Real Life Stories

How Studying the Bible Changes You

I was so perplexed and started to grow angry. Was she kidding? No, there was an unpleasant glint in her eye that gave credence to her words.

My daughter had been given permission from the guy at the top of the bridge to have her baby’s car seat in the plane. When we arrived in the plane, the stewardess informed us in no uncertain terms that this would not be possible. She condescendingly told us it was a full flight and she highly doubted there would be room for his seat. But the plane was far from full. So not only was she rude but she lied. We did question why permission was given at the top, which seemed to set her against us. She continued her churlishness with us throughout the flight. This same stewardess was quite rude to the rest of family behind us as they made legitimate requests. It’s hard to believe that someone like that has a job working with people.

A few moments before the flight started, a man came and very kindly explained that, due to Covid, car seats were no longer allowed on the smaller planes. While this didn’t make any sense to us at all, his calm and kind manner as he explained was comforting after the stinging meanness of the stewardess. (They all seemed to be rather confused as to protocol regarding car seats and the rules about them. It was very disorganized. It does seem like we now live in a world where anything and everything can be blamed on Covid. It’s actually very strange.)

As we taxied on the runway and then took off, I could feel myself growing angrier and angrier at this woman. I wanted nothing more than to be rude back to her. But about fifteen or twenty minutes in, as I started to settle down, it dawned on me that she was very likely unsaved and that I had a Christian testimony to keep. While I (to my shame) did not go out of my way to “kill her with kindness”, I did manage to hold my tongue and to mumble a “thank you” a time or two as she brought things by.

I do long for the day that I can overcome my flesh in these situations and actually be extra kind when someone is so incredibly rude to me (or my child.) But Sunday was not that day.

The next morning, I was reading in Matthew and I came across these verses in chapter six–

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

I thought about this lady from the day before and remembered the danger of holding grudges. I thought of how anger and bitterness shatter all relationships–whether it be with a stranger, a customer, a person at church, a friend, or a family member.

Unforgiveness and bitterness destroy everything in their path. It can never be allowed to set up residence in our soul. Even over the small matter of an extra-ordinarily rude stewardess. At that moment, I chose to forgive her. I wished I had been able to do that on the plane so that I could have been a better testimony. I will probably never see her again and that chance is gone.

So, honestly, I am not a big one for flying. Flying with masks is far worse. But the thing that had me the most worried was that all of the women, save one, in our family were on the same plane for four different flights. About two weeks before we had left this hit me and I grew incredibly worried about something happening to all of us at the same time. Enter Matthew, chapter six again. It was from the end of that chapter that I drew much comfort and chose to trust the Lord.

You see, in the Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge we have been reading Matthew 5-8, which contains the Sermon on the Mount. There have been so many times that what I have been reading and studying over this past month have been practically applied to my daily life. I gave just two examples above but there are so many more. The scriptures have exhorted, reminded, encouraged, and rebuked me. They truly are life-changing.

Any good in me, any right response, is the Holy Spirit working through the Word to transform me and make me look more like Christ. It has nothing whatsoever to do with me or my efforts to be a “better person”.

I wish I could get every single person who claims to love Jesus to actually study the Word. It would change the world because it changes the individual.

If you’d like to study the Bible but aren’t sure where to begin, I’d like to invite you to join this year’s Bible Reading Challenge. It’s a great time to join because we will begin the book of Ruth on April 1st. You can find the details here. I would love to have you join me in studying God’s Word.

But any study of God’s Word is life-changing. The key is to get started. Paul tells us in I Timothy 3:16-17–

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

If we want to be transformed by the Word, it will require study and meditation. Cursorily reading it isn’t a bad thing but it could be compared to a lollipop in its sustenance regarding our spiritual health.

Life happens. Every day we face various trials and challenges. Big ones and small ones. We face rude stewardesses, customer service reps, and clerks. We find out a company scammed us or cheated us or didn’t receive our payment. We learn that our child or spouse or family member did something very disappointing. We find out that someone passed away, is getting divorced, or has been diagnosed with illness.

God has told us how to respond to these things and so much more in His Word. But if we don’t know it, we are missing out on the greatest strength and guidance God has offered us. Let us not ignore this wonderful gift God has given us for this life.

 

 

Fighting Germs

The other week we flew down south to see our new granddaughter. On the way home, we had a stop in Atlanta and then we were finally on the last leg of our journey. On that final flight home, my husband and I looked around and noticed that we were surrounded by people that took virus protection very seriously. Three women scattered around us wore both face masks and face shields.

As we made our way off the plane an hour or two later, we stopped at the restroom. As I waited beside our luggage for my husband, I was quite amused (and a little concerned) to watch one of those women pull out disinfectant spray and spray it all over her husband, front and back. He then proceeded to do the same for her. Ummm…I don’t think that is what the spray is intended for.

It was funny but it was also sad. While protecting ourselves sensibly is smart, some people are so scared to die that they will go to great lengths to fight off and keep away from GERMS.

But while you have those extremes, you also have the rest of us. From those who wear face masks inside and outside of their homes 24/7 to those who are just using hand sanitizer a bit more, almost everyone is just a little more aware and concerned about germs.

I believe there is a spiritual parallel here that we shouldn’t ignore.

