Spiritual Growth

What Color Is Your Sky?

If I tell you the sky is blue on a bright summer day, you will probably agree. But there may be some out there who simply disagree. In their world the sky is purple or pink or chartreuse. Years ago, we would have recognized that this is a wrong answer. But now, we are supposed to give credence to any answer. No one is wrong. In fact, the greatest sin you can commit is to tell someone they are wrong.

We can see how this belief that there is no absolute truth has eroded the culture to a point of what I believe to be no return. The world we live in and the world that is our future (if the Lord tarries) will not be the world we grew up in. That is becoming clearer every day in a myriad of ways.

But this belief is also eroding the church. We can see this when someone points out error according to scripture and the messenger is attacked rather than the error dealt with. In the minds of most Christians, which have been molded to worldly thinking, it is more wrong to point out the error than the error itself. This response happens so often to those who stand for the truth and there is so rarely support or defense from even like-minded Christians, that eventually those who speak up often lose courage and just stop. The attacks are just too painful to bear alone.

And so I want to address this problem from both sides today. From the side of the hearer, as well as from the side of the speaker of the truth. How should this actually work from a biblical standpoint? Both sides have responsibilities if the Church (all believers) is to function well. And all of us should find ourselves on both sides on occasion. (May we never be found only a hearer or only a speaker. That right there will lead to serious dysfunction within the church body.)

According to scripture the hearer has some responsibilities–

➊ We are to test all things. No matter what it is, we are to test it and determine if it is true or false (I Thessalonians 5:21).

➋ We are to avoid those who teach a doctrine contrary to what we have learned; we are to abandon anyone who would not be teaching the truth (Romans 16:17).

➌ We are to recognize that there is but one true Gospel and that, sadly, many are trying to pervert that Gospel, yielding a multitude of false gospels. We must keep our eyes open and be a bit of a skeptic when something is called “Christian” (Galatians 1:6-11).

➍ We are to compare all things to scripture, following the example laid out for us in scripture by the Bereans (Acts 17:11).

➎ We are to be humble and teachable and willing to hear what someone has to say before getting defensive (I Peter 5:5).

➏ We are to recognize that God gave some the gift of discernment –literally the ability to distinguish between the spirits– as a gift to the Church; we should be thankful for this gift and pay attention when they are brave enough to speak up (I Corinthians 12:10).

➐ We are to be kind and loving to the speaker, even when we don’t agree with them. A Christian sibling speaking something we don’t like or don’t agree with is not our enemy (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

➑ We must recognize that it is our duty to protect the truth and that sometimes we must call out and break from those who call themselves a part of us when they show themselves to be wolves in sheep’s clothing; not all who claim to be Christ’s are genuine (I John 2:19, Ephesians 5:11, 2 Corinthians 11:14).

➒ Even if we don’t feel knowledgeable or brave enough to speak up ourselves, we should offer support to those who are; we must love and protect and support our brothers and sisters in Christ who stand for what is right (I Peter 1:22).

 

According to scripture, the speaker of the truth also has some important things to consider before we ever open our mouths (or set our fingers to typing)–

➊ We must be humble and teachable and, in fact, even more so as we try to correct or call out those who are in opposition to the truth (2 Timothy 2:25).

➋ When addressing false doctrine and false teachers, we must stick to the facts of actions and words, rather than attacking the person of whom we are speaking (Titus 3:2).

➌ We must acknowledge that we don’t know everything (this goes back to being humble but it is SO important that it bears repeating). We dare not be wise in our own opinions. Arrogance is just…ugly (Romans 12:16).

➍ These things that God has opened our eyes to should break our hearts. We must have so much grace for others, constantly remembering our own sinful hearts and always remembering that “but for the grace of God, go I”! (I Corinthians 15:10).

➎ We must speak and act in love always, understanding that if we speak up without love we are like sounding brass or a clanging cymbal (I Corinthians 13:1-3).

➏ We are to love those who just can’t see. Those who are blinded and have set themselves up as our enemies. The saddest thing of all is when these come from within our local churches and sometimes even our families. The pain of this can be almost unbearable sometimes and yet we must choose to love (Matthew 5:43-44).

➐ We must forgive. We dare not grow bitter or hold a grudge against someone who has treated us unkindly or condescendingly. This will yield very bad fruit–not only in our personal lives but also within the church body (Matthew 6:14-15).

➑ We must continue to pray steadfastly. Praying that God would open the eyes of those who are blind (recognizing that He is the only one who can!); praying that He would give us wisdom when to speak and when to just keep quiet; praying that He would give us love for others that supersedes their treatment of us; praying for courage and boldness and fortitude to say what others are too fearful to say (Colossians 4:2).

