course, we all prefer easy, carefree, painless times. And we should be filled with gratitude when we are blessed with them! Don’t forget to say thank you to God during those happy times!)

Life is full of ups and downs for most of us. Let’s be sure that how we follow Jesus is not based on what we are experiencing in this life but is instead based on His Word. Let’s never be fickle followers that turn away when things get rough but instead let’s turn towards God with a heart that is willing and eager to learn what He has to teach us through the hard times. (And, yes, I do know that this is much easier to write than to actually live out!)

 

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! :)

 

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.

 

 

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