A few months ago a friend sent me an idea for a post. I had it at the back of my mind all summer as I’ve watched people obsess over their health. But the couple at the airport brought his idea front and center. He said this and I quote:

I was considering all that we have done to mitigate our exposure to a germ that is deemed dangerous to us. This germ is not unlike other germs that have been out there yet we have never gone to such lengths in our society. Even in the church we have gone to great lengths to limit our exposure to this germ. So while the church has went to such great lengths to mitigate its exposure to this germ that can harm our bodies, we constantly expose ourselves to “germs” of false teaching that can harm our faith. Even little issues (small germ) can cause great harm. Yet much of the church does little to warn people or even limit its own exposure.

Amen and amen!

Oh, how churches are spiritual germ-infested places. There is little concern for these spiritual germs that are infecting and killing off their sheep. One by one, many become sick as they read the books and listen to the sermons of false teachers and follow after false doctrines. And not a word is spoken. If someone dares to speak up to protect the sheep, they are viewed as divisive and unkind.

It is especially sad and concerning, given the lengths churches are going to protect the physical lives of their congregations. Don’t they realize that the spiritual health of the sheep is even more important than physical health?

But it isn’t only churches. It is true for us on an individual level, as well.

Are we as concerned about our spiritual health as we are our physical health? It is quite understandable to see those who have no idea what is happening to them after they die to be overly concerned about dying. That makes sense. But to see believers be more concerned about their physical health than they are about their spiritual health makes no sense at all.

Paul reminds us of what our priorities should be in I Timothy 4:7-8–

But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with giving effort to keeping our bodies healthy and protected from germs, our concern should be far greater for our spiritual health.

Is this what you are seeing in the lives of believers around you? Is this what you are demonstrating in your own life to those who are watching you?

These are questions worthy of reflection.

Satan is eating Christians alive because they are literally unconcerned about spiritual germs. He even has Christians believing that to point out those germs and to say anything negative about a false teacher is sinful. So now we have demonized watchmen in a crowd of earthly-minded believers.

Oh, dear readers, may we not be part of that “crowd”. May we pay attention to the watchmen and heed their warnings. May we be far more concerned about heavenly things and our spiritual health than we are about this life and our temporary, physical body.

For this is what scripture teaches us to do.

Colossians 3:1-3  If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 

Romans 16:17-20  Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord [d]Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. 19 For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and [e]simple concerning evil. 20 And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

 

How Do We Keep from Losing Our Kids?

I’ll never forget that moment I realized he was gone. Mom thought he was with Dad. Dad thought he was with Mom. And then there was that awful moment when we realized that no one knew where their two-year-old was.

In a panic, most of us started running towards the beach where we had last seen him. Our grandson isn’t a wanderer so we knew he hadn’t gone off on purpose and that definitely helped calm us a bit.

When we got to the edge of the beach, we looked all around and finally spotted him a ways down to the left, standing in a tidal pool. My youngest daughter took after him (I didn’t even know she could run that fast!) and heard him calling for his daddy as she approached. She picked him up, hugged him, and then brought him back to his worried parents. We all breathed big sighs of relief and thanked the Lord. I contemplated the rest of that evening and often over the next few days just how tragic that could have ended and thanked the Lord again and again.

We realized later that his mommy had told him to follow his daddy without his daddy realizing it. And, instead of following him, he had just continued on down the beach finally stopping when he reached the tide pool. I also found out later that there was a couple who was keeping an eye on him from a distance, just as many of us would have done in that situation. Somehow that was very comforting. There are still a lot of good and decent people around.

My dad mentioned to me the other day that there is a spiritual parallel to this story. As I thought about that, I realized that is definitely true. The only difference is that most spiritually lost kids are never searched for. They are left to struggle in the tide pool all alone or even drown in the ocean that is the world. Many times, no one even knows they are missing until it’s far too late.

One of my greatest sorrows in this life has been watching adorable little children grow up into worldly adults who have no care for God. I’ve seen them in the church nursery, in homeschool co-ops, and in Christian schools. I’ve watched them turn away from the beliefs of their parents completely or pretend to follow by going to church and putting on a show of godliness–all while living a worldly, ungodly life when they think no one is watching.

So what happens to these kids? Why do they choose to follow the world instead of God?

I’d like to suggest that it happens one step at a time. And that, as parents, we can never, ever stop looking out for their spiritual well-being. Unlike our grandson who was simply confused, our kids have a spiritual enemy that is actively seeking to lure them away from their Christian family–and from God.

As we reflect on this, there are some important considerations to think on as we raise our children (or support and encourage those who do)–

1. Set the spiritual health of your children as your ultimate priority. As I reflect on those who have lost their children to the world, I almost always see one thing in common–something took first place in their family that wasn’t God. Whether it was sports, academics, the arts, or a number of other things, it became the primary priority in the family. Sometimes it was just a passion for the child to be popular in school. As loving and serving God fell down on the list of priorities, so did the chances that the child would follow hard after God. After all, why would they believe it is important, if they were never taught or shown that it is important?

I am absolutely amazed at the grace of God on a family that makes this priority in the face of ridicule and unpopularity. God often will draw these kids to Himself in spite of their parents many sinful habits and abundant mistakes. He is so so faithful to those who desire nothing more than that their children walk with God.