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We are ALL either hearers or speakers of the truth. Ideally, we are both of these things at various times. May we both hear and speak as scripture would have us do so. The world would tell us to get angry at and ugly with those with whom we disagree. It would tell us to speak up indiscriminately and without forethought. Basically, the world would have us do both things all wrong. We can see this all around us–on social media, by the water cooler at work, on the sidelines of athletic events, and anyplace the world hangs out.

If the world is doing it one way, we will want to do it another way. And that way is found in the Bible –where we can find clear principles for both hearing and speaking that will pave the way to purify, build up, and unify the Body of Christ.

 

P.S. The sky IS blue on a bright summer day. 2+2 always equals 4. And all babies are born as a girl or as a boy. Let’s not get caught up in the lie that there are no absolutes. It is a deadly lie that has many casualties. But that’s a post for another day…

 

 

What to Expect When You are Expecting

There’s a popular book for pregnant women called What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It was actually very helpful to me thirty years ago and it must be fairly timeless as I see the 4th revised version is still available today. But this post isn’t about expecting a baby. It’s about our expectations of this life and what we should expect when we are expecting.

But, first, a story.

Last fall, our youngest daughter, Marissa, decided to take a semester off of college so that she wouldn’t lose her senior year playing soccer. With that in mind, she restarted in Spring and this fall is her final semester before she graduates in December. She was really looking forward to a her final soccer season and things were going well. She was expecting a great season.

But that all came to a flying halt a couple of Saturdays ago when her foot made contact with someone else’s shoe and shattered two of the toes on her right foot. With a trip to the doctor and a boot on her foot, the expectation for a great soccer season faded away to nothing and left only bitter disappointment in its place.

It’s been a hard couple of weeks for her because this girl loves soccer. I know God is growing her and teaching her because she loves Him and He has promised us in Romans 8:28-29 to use all things in the lives of those who love Him to conform them to Christ’s image but–as we all know–some of those “all things” can be very painful.

As I was reflecting on the past few weeks yesterday, I was thinking how my daughter’s disappointed and unfulfilled expectation mirrors what we are all experiencing to some extent. Prior to March 2020 we all had expectations for our lives. They were reasonable expectations (for most of us). Things such as: Have a happy family whose needs are met; Enjoy spending time with those we love; Travel and vacations; Good health (and wonderful healthcare should we need it); buying anything we need (or want) and getting it in a timely fashion; financial security; etc, etc, etc.

While we knew (and had probably already experienced) the hard facts of life (such as disease, death, betrayal, broken relationships, financial difficulties, etc) the world around us always remained stable in the midst of those terrible trials.

But within one week in the year 2020, all of those expectations came crashing down. Suddenly, our world wasn’t so stable after all. We recognized in such a short time that we aren’t really free, after all. We recognized the stranglehold on the information flow. And we recognized the outright deception being played out on so many levels. It was disconcerting and frustrating. And as time marched on after that pivotal week, our expectations became less and less likely to be fulfilled.

And we were reminded in a more vivid way than ever before of what can we expect when we are expecting in this life on earth: We can expect disappointment and disillusionment.

But, just like my daughter will need to work through her unfulfilled expectation for her life, so, too, will we need to do the same. We need to release those expectations we had and rest in the Lord’s will for our lives. His will is not our will and we need to trust Him as we move forward.

The wonderful thing is that we can trust Him. Not only has He proven Himself over and over again in our own lives and the lives of those who have gone before us, but we are seriously watching what was prophesied two thousand years ago getting set up to come to pass right before our eyes. If that doesn’t confirm scripture for you, then I don’t know what will.

And we finally realize: There is one expectation that will never go unfulfilled. One hope that will never dim or fade away.

And that is our hope in Christ.

He made a way for us to be reconciled to God through His sacrifice on the cross so that we could live in His presence forever (learn more about this here.) Our expectations for a future with God in heaven will come to pass.

Unlike this old earth that is fading away, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and we can count on Him to fulfill His promises.

So instead of tentative, precarious expectations based in this unsettled, strange world, perhaps it’s time we base our expectations in the rock of Ages. Perhaps this is part of what God is doing–moving His children’s hearts from this world to the one to come (Colossians 3:1-4); deepening our understanding of our role as pilgrims and sojourners in this world (I Peter 2:11); and helping us understand that our hope for this life and for our future should lie in Christ alone (Ephesians1:18-21).

Oh, my friends, let’s move our expectations from this world to the God of the universe. Let’s move them from the tentative and unsure to the certain and the definite.

And, in so doing, everything will change. Instead of being driven by discouragement and disappointment, we will rest secure in our eternal hope. Instead of being self-absorbed we will turn outwards, bringing hope to the lost souls around us and emanating the peace and joy that only God can give.