I recognize this especially because we have been receivers of this abundant grace. With all four of our kids walking with the Lord, we fully recognize that we are utterly and completely undeserving of this. We were not awesome parents and there are a thousand (or more!) things we’d change if we could go back and parent all over again. And, yet, God has been so gracious and kind to us.

Keep the right priority and then watch God work in spite of your sin and mistakes. It’s a pretty amazing thing to watch!

2. Recognize that we, the parents, are responsible for our child’s spiritual well-being. If there is a second thing I’ve seen in families that lose their kids it is that there is little communication regarding the stuff of life that really matters. Instead of taking responsibility to teach children about God and discussing many of the hard things of life in light of the scriptures (which truly are a treasure that hold life’s answers), churches and Christians schools are often given that role.

But it’s not the church’s job nor the Christian school’s to guard our child’s spiritual health. This is our job, as parents.

If you’ve never had this modeled in the home where you grew up, then this may be a really hard switch to make. Most families aren’t comfortable when you get into the realm of “hard”. This is why boys find out about sex in the locker rooms and girls learn about it in trashy novels. It is why “Christian” kids fall away from their faith at a rate that is beyond alarming. It is why they have no answers for the Creation debate or any other hot topic that is taking the world by storm. They have no answers because they’ve been given no answers.

Instead they are being entertained and coddled.

Oh, this is such a tragedy. Our job as parents is not to entertain and coddle. Our job is NOT to make sure they never are troubled or ridiculed. We aren’t given the responsibility to make sure they never feel pain or frustration.

Our job is to teach them, from scripture, how to respond to these things. Our job is to nurture and train them in the things of the Lord. Our job is to talk about the hard stuff of life, always using the Bible as our guide. Using the Bible as our guide helps us parents, too, as we seek to understand what is and what is not important as we raise our children.

I like to tell the story of how I got into an argument with one of my girls over something that just really bothered me. I told her no and I was sticking to it. Finally, my husband looked at me and asked me if it really mattered? Was this something that was in scripture or was I standing firm on a preference? It hit me like a lightning bolt, for I surely was standing firm on something that I did not need to stand firm on. I relented and learned a hard lesson that day.

When we run everything through the grid of scripture, we can figure out what is and what is not important and it gives us the answers our kids need as they face the unfriendly, ridiculing world.  Of course, this can only be done by actually knowing and studying the Word first. And this takes work. But there is no more satisfying work in the world.

I might add here: Don’t be afraid of the hard questions. It’s okay to say you don’t know and then go hunt for the answer together!

3. Provide a secure, warm, loving home. As I have given some thought to this in my own life, I wondered why my brother and I were really never even tempted to stray? I remembered an incident in 7th grade during shop class. One of my friends had told me that she “guaranteed” that I would smoke a cigarette by the time I graduated high school. I laughed and firmly told her that would never happen, even more determined that it never would after our conversation. But, to be quite honest, it was never even a temptation. Why not? Why were drugs, drinking, and smoking never a temptation for me? Why was I willing to take the ridicule and derision of my classmates on many occasions? And even, often, of my public school teachers?

I think there is one reason– and it wasn’t that I was some spiritual paragon because I wasn’t! I believe it was because I felt so wonderfully safe and secure in the love of my parents at home. This gives a child strength to face hard things. No matter what happened at school, I knew my parents loved me (even if I messed up) and that they had my back (when I stood for the truth and ended up having consequences because of it).

When a child feels like they are on a family team that is seeking to do what’s right and will stick together no matter what, it takes much of the sting out of not being the most popular kid at school. I know this because I’ve lived this.

4. Stop worrying about popularity and if your child is going to hate you. How well I remember the time our daughter came downstairs in a short skirt. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Her dad took one look at it and told her to go and change. Our daughter was FURIOUS. She stomped back up the stairs, shouting at her father. My husband went to the bottom of the stairs and shouted back: “You are not going to wear me out! I love you and you are not going to wear me out!”

I will forever be grateful for my husband’s commitment to raising godly children and for his response in that moment. We thought for sure we were going to lose that daughter to the world and he wanted her to know that he was never giving up on her. Oh, that more kids would have dads like this.

We have got to stop worrying about if our kids will like us. We have got to put popularity at the bottom of the list or even move it off the list altogether. These things don’t matter in the long run. Remember–we have one goal and one goal only. If we are believers, we want our children to grow up to love and serve God. We must make all of our decisions–what our daughter is allowed to wear, what our kids are allowed to watch, where they go, who they hang out with–in light of this goal.

We should–no, we must–help our kids shrink their love for the world. We must help them see the dangers of the world rather than feed the world to them.

Sure, your teens will feel hatred towards you sometimes but they will forget. And, actually, will most likely thank you someday for your courage and willingness to do the hard thing.

A few years ago, I went over a few journals I had written as a teenager. I was so surprised to read of extreme anger that I had felt towards my father. I didn’t remember this at all. What I did remember was my parents willingness to guide and mold me in spite of the pressure to give in to the world. I remembered their willingness to say NO, our many discussions about hard questions, and their commitment to God. And I feel nothing but immense gratitude.

We have got to stop thinking about now and start thinking about the future.

5. It’s never too late. What if your child is now the teenager or young adult struggling in that “tidal pool”. Is it too late?