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If I look at myself, I am depressed. If I look at those around me, I am often disappointed. If I look at my circumstances, I am discouraged. But if I look at Jesus, I am constantly, consistently, and eternally fulfilled! ~Author Unknown

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(Yeah, that sounds so wonderful, doesn’t it? And I do know that what I wrote above is true. But that doesn’t mean I always live it. Like you, I am trying to grow and learn in this strange new world we are living in. It’s a real challenge some days. The most important thing that has helped me is studying and memorizing the Word. If you are saved and just don’t know where to begin in moving your hope from this world to an eternal hope, start there. Open Ephesians 1 and read what God has said about His own. Read Philippians. Read John 10, John 15, Colossians 3, Psalm 37. And on and on. God has given us so much in His Word from which we can draw strength in these difficult days.)

 

 

(A Lot of) Lessons I Learned This Past Month (Part 2)

Earlier this week, I wrote PART 1 of this series. The purpose of this is to share how my month-long focus on missionary stories over on the Growing4Life Facebook page changed me. There were lots of lessons to be learned from these courageous men and women and I wanted to not only share what I’ve learned but to encourage you to do your own study of these men and women, as well.

I plan to put a PDF together with a list of the missionaries and the corresponding links and other resources I used during Missionary Month. If you’d like a copy just reply to this email (or if you are seeing this on social media, simply message me your email address.)

The first part of this series focused on some pretty foundational Christian principles. Things most of us already know but perhaps needed to be reminded of. This second part is going to be a little different as these things are applicable for all of us right now–calling for change in specific areas of our lives. At least this is the case for me. You can be your own judge… haha

So here we go. Prepare to have your toes stepped on (maybe)–

7. They had an eternal perspective. These missionaries were, without exception, focused on eternity. They cared little for their own lives as they boldly traversed jungles to reach hostile, savage tribes or subjected themselves and their families to filthy conditions and diseases that had been eradicated years before in their home countries. I thought I was doing a “pretty good job” overall at keeping an eternal perspective, but these missionaries challenged me. Their eternal perspective wasn’t only about keeping fear at bay or feeling peace and joy in their hearts. It was not self-centered. Their eternal perspective was God-centered (This is probably worth a whole post.) They wanted to bring Him glory and tell others about His plan of salvation, no matter the cost. They denied self, they sacrificed, they endured unthinkable conditions. All because they remembered what really matters. Oh, how important that our eternal perspective is God-centered and not self-centered.

8. Prayer matters– a lot! So many of these missionaries spoke about prayer in a living way that is unfamiliar to most of us. This was a vital part of their ministry and they challenged me to think more deeply about this issue of prayer. You see, I think we all say that we know prayer is important but few of us actually live like we believe this. But these missionaries knew prayer was important. And that they needed the prayer support of those across the seas as they endeavored to take the Gospel to foreign people groups who were soundly in the hands of Satan through demon worship and other pagan practices. Oh, to take prayer more seriously!

9. Music matters. Several of these missionaries mentioned the importance of Bible memory and hymns as they faced solitary confinement or other situations where they had no access to scripture. I don’t know what kind of music most of you listen to, but may I encourage you to pay attention to the lyrics? Would those lyrics strengthen and encourage you during a time of need and desperation? The music we listen to matters. A lot. It will either encourage us in our walk with God or it will move us away from Him and from sound doctrine. (Keep in mind that just because a song mentions God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit does NOT mean it is of sound doctrine. In fact, much of Christian contemporary and worship music is NOT doctrinally sound. Pay attention and be aware.) Protect and prepare yourself by listening to music that is God-honoring and faith-strengtheningOh, to listen to great songs of the faith that will be a balm to our souls during troubled times. 

10. Redeem the time. Oh, how much time we waste. I really had to reflect on this. Particularly when I considered the many Bible verses that came to the minds of these great Christians just when they needed them. How well do I know my Bible? How much have I memorized? God can’t use His Word in our lives if we don’t know it. And we can’t know it, unless we intentionally give our efforts to know it. Oh, how important to make Bible Study a priority!

I was also reminded that it is incredibly important to consider what kind of things we are putting into our minds. Not only music as mentioned earlier, but all entertainment. What do we want to remember if we are ever without TV, books, and music? What do we want filling our minds and hearts when we face difficult situations and unthinkable circumstances? Whatever our answer, THIS is what we should be listening to, memorizing, watching. THIS is what we should we spend the majority of our time on. Oh, to be more intentional with how I spend my time.

11. Stop Complaining. Oh, how condemned I felt after reading and listening to these testimonies. They are without necessities, facing the deaths of spouses and children, dealing with the indifference and hatred of those they want to help and they are doing it willingly for the cause of Christ. And then there’s me. Getting a little worked up because the customer service representative of the credit card company I called was so inept. Oh, how much I complain. Over stupid stuff. It’s honestly ridiculous. Oh, to stop being such a complainer!

 

SO WHO IS REALLY A HERO?

I get so very weary with those who are deemed “heroes” in America (not sure how it is in your country). Movie stars and sports figures, few who have done anything of value, are raised on a pedestal while those who are true heroes go completely unsung. A movie star acts and a sports figure plays. Neither of these things are worthy of honor. A true hero sacrifices. They sacrifice their own well-being, their own comfort and convenience, their own lives for a greater cause. And they inspire others to do the same!

Christian heroes do this for the cause of Christ. In my opinion, there are no greater heroes than these men and women who gave their lives for Christ. I can’t even imagine the crowns they will receive in heaven!

Oh, that we, too, may be Christian heroes wherever God has placed us!

 

 

 

(A Lot of) Lessons I Learned This Past Month (Part 1)

A few weeks ago, I made a rather spontaneous decision. My mom and I were talking about how June has been hi-jacked and she casually mentioned that we should make it Missionary Month. Without any background research or preparation in advance, I decided to do just that.  And so, on the Growing4Life Facebook page and also on my personal Facebook page, I’ve been featuring a different missionary each day. The well-known and the not so well-known. Martyrs and those who lived into their nineties. At home and on the foreign field. So many different missionaries but all with the same purpose: Proclaim the Gospel!

I have to admit when I made the last-minute decision to do this, I had no expectation of it changing me. I just wanted to bring some attention to these amazing men and women who sacrificed all for Christ. And that was that. Or so I thought.

And so I spent about hours this past month pouring over articles and watching videos to learn more about this special group of people. I had already read some of the biographies. Others I knew only by name. It was a profoundly rewarding exercise. (I am considering creating a PDF that includes each featured missionary along with the links I used. If this is something that would interest you, just let me know by replying to this email.)

As I researched and studied from my very comfortable home with my coffee cup in hand, I started to recognize how weak and spoiled I am. Honestly, I did already knew this but this study really drove home the point. Oh, to be more like these people who truly followed Jesus by denying themselves and taking up their cross (Matthew 16:24). They had it easy and chose hard. And I complain when the smallest thing doesn’t go my way. It’s a contrast that is striking and disgusting and I truly came up wanting. This month really challenged me personally both in living my daily Christian life, as well as in what should be done to prepare for whatever lies ahead.

Here are a few of the lessons that had the most impact in my life–

1. God is faithful. (Lamentations 3:22-23) Over and over again, through all circumstances, God proved Himself faithful. Many–I would even say most–of these missionaries lost multiple children and their spouse throughout the course of their ministry. Some endured terrible hardships under the Japanese and communist regimes. Many were hungry, out of money, mocked, scorned, persecuted, in need of clothing and other necessities, in the filthiest of conditions, surrounded by disease and yet God remained faithful. This doesn’t mean that only good things happened to them. It means that God was faithful through the good and the bad. I always cringe when I hear people imply that God intends for us to only experience good things. So many in the western, materialistic word believe that God is the great genie in the sky just desiring to make our own personal, selfish dreams come true. Nothing could be further from the truth.

2. The missionaries had one purpose and one purpose only. (I Peter 2:9-10) They did not set out to change the world and make it a better place in a temporal sense. They did not go to a third world country to provide the impoverished people there with clean water, food, and other necessities. While this may have been part of their plan, their main goal was always to proclaim the Gospel. Nothing could deter them from pointing people to Jesus and saving them from hell. Oh, what a contrast this is to modern day missions where the focus has moved to fixing temporal, earthly problems. Caring for their bodies while ignoring their souls. I am thankful there are still some very godly missionaries out there but that group is shrinking fast.

3. The Word was foundational. (2 Timothy 3:16) In the lives of these missionaries, the Bible was key. They recognized that the power for the Christian life was there and it was the center of their ministry, as well as their source for strength. It’s no wonder so many Christians are leading powerless lives encumbered by sin, depression, addictions, worldliness, and idols. The Bible has taken a backseat in homes and churches across the world and this is where that leads. God has given us His Word as the tool by which we are transformed day by day. And yet so often it just sits on a shelf.

4. Christians who give up everything are happier. (Philippians 4:11) Yesterday, a friend of mine put a photo on Facebook with the covers of two books. One book had missionary stories and the other contained short biographies of movie stars from bygone days. She mentioned that the contrast between the two groups of people was striking. I have noticed the same thing. The biographies of most famous people are incredibly disappointing. They are generally full of broken marriages and families, addictions, materialism, bitterness, resentment, and deep and abiding sadness. They have wasted their whole lives chasing after something that they just can’t find.

Contrast that to the missionaries and other sold-out Christians. God has filled them with a purpose that is far outside themselves. I know it doesn’t make any sense to our finite minds, but somehow God has designed us that when we live for Him, we are happier. When we turn away from our selfish desires and submit to and obey God, it brings a peace and joy that can’t be explained. We can grasp after that next house or car, we can try to fill our hearts with earthly relationships, we can attain the greatest success in our jobs or we can gain fame and fortune–but none of that leads to the peace that passes understanding. This only comes through God. And when you have that, then nothing else matters. It truly is the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). These missionary stories gave real life evidence to this over and over and over again.