It is never too late! I remember a friend who struggled so as she watched her twenty-something son make bad choice after bad choice. But she stood firm and kept praying and eventually God brought that son to Himself.

No matter how old they are, keep pointing your kids to God’s Word in every conversation where you are given an opportunity and then pray, pray, pray. Never give up! God loves your kids more than you do.

_______________________________________________

There is much wrong in the parenting of today and I shudder when I think about the ramifications. Many children are never told the word “no”. Parents passionately want to make sure their kids never feel pain or experience frustration. Smartphones are used as babysitters and if they aren’t being used as babysitters, mom and dad sit there scrolling through apps, while their kids play alone. Discipline is avoided or never used at all. Oh, the outlook for the family is not good. The future is indeed grim when we consider the fruit of today’s parenting style: Self-centered, godless kids who care for nothing but their own gain.

But we have an opportunity to make a difference–even if it is in our own family. And this difference will ripple out through the span of time, as your children touch the lives of others and then their children and grandchildren do the same and on down through the generations.

We know that only God can draw a heart towards Him. We cannot control this through a list of do’s and don’ts. But there are things we can do to create a thirst for God that supersedes their thirst for this world. Losing our kids is not inevitable! God has give us instructions and encouragement in His Word, He provides so much grace, and He is incredibly faithful.  

So be strong and courageous. Raising kids is not easy! But there is no sweeter fruit than knowing that your kids are following the Lord. It is worth every hard moment and every bit of ridicule. God will walk with you each step of the way!

 

Special note to grandparents: As grandparents, we have a special role. We are no longer responsible for the spiritual health of our grandkids but we can be a blessing to our kids by embracing our support role. I cannot even begin to tell you the tremendous blessing that our children’s grandparents have been to my husband and myself. Both his parents and mine took their roles seriously and spent hours and hours playing and talking with our kids. They provided a safe place for our kids to have fun and just be kids. They are godly people and so we were assured they would be pointing them in the right direction as conversations took place. They continue to do this with their great-grandchildren, blessing their grandchildren who are now parents themselves. I hope to be just like them.

We grandparents have been given an opportunity to bless and to be blessed. This is much more important and way more satisfying than passionately doing our hobbies or fulfilling our own dreams. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with these things, may we not do them to the neglect of the most special opportunity we’ve been given.

 

Those Deceptive, Capricious Feelings

In the past year or two, God has been showing me how much I have lived by my feelings. Oh, when I compared myself to the world, I looked pretty good. I didn’t live by my feelings so often that it was ruining my life. Not like some people. Or was I? It has been something that I have been thinking on for awhile but it intensified greatly when I started experiencing extreme anxiety during this past summer.

I became aware that I was most definitely living by my feelings. I was allowing them to control me. They were ruling my thought life, my choices, and…well…pretty much my entire life.

When I felt anxious or scared–which, at one point, was almost every second of the day–I became a different person. I was allowing these feelings to change me. To direct my path.

But I guess most of us do this in one way or another. We don’t “feel” like doing anything productive so we scroll through Facebook or mindlessly watch TV. We “feel” like eating that second helping or that third cookie and so we eat instead of practicing self-discipline. We see something in the store or online that we “feel” like buying so we buy it, even if we can’t afford it. We don’t “feel” like talking to that annoying person (who needs Jesus) so we walk the other way. We “feel” scared to share the Gospel with someone so we just don’t. We “feel” angry with our spouse or our child and this dictates how we treat them–whether through yelling at them or by giving them the silent treatment. We “feel” scared or shy or excited or frustrated or sad–and these feelings dictate our choices and responses.

It’s a very human thing to do.

But it is not godly.

Living life according to our deceptive, capricious feelings is a very natural way to live. But it is not a godly way to live.

Recently, my dear friend, Becky, passed away after a 2 1/2 year battle with cancer. Before she died, she wrote a post (find it here) for the “Changed Lives” series. One thing she wrote really struck me while I was in the midst of my battle with fear–

“Then one day while pondering all this, I started asking myself, “Do I really believe God is Who He says He is”? I grew up in a Christian home singing the hymns of the faith, hearing the Word preached, memorizing Scripture, and hearing of other fellow believers’ experiences of God working in their lives and carrying them through life’s storms. But now that I was put into this position, what was going to be my anchor? Do I really believe God about His character, His promises?

Then and there is when I made up my mind that I do believe God, and Who He claims to be in His Word. That is when I found peace, His peace the passes all our understanding! And along with that came the deep seated joy!”

Becky lived out this peace and joy. Oh, she had moments of doubt and fear. Life wasn’t perfect. But when I’d visit with her, I’d come away encouraged by her love for the Lord and her trust in Him, in spite of all of the hardness life sent her way during that time. There was genuineness to her joy that only God could have given. There is no other possible way.

As I thought of what she wrote, it became clear to me that Becky had to make a choice. She had to make a choice that went beyond what she felt about her circumstances.

We are called to do the same.

Satan would like nothing more than for us to be imprisoned by fear or anger or a desire for pleasure. He wants us clad in iron chains or to be so far down in a dark, miry pit that we are rendered ineffectual for Christ. And it’s easy to land there if we are controlled by our feelings. The power that sin and Satan have in our lives is directly correlated to the power we give to our feelings.

I am not sure that we can ever master control over our feelings on this side of heaven. In fact, I’m sure we can’t. But we can certainly make progress.

However, first, we need to be aware that we are doing it. I believe living by how we feel has been so thoroughly ingrained in us, so consistently lived out by those around us, so pushed in the media and entertainment worlds, that we may not be aware that this is a problem.

Feelings change. But the Word of God never changes. Feelings lie and deceive. But God’s Word is Truth. Feelings often lead us in the wrong direction. Scripture always leads us the right way.

May we think through our lives and reflect on what our many choices each day are based on. Are they based on the truths and commands and promises found in scripture? Or are they based on how we happen to feel at the time?

 

I’m Back (and Where I Was)

For those of you that follow Growing4Life only through social media or some other online avenue, you may have wondered where I disappeared to. A couple of weeks ago I wrote an email to my subscribers, explaining what happened to me. I don’t plan to give the same detail here that I shared with them, as it really isn’t necessary. However, I do feel like I owe you all a bit of an explanation before I start writing again.

Early in July, I entered into a major battle with fear and anxiety. What was going on in the world started to get to me and, instead of trusting the Lord, I fell into a pit of despair.

Needless to say, the last six weeks have been difficult. And interesting. And stretching.

You’d think, as a believer, you wouldn’t battle something like this. And yet, suddenly I found myself in a fierce battle. I had written about this topic so often. But Satan had found my weak point and he wasn’t giving up without a fight!

When I was in my darkest time and felt like God just wasn’t hearing my prayers, my mom reminded me that when I would look back on this later, I would see God’s mercies throughout this time.

God is already opening my eyes to some of the ways He has been caring for me so tenderly during this time. Some of His mercies came through some of you readers. I want to thank each of you that have been praying for me. I have no doubt that God has used your prayers to start me on to the path of healing. I also want to express my deepest gratitude to the blog subscribers who took the time to respond to my personal letter to you. Your emails of promised prayer, support, and encouraging words were a much needed and unexpected balm at a very dark period of time.

To be sure, my battle is definitely not over. The valley is not traversed. But at the end of last week, I began to see just a small glimmer of light in the distance. For the first time in weeks, I feel like I can think again. Like I can concentrate enough to write again.

I don’t know if I’ll fall back in the pit. Perhaps I am taking a risk to start up writing again. Let me tell you why I have decided to take that risk.

One of my greatest regrets during these past few weeks is the time I was wasting by not continuing the ministry here. So much is happening in the world and I knew I was letting so many of you down. I wasn’t encouraging you, informing you, or pointing you to God’s Word during this strange, confusing time in our world.

Not that you need me. And God certainly doesn’t need me. But I knew that my fear and anxiety were keeping me from serving God and from encouraging my readers and that deeply saddened me.

And so it is with that in mind that I am stepping out in faith to begin writing again here at the blog.

Some day I may share my journey with you. But, at this point, it is too fresh, too recent, and the journey incomplete. This is not the time.

Again, I deeply thank those of you who have walked alongside me during this unexpected and unpleasant journey. I am so incredibly blessed with a supportive family, wonderful and loving friends, and so many kind, prayerful on-line brothers and sisters in Christ (I can’t wait to meet you all in Heaven! I feel like I am friends with so many of you already!)

One of the biggest blessings during this time is being reminded of how much people care.

And, so, here we go. I am back and I have some work ahead of me. I want to tackle some tough subjects. There is much going on, not only in the world, but also in the church. If you’ve been praying, I’d appreciate your continued prayer. Thank you so much, dear friends!

 

Swimming Up a Waterfall

The other morning I was sitting out on my second-story porch for my quiet time. It is one of my favorite spots in the whole world. Below the porch is our little fish pond where both fish and frogs make their home. This provides much entertainment for our grandchildren.

That particular morning, as I sat on the porch alone, I took a moment to watch the fish, as they were doing something very curious. You can see from the photo below (which is a snapshot I took that morning), that the fish has its head into the waterfall. It looked like it was trying to go up the waterfall and then, discouraged, he would swim away. Only to come back again a few seconds later. This went on for quite some time.

I found out later from my knowledgeable husband that there is something about the oxygen at the bottom of the waterfall that the fish like and so they will congregate there. But, from my vantage point on the porch it really did look like the fish was trying to swim up the waterfall and failing every time.

It reminded me of my life as a Christian. We are all called to “swim up a waterfall” –or, in other words–do the impossible. We are to die to self and crucify the flesh and live only for Christ. This is as impossible–perhaps even more impossible–than swimming up a waterfall. And, yet, this is our calling as believers.

Mark 8:34 — And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Romans 6:6 — We know that our old self[a] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

Ephesians 5:8 — or at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

Galatians 5:16-17– But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

I Peter 2:11 —  Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

So, we know that we are to leave our flesh and swim up the waterfall to holiness. This goes against our innately selfish nature which demands to be pleased and coddled. Our hearts demand we listen to our feelings and our minds work in creative ways to make excuses and to develop logical reasons why we can do what our flesh is demanding to do and still be guilt-free and “godly”.

But the Bible is very clear that we cannot do both. We cannot please self and God. We cannot love God and love the world. We cannot be obsessed with fulfilling our personal dreams of glory and fame while furthering God’s Kingdom. These things are mutually exclusive. They cannot be done at the same time.

There are only two kingdoms.