5. Missionaries aren’t perfect. (I John 1:8) Many of these missionaries made errors in judgment or chose to do something that ended up costing them dearly. They had tempers, they lacked management skills, they had to work through bitterness–just as we do. Some came to wrong conclusions about some secondary biblical issues. Some sacrificed their children for their missionary call. In summary, they were sinners. They were regular people just like you and like me. And yet God used them mightily. For it isn’t from our own stores and talents that we do great things for God, but it is His working through us.

6. They wouldn’t change a thing. (Romans 8:28) I remember listening to the testimony of one missionary as she described her experience as a POW of Japan during the second world war. It was absolutely horrifying and far beyond anything you and I could comprehend. And yet, she said she wouldn’t change a thing. She not only submitted to God’s sovereignty in her life but she recognized that He had used these unspeakable trials to bear fruit that could not have otherwise grown.

 

Well, this may be a good place to stop for today, as this is getting far longer than I expected. I think I will divide this into two posts and try to get Part 2 out later this week. Thanks for reading!

 

 

The Fragrance of Christ

As I sit outside writing this morning, the incredible fragrance of honeysuckle wafts up to the porch on a light breeze every once in awhile. We have a bit of woods behind our house and the last few weeks of May and the beginning of June always bring the blossoming of, first, the wild roses and, shortly after, the honeysuckle– both filling the air with their wonderful scents.

But to some people, farmers and others, these plants are viewed as noxious weeds to be destroyed. Many don’t appreciate their amazing– albeit brief– time of glory each year and seek avidly to rid their landscape of these pests.

One person views them in a positive light and one person views them in a negative light.

As I was enjoying the scent of the honeysuckle the other evening, I examined my own life and wondered if I am the fragrance of Christ to those around me. I long to be, although that sinful nature does trip me up all too frequently!

What is the fragrance of Christ? What does it look like? It’s love and peace and joy. It’s selflessness and self-control. It’s honesty and patience and kindness.

But is that all there is to it? And if it is, then why are we viewed as noxious weeds to so many? Why does the world hate Christians so? 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 helps us understand, showing us that, while we are the fragrance of life to a few, to many we are the fragrance of death(!)–

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us [d]diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. 15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?

None of the things listed above would ever make an enemy. Who doesn’t like someone who is kind and patient and loving? What is the fragrance of Christ that turns people off and makes them want to attack and destroy Christians?

Let’s turn to scripture to gain some insight. For it is there that we find some of these offensive principles that make people turn away from, reject, avoid, and rebel against God. It is here we find out why the world at large hates us Christians.

Being the fragrance of Christ to the world also means that–

–We are committed to the truth of the Gospel. We proclaim that Jesus is the only way. There are no good works we can do or supernatural, mystical happening we can experience to make us right with God. (John 14:6)

–We understand that we–and everyone else in this world– are not good people. We are all born sinners and are in desperate need of a Savior. (Romans 3:23)

–We intentionally surrender our own desires to live for God. We give up our dreams in order to obey God. We take up our cross and deny ourselves. (Matthew 16:24)

–We separate ourselves from the world. From its passion for success. From its definition of love. From its goals and values. From its entertainment. (James 4:4) (please note that I didn’t say we separate ourselves from the people of the world–for we are clearly told to reach the lost. But, according to scripture, we must separate from the world’s system. Contrary to today’s popular opinion, you don’t need to participate in the world and its entertainment to reach someone for Christ.)

–We trust God instead of self. We turn to the Bible for answers instead of to man’s wisdom. (Psalm 118:8)

–We expect persecution and trials as we live our Christian life. We don’t want them, but we understand that we are swimming upstream in a world that is going downstream. (2 Timothy 3:12)

There are so many more things the Bible teaches that we must stand upon. And these are things HATED by the world. We teach that women are the keepers of the home and are to submit to their husbands (Titus 2:4-5). That homosexuality is a sin (Romans 1:26-27). That we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). Can you think of others?

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These things are not very popular to teach and preach and write about, are they? And they garner the antagonism and ridicule of the world and even much of the church. Only someone who is already a true believer or seeking after God will be drawn to these principles for life. Only this small group of people will recognize the benefit and blessing of a life lived in obedience to the principles laid out in the Word. Only these few will find these words life-giving, and comforting.

But the rest of the world (and much of the church) will view us as noxious weeds. People to be destroyed. An invasive plant to be gotten rid of.

And we are seeing this, aren’t we? My daughter-in-law sent a photo of a response someone sent to a Christian on Instagram. It was the very essence of what we are talking about. In a nutshell, this woman declared that Christians are a bane on society and should be destroyed. If Christianity is only about kindness and love, why would she declare this? It is because Christianity is about more than love. It’s about TRUTH.

There are a few things for us to reflect upon as we consider this idea of fragrance.

First, we should examine our own lives. Are we giving off the aroma of Christ in all ways? Or just the easy, appealing ways that will gain the acclaim of the world? This is tough and it’s getting tougher. We are all so susceptible to peer pressure. It is only through the strength of the Holy Spirit that we can speak the entire counsel of God and defend the Bible. It is only through His power that we can be the light of truth in this dark, dark world.

Second, I have to confess that one of the biggest puzzles to this for me is how Christians who love truth are often strongly disliked–and even hated–by other Christians. These are good people who are living for Christ. And, yet, when you declare someone to be a false teacher based on their own words and actions, they get mad at you. When you give clear documentation of a false doctrine or some other unpopular truth from God’s Word, they declare you to be negative or legalistic and ridicule you. What is going on here? If they are saved, why don’t they love the truth? Why don’t they want to see the Church and its members protected? I don’t have any answers but it is a puzzling and discouraging truth. If you are a watchmen on the wall, trying to protect the church, the arrows will come from both sides of the wall. And the arrows from inside the church hurt far, far worse than the ones coming from the world!

The perfect Christian life is to live like Christ. We will never attain that on this side of heaven, but this should be our desire. This will consist of those wonderful things that everyone loves but it will also consist of those things that aren’t so loved. To be a true representative for Christ, we must embrace all of who He is. Not just the parts that are pleasant.

And then we must expect, just like the wild rose and honeysuckle plants, to be delightful and pleasant to a few and to be viewed as a pernicious and virulent weed to most. This is the life of the true believer.

 

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

John 15:18-20

 

 

 

How Would Someone Describe You?

If someone were to come across a description of you a few hundred years from now, what would it say? How do people see you?

Last night I read this description of someone who lived hundreds of years ago. I am sure you never heard of her but this is what the Bishop of London wrote about this lady named Margaret Middleton–

Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London, wrote of Margaret Middleton that ‘the great and distinguishing feature of her character was an active and indefatigable spirit of benevolence, which extended even to the brute creation, and which kept her mind so constantly on the stretch in seeking out opportunities of promoting in every possible way the ease, the comfort, the prosperity, the happiness temporal and eternal, of all within her reach that she seemed to have no time left for anything else and scarce ever appeared to bestow a single thought upon herself …’*

As I read and then re-read that, I was struck with conviction. Particularly by that last line “never appeared to bestow a single thought upon herself”.

How opposite of the culture today, where self has become the only thing that matters to most people. Even we Christians have been sucked into this cult of self. Viewing their happiness as premium, some lack commitment to family, church, and job as they constantly seek to fulfill their own selfish whims and dreams. Others of us have it play out much more subtly. We sulk or yell if we don’t get our way. We might give the silent treatment or walk away. Some of us may manipulate and scheme as we try to make ourselves happy. We fill our minds with ungodly entertainment that our flesh desires–even though we know it goes directly against scripture. We may indulge ourselves by buying stuff, oftentimes even going into debt to do so. Our time is often spent on selfish pursuits that have no eternal value.

Think of the utter contrast this lifestyle is to the description of Margaret Middleton.

So what would someone say about me? Am I more concerned with pleasing God than I am in pleasing myself? Am I concerned with the eternal and not just the temporal? Am I constantly looking for opportunities in which to help and encourage others?

Perhaps these are good questions for us all.

True Christianity is thinking less and less of self as we grow in Christ. How important that we don’t get it confused with that false “Christianity” where self is king and God a mere genie who is to do our bidding.

This is a difficult culture to thrive in for us people who are naturally selfish (like me). We are told that our natural, fleshly inclinations of self-indulgence and pursuits of our own desires are healthy and deserving of our attention. But this is not what the Bible says at all. Shall we take a look? (I’ve underlined the clear teaching that shows us what Christ thinks of selfish living)–

Matthew 16:24Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.

Galatians 5:16-21I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

 

These scripture passages certainly go against the flow of not only the secular culture but also against what’s being taught in most churches. I believe selfishness has become a very accepted sin and that we Christians easily explain it away without giving it much thought at all.

And yet…this is not what scripture teaches. In fact, it teaches the very opposite.

And so we must strive every single day–even every hour–to crucify our flesh and to turn away from our selfish desires and to stop worrying so much about our happiness. In fact, to not intentionally do so means that, by default, we join the throng of humanity as described in the last days–

2 Timothy 3:1-5But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, [b]unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

Instead of turning away from them, we are them.

Oh, may it not be said of us. May we turn away from our selfish desires and pursuit of happiness, knowing that it isn’t in this life that we will receive our reward. May we remember that the eternity that awaits us is far better than anything we could ever dream or imagine. And may we never forget that chasing after our own pursuits and pleasure never leads to true and lasting happiness anyway.