There is the Kingdom of Light. God is the light (I John 1:5) Jesus Christ is the light of the world (John 8:12) We have been rescued from darkness to light! (Colossians 1:13) Being rescued, we are now children of light (I Thessalonians 5:5). We are to walk as children of the light (Ephesians 5:8).

AND…

There is the Kingdom of Darkness. Satan is the head of this kingdom and the whole world lies in his power (I John 5:19). Natural man loves this kingdom (I John 3:19-21). Natural man is blind to the the light (Acts 26:18). As children of the light, we are to turn away from the darkness (Ephesians 5:11) and to never partner or commune with darkness and its children (2 Corinthians 6:14). This kingdom of darkness is represented by both the flesh and the world, which Satan uses to war against our souls and to keep mankind in darkness.

Every choice we make, every action we take, every thought we think, and every word we say furthers one of these kingdoms.

Now, with this in mind, let’s go back to our adventure of swimming up the waterfall. As children of light, swimming up the waterfall becomes possible. It is possible to live a righteous and holy life that is pleasing to God. Notice I didn’t say easy. It’s not easy.

But here are a few things to keep in mind as we strive to swim up the waterfall to holiness–

1. We must first make our way to the bottom of the waterfall.

We can’t be righteous without salvation. We can’t even get to the bottom of the waterfall without it. If we are not saved, we are unaware that the waterfall even exists. It is only when our eyes our opened, that we recognize which direction we are to go. And this direction is in complete opposition to the direction of the rest of the world. We will be mocked, viewed as odd, and may lose our reputation by going this direction. Remember, we can’t have the world and Jesus, too.

The old hymn puts it like this: Take the world but give me Jesus.

Too often, modern-day Christians would prefer to sing: Give the world and give me Jesus.

But it is simply not possible according to James 4:4. Swimming to the bottom of the waterfall means turning our backs on the world.

2. Not making efforts to swim up the waterfall indicates a serious problem.

Many are those who’ve said a prayer for salvation as fire insurance and they aren’t even making their way to the bottom of the waterfall. They are still swimming in the opposite direction with their worldly friends. They haven’t given up the things of this world and they are still focused on furthering their own kingdom. They are people who are living solely for themselves but think they are saved because they said a prayer. This person may very well be–and probably is– a false convert! (Matthew 7:21-23) I hate even saying this, because I know that describes so many that we all know and love. But we can’t mince words because their eternity is literally at stake. If you know someone who thinks they are a Christian but who is still swimming out in the pond, pray for them. Really pray for them.

3. We can’t do it alone.

As I watched the fish turn away again and again, I assumed he was just discouraged and tired. I found out later that he wasn’t, of course, but it was a great analogy for our own efforts to get up that waterfall. We try and try, using our methods and our self-discipline but we just don’t make it. That’s because we are trying to attempt it without the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to live a godly life without the Holy Spirit. We are to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). This is the only way to make possible a holy life that is pleasing to God.

4. We must discard distractions and secret sins.

So often, we get so frustrated that we aren’t making progress up that waterfall. But if we really examine our lives, we may understand just why that is…

We have either crowded our lives so full that we have no time at all to give any effort or intention to this calling of living a pure and holy life.

Or we are holding on to secret sins that we just aren’t willing to turn away from. It may be an unwillingness to give up a grudge against someone or a love for the world’s entertainment or style that causes us to compromise our purity. It may be laziness or gossip. But, oftentimes, if we are really struggling to make progress in our Christian life, there is some sin that we are nurturing and feeding and unwilling to give up.

Or, perhaps, we haven’t yielded to God’s sovereignty in the happenings of our lives. We try to live a godly life, but, inside, we are angry and discontent and upset about how things are going. This makes it almost impossible to get up that waterfall because we don’t trust God. Instead, we are wary and disbelieving. This lack of faith stymies our Christian growth severely.

5. We will never reach perfection on this side of Heaven.

One of the things that makes this such a hard thing is that we will never reach perfection. We, like that fish, are always trying, always trying, but we will never arrive at the top. This can be discouraging and sometimes we may think: Why even try? So let’s unpack that a bit. Why is it important to keep trying to get up that waterfall?

First, we keep trying because we are told to do this (I Peter 1:15). To live a life of obedience to our wonderful Savior, we strive to live holy and pure lives.

Second, we keep trying because we do grow and change and bear much fruit, through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Psalm 92:12-14). If we have been a Christian for more than a year, we can look back and see how we have grown and changed. This is very encouraging as we face new challenges and sins that discourage us. God is growing us to be more like Christ, be it ever so slowly.

Third, we keep trying because God uses our efforts to build His Heavenly Kingdom (Colossians 1:24-29). Our efforts to live a holy and pure life shine as a bright light in this dark world. We should look different in every way when compared with those around us. Remember, there are only two kingdoms: Light and Darkness. Children of light should never resemble children of darkness. This includes being loving and kind, but it also includes what we watch, how we dress, what we talk about, and every other little and big choice we make in our lives.

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So, my dear readers, keep swimming up that waterfall. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t try to do it alone because we are not alone! We have the Holy Spirit to strengthen, comfort, and guide us. May we cast off the things that distract and tempt us. May we intentionally live as children of the light, because that’s exactly what we are if we have been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ alone!