But, most importantly, may we fall more and more in love with the Savior, so that we become less enamored with worldly pursuits and pleasures and more dedicated and determined to do the Father’s will.

So what would someone write about us? How are we viewed? No matter the answer, today is the first day of the rest of our lives.

It is a great day to continue steadfastly, begin again, or to get started for the very first time to live a life of pleasing God with the time He has so graciously given us to live on this earth. It’s a great day to pick up our cross, start denying ourselves, and intentionally turning our attention to how we can help and support those around us.

It’s never too late to live our lives for Jesus and the time to change is now.

 

 

*Pollock, John. A Fistful of Heroes . Christian Focus Publications. Kindle Edition.

**You can find out more about Margaret Middleton here.

 

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.

 

 

Finding the “Whys” to our “Whats”

In reading the first four chapters of Matthew yesterday, I came across something that I had never really considered before. In those first four chapters alone, there were seven fulfilled prophecies from the Old Testament. Seven very specific prophecies. I encourage you to go look at them for yourself.

So you may be thinking “what’s the big deal”?

Well, as I was reading these I realized that if God fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament very specifically in the first coming of Jesus, why wouldn’t He do so again in the second coming? And if He filled the prophecies of the Old Testament so specifically, why wouldn’t He do the same for the New Testament prophecies?

I think it is always good to really consider why we believe what we believe. If we believe Revelation will be fulfilled literally, then why do we believe that? If we don’t believe that, then why don’t we believe that?

If we are honest, most of us our beliefs go back to what we were taught at home, what we were taught in our church denominations, or what we were taught by a favorite celebrity pastor or teacher.

It’s so important that we know not only what we believe but why we believe it. Without the “why”, the “what” will be flimsy, weak, and vulnerable to change and to false doctrine.

(And, actually, I do believe this is one of the major reasons you see much of the younger generation leaving the biblical churches. They were never given a “why” and the “what” without the “why” is like a personal invitation to deception. It’s up to us parents to make sure our children know why we believe what we do. And, actually, many children don’t even know the what. How important that we be discussing the stuff that matters with our kids, grandkids, and anyone else that we come into contact with. It might feel strange at first, but if we intentionally work at this, there will be much fruit. But I digress…!)

As we intentionally start working to find out our “whys” to the “whats” of our biblical beliefs, there are a few very important steps we must take before we get started.

First, we must humble ourselves. Psalm 25:29 explains why:

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

As does Proverbs 11:2:

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.

Pride is the opposite of humility and it is the one great sin of all mankind. We all struggle with it, whether we would admit it or not. In fact, often in our public shows of “humility”, we are most prideful!

Pride is what keeps people from God, plain and simple. They pridefully think they are a “good enough” person that God will accept them. It is only with humility that we can first see ourselves as we really are–a sinner in need of a Savior. But, Christians, we need to keep growing in this area of humility even after we are saved. We need to be examining ourselves and our actions to see if we truly have a humble heart or if we have just fooled ourselves.

God has convicted me over and over again regarding this area of my life. Even a simple argument with my husband shows me just how prideful I really am. Our responses to criticism and praise, our “teachability”, our willingness to admit flaws and failures–these all can show us just how humble we truly are.

Second, we must be willing to embrace what we don’t like or care for. A few years back, a ministry came out with a book that claimed that Calvinism was a heretical doctrine and that people who believed in it weren’t saved. I was quite taken aback by such a claim and re-evaluated why I believe what I believe, in relation to this whole Calvinism/Arminianism debate (and just for the record, I landed exactly where I had been before that book came out, which is staunchly in the area of biblical truth where we learn that we are chosen by God but that it runs parallel with free will in a way we could never possibly understand. I highly recommend the sermon titled Twin Truths: God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility by John MacArthur if you, too, are struggling with this debate that never seems to go away.)But to get to my point: Something that this ministry wrote in their email introducing this book with its unbiblical conclusion really spoke volumes as to why their premise was all wrong. As they explained why they wrote the book, there was a sentence that began like this: “We cannot believe in a God who…”

Whoah. Wait just a minute. We don’t have that right! We don’t get to say what we can or cannot believe about God. We must read and study the Bible with a heart willing to accept even the doctrines we don’t like.

This is not a popular concept these days, is it? Election (Ephesians 1:4-6), eternal hell (Matthew 10:29), salvation without evidence of a changed life isn’t salvation at all (Matthew 7:20) and many other “unpleasant” doctrines are being eliminated because people just don’t like them (I might add that I offer only one verse of many that prove these unpopular doctrines are true.)

And, let’s be honest, no one really likes these doctrines. They are difficult to understand and come with ramifications that make us so very heavy-hearted.

And so, as a result of this, we see so many people doing literary back flips and cartwheels in their efforts to change what the Word really says. In contrast, we need to approach God’s Word with a heart willing to believe and obey even when what we read is abhorrent to us.