 

Changed Lives: Becky

About a year and a half ago, my dear friend, Becky, messaged me that she had been taken to the ER with stomach pain. By the time all the tests were run, she was given the news that she had stage 4 colon cancer. There was no cure. They would simply be working to prolong her life. As you can imagine–this rocked her world. This was not the only thing going on in her life and was simply added to another heavy, heavy burden that she was already bearing.

And, yet, every time I would stop for a visit to cheer her up…well, she’d end up cheering me up! Here she was–going through all of these things– and she was not only smiling (anyone can fake a smile) but she was full of that deep, abiding joy and amazing peace that is a true gift of God to those who have surrendered and submitted their lives to His holy will.

Becky could write a whole book about her life (in fact, I told her she should and that I’ll help her!). It is full of fascinating and interesting adventures. It is also full of the love and care of her Heavenly Father. She has spent a lifetime loving and serving God and He has been there for her time and time again. But a stage 4 cancer diagnosis will tend to test all you have said that you believe, and Becky was no different.

The last couple of times I was there to visit, I asked her how she could have so much joy amidst such dark times? I told her that if she’d ever want to write about it to encourage others, I’d love to post it here on the blog. Smiling, she’d be noncommital but did say she’d think about it.

And then one day, there it was in my email box. She couldn’t sleep the night before so she had written a bit about her cancer and her journey to joy.

I know you will appreciate this and that it will encourage you greatly as you seek to find joy in your own circumstances. Now here are Becky’s own words about her experience–

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It is easy to be happy and have joy when things in life are falling into place the way we want them to. But what happens when things go “wrong” in our perspective? Can we still have joy? What do we do with the verse in Philippians 4:4 that says, “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS; and again I say, Rejoice.” When I say joy, I am talking about the deep joy in our hearts that is there, no matter what comes our way.

So often we like to think that we can handle the turmoils of life when they come our way; but when it does happen, we find out otherwise. What happens when we are going through the major throes of life finding out we have cancer, a child has rejected what you have taught him/her and walked away from the faith, you are having major financial difficulty, or you have lost some one dear to your heart?

That time came for me when I had to do some intense soul searching a little over a year ago when I was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. The doctors said that there wasn’t much they could do except try to prolong my life some. This really threw us into shock, and all plans and goals came to a screeching halt. I did not ask God why but how. How was I going to get through this? How was I supposed to deal with this and have the right attitude? How could I glorify the Lord and not fail Him?

Then one day while pondering all this, I started asking myself, “Do I really believe God is Who He says He is”? I grew up in a Christian home singing the hymns of the faith, hearing the Word preached, memorizing Scripture, and hearing of other fellow believers’ experiences of God working in their lives and carrying them through life’s storms. But now that I was put into this position, what was going to be my anchor? Do I really believe God about His character, His promises?

Then and there is when I made up my mind that I do believe God, and Who He claims to be in His Word. That is when I found peace, His peace the passes all our understanding! And along with that came the deep seated joy! Satan wants to steal our joy and make us ineffectual as followers of Christ. If we start concentrating on the “What if’s”, it is easy to fall into depression or get angry. God, in His perfect will and wisdom, has a plan for each one of us, and it’s up to us to accept it with the right attitudes and allow Him to work in our lives and through us, to draw us to Him and show us Who He is and what He can do! In trying to be an encouragement, many say that God will not give us more than we can handle. However, many times He does give us more than we can handle so that we can get to know Him and experience that peace and joy from Him.

Since my diagnosis, my Heavenly Father has been by my side, holding my hand and helping me to learn of Him. My days are not always perfect. There are times when I have to ask God just to hold me in His arms as a child and show me He is there. I have been learning so much and, although I wouldn’t have chosen to go through these hardships, I am thankful for the opportunities. He is my steady anchor and the reason I can have joy no matter what He deems necessary to allow into my life. A favorite verse of mine that is a great picture of our help and safety in God’s character is in Proverbs 18:10 –

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe!”

 

 

How Important is Your Stuff?

I had lunch with a dear friend this week and, as always, the conversation easily flowed as we talked about the Lord, life, family, and whatever else that came up.

During our time together, we started talking about her childhood as an MK (missionary kid). It all started with a string of gold beads. You know–the kind you get for your tree at Christmas. She glanced at them and said that when she was living on the mission field, she remembered her family having a string of brightly colored beads that went missing one day. The next day they started seeing the ladies wearing them in the form of earrings. They had been stolen and turned into earrings!

Now you may think–what’s the big deal? Who cares about a string of cheap beads?

True.

But as we talked further, I started to get just a little feel for the culture in which she lived. She went on to say that in that native culture, stealing wasn’t considered wrong unless someone “caught you”. With this being the case, everything they owned was at risk. Especially if it was outside. Even clothing hanging on a wash-line was apt to be stolen. Any servant brought into the house to help with the hard task of daily living would bring the risk of losing more of your personal stuff.

Since they were hours and hours away from the closest city, there would be no opportunity to get more stuff anytime soon. There was no running to the local Walmart or Target to replace something when you live in the jungle.

As she told me this story, she shared how her father had told her that he had learned not to care so much about his possessions on the mission field. What wasn’t stolen was often ruined by the awful heat and humidity.

As I listened to her talk, I was challenged. How much we all value “stuff”. Right?

Oh, some of us don’t have a struggle with any of this. But a good many of us do. And it goes way beyond just wanting the latest and greatest…

Some people just buy a lot. They are “stuff-aholics”. Others value stuff so highly that they get angry or depressed if some of their “stuff” is ruined or goes missing. And, of course, there are those who just like feeling like they are better than others because of their accumulation or brand of “stuff”.

But, after all is said and done, it’s just that: Stuff. We can take none of it with us to heaven. Whether we like it or not, it will all end up in the junk heap. And our value is certainly not determined by how much or what kind of stuff we own.

So why do so many of us wind up loving our stuff so much? How in the world do we get so off-kilter when it comes to this matter of buying, keeping, and valuing our stuff?

I am sure our materialistic culture is to blame, to some extent. Everywhere we turn we hear “BUY MORE STUFF!” It is the main marketing message that hits our ears [what feels like] a million times a day.

But that’s really no excuse for a Christian, right?

As I think on this, Colossians 3:1-2 comes to mind. It is here that I think we can find a principle related to how we view our stuff–

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.

The more fixed our eyes are on heaven, the less important our earthly stuff becomes.

You see, there isn’t anything innately wrong with owning stuff. There are many examples in scripture of wealthy men and women who followed God whole-heartedly.

The trouble comes in when we don’t view it with the right heart and a godly attitude. And I’ve noticed that this attitude is not dependent on how much money one has. There are greedy, miserly people who are living paycheck to paycheck. And there are godly, generous people who make millions of dollars each year. The greedy, uncharitable, or discontent heart appears to be completely unrelated to income.

In my friend’s case, her father’s hands were pried loose from his stuff because, in a foreign land, it became a most uncertain commodity. At any moment it could be gone and he was forced to recognize his stuff wasn’t his own but God’s. And, in turn, he was forced to rely on God when his possessions would disappear.

Here in the western world we live in, we rarely get to such a point. Instead, we need to be much more intentional on learning the godly approach to stuff.

This can only be done by diving into the Word and learning there what kind of attitude we should have. God has blessed us immensely here in the west in regards to material things. But, with that, comes its own special challenges, as well as a grave responsibility.

So may we strive to hold our “stuff” with a content heart and an open hand. After all, it really isn’t ours, anyway. We need to be godly, generous stewards of what God has allowed us to have for this time.

 

A Quick Update

Good morning! I won’t be writing a regular post this morning but, instead, wanted to fill you in a bit on what’s happening with me. My next four to six weeks are extremely busy. Let’s just say between the extra work load at the office we are experiencing currently as we prepare for Christmas decor and snow removal and with several added and unexpected things thrown in there, I am more than a little overwhelmed.

With that being said, I am not sure how much I’ll be around until mid-November. I may be able to get a post off at the end of the month, but we shall see.

I did want to let you know that one of my dear friends is coming to take my spot in the office of our landscaping business at the end of the month. It was just so amazing how God worked it all out. Of course, we still need to make sure she actually likes the job, but we are both very hopeful it will be a good fit.

I wanted to personally thank those of you who have prayed for me with all of the changes this year and who have prayed along with us for just the right person to fill that spot. I know a few of you have been faithfully praying and I am so grateful. God has been so good through the whole year, showing Himself so faithful and teaching me so much.

Looking back over this past year, I can truly see His hand working it all out in the way it needed to be. As one of the owners, I really needed to be in the office, familiarizing myself with the new program. And, while I don’t love billing and invoicing (my responsibilities this past year), I did love working with our office staff. They are a fun group of people that loves the Lord and it’s a great environment. While I won’t miss the job, per se, I will miss working with them.

Through it all, God has even provided an opportunity for me to speak at an upcoming national Landscape Technology conference. (This is taking me wayyyy out of my comfort zone and sometimes I am not sure I should have said yes! While I love speaking opportunities with Christian ladies, this will be a completely new thing.) But I can see how this door was opened for me and I am hoping I have some real opportunities to be a light for Christ and to share the Gospel while I’m there. If you regularly pray for me, you can add this to the list. It’s in February.

As I think about not having to be over in the office three days a week, my thoughts have been turning in my head about what’s next. I have had several ideas and plan to introduce anything new to my subscribers first before making it public via social media. If you’d like to stay in the loop of what’s happening with Growing4Life, this would be a great time to subscribe to the blog (if you haven’t already). It’s super easy to do and you will find the sign-up box in the upper right, immediately below the photo of the Bible.

One thing that has really hit me as I have been thinking about all of this is that the time is so short. How can I best make an impact for God’s Kingdom with whatever time is left? This is the question that needs to be answered.

While I sort through all of those ideas, I do have a few things that are already in the works–

I plan to once again offer a Bible Challenge. The 2020 Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge will be a bit different next year and I am super excited about it. Stay posted for details on that.

And I am thinking about doing a Christmas story again this year. I do love writing fiction and really enjoy this little taste of it that I get each year.

 

So, that’s a little about what’s going on here. Thanks, as always, for reading. So many of you are such an encouragement to me and I appreciate you taking your precious time to read what I write. I don’t take that for granted. I know there are lots of things to read out there and it’s no easy task to sort through all of that and decide what you will actually spend your time reading.

So thank you! And have a great day! :)

 

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.

 

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