Third, we must be outfitted in the complete Christian Armor. The truth has never really been popular, but perhaps that has never been so true than right now. If we choose to humbly and willingly trust, obey, and proclaim all of God’s Word (and not just the parts that are pleasant), we must be ready for the darts and arrows of the enemy. These will come not only from antagonistic, angry people, but they will come from the powers of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). We cannot fight or even continue to stand on our own strength. No human courage can withstand these deadly attacks. We must put on our full armor so that we are able to stand strong and firm. Find the complete armor we have been given to wear in Ephesians 6:10-20.

_______________________________________________________

It’s funny, this post ended up being nothing like I planned. At all. But I do hope it was an encouragement and challenge to all of us as we strive to live whole-heartedly for Jesus. May we give great efforts to grow in humility, yield wholly to God, and to be protected by the armor God has given us, all while recognizing that it is the Holy Spirit that works in us for God’s glory and our good.

 

Loving a Lie

Lies are told all the time and everywhere. Children to their parents. Employees to their bosses. Citizens to their tax collectors. Reporters to their readers. Politicians to their hearers.

Lying seems to be very normal and rather frequent in this world. And we should expect this, given that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44).

But I never really thought too much before about how our lives may be affected if we choose to love the lie we are being told. And then I read this verse yesterday in Revelation 22 (v 15) about who won’t be in heaven–

But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.

Now, we know that these people aren’t in heaven because they have never repented of their sin. Jesus’s blood covers all of the sins listed above, so that there will be former murderers, sexually immoral, and all other kinds of wicked sinners walking those streets of gold with us. And, in fact, may we remember that we, too, were part of that group listed above.

But that last phrase caught my eye: Whoever loves a lie.

I am amazed at how Satan inspires vain and humanistic philosophies as well as twists and perverts scripture to confuse and lead people astray when it comes to their eternal destiny. For this is the lie that really matters, is it not? The Gospel, if not presented as the Bible teaches, can be twisted beyond recognition. And it often is.

Think with me, if you will, about some of the more common lies the world believes about salvation and how to get to heaven–

I believe I just need to be a good person and/or follow a certain set of rules. (Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and just about anyone you meet anywhere in the world.)

I believe that Jesus and my good works/following a certain set of rules will save me. (Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Legalism)

I believe that a prayer I said at camp when I was a kid is enough to guarantee my salvation and I can then go on to live my life however I want, fulfilling my own dreams and pursuing what I want. I’m not convicted of sin, because I know God will forgive me for my sleeping with my girlfriend or cheating on my taxes. (Mainstream Christianity).

I believe that God exists to please and bless me. (Prosperity Gospel).

I believe Jesus died for everyone and all people are going to heaven. (Universalism)

These are lies that most of the world believes in one form or another. Satan is extremely deceptive and so he offers a smorgasbord of options–some that are far off from the real Gospel and some that are just a teeny tiny bit off from it. He doesn’t care which lie people believe, as long as they believe, love, and practice the lie.

The very sobering fact is that loving a lie about how we get to heaven is damning.

But let’s take it a step further, shall we? Loving a lie is always harmful, even if that lie is about our child or spouse or anyone else. When we refuse to face the truth, that lie has the potential of doing great damage.

God hates lies. I wonder if this is because He knows how much damage it causes in the lives of us humans.

This is why it is incredibly important that, instead of loving lies (at worst) or being careless and apathetic (at best), we passionately search for truth. There is no more important way to do this than through knowing and studying God’s Word. This must be our grid through which we run every single story, personal experience, philosophy, or religious demand we are ever told. We run every blog post, book, sermon, news article, TV show, and every single conversation we have with family, friends, co-workers, and even mentors and church leaders, through this grid.

You see, because the Bible is the inerrant (meaning without error), absolute true Word of God, this is the only protection we have from any lie but, most importantly, it’s the only protection we have from the eternally damning lie of a false Gospel.

So don’t love a lie! Know the Word so that you can compare anything you hear to it. Know the Word so that the lies show themselves to be what they really are. And then pray. Pray that God will reveal the truth to you through his Holy Spirit.

As believers, we desire to LOVE the TRUTH. We desire to love the truth of God’s Word more than we love our families, our friends, our churches, our jobs, our homes. As we grow in our understanding and comprehension of the awesomeness of God and His Word, we will grow in this love for truth.

If you don’t have it yet, don’t despair. Dig into the Word without preconceived notions and, as you do this, you will love it more and more deeply. You will find yourself recognizing the lies and being less and less willing to compromise on biblical issues. You will find the lies less and less appealing and your love for truth deepening as you grow in your knowledge of the Word.

So let’s not be like the rest of the world or even the mainstream church.

Instead, may we love the truth and hate the lies!

 

Who Me? I’d Never Hold a Grudge…

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

Lord, I want to be like that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how do we build stronger relationships?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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