Spiritual Growth

Twelve Things I’d Change if I Could Live my Life Over

Oftentimes, we evaluate our lives as we approach the end of the year. We examine our life in regards to health, career, education. We consider our bank accounts and we reflect on our relationships. We ask: What could we do better next year?

The most important questions we can ever ask ourselves as we evaluate our past year are: Do I look more like Christ? and Did I learn any spiritual lessons? After all, these are the only things of lasting and eternal value.

Education, good jobs, making money, and beautiful homes are nice, but they aren’t the heart of a Christian’s life. Popularity, fame, and 100,000 Instagram or Facebook followers may be very gratifying but it’s not what really matters in life.

So now is a good time to ask: What are my top priorities for the new year?

As you consider this, I compiled a list of a few things that I’d love to go back and change if I could live my life over. Some are major and some are not-so-major. Other than the first two (which I consider, by far, the most important), they are not in any particular order. As I evaluate my life, these are the things I’d love to do differently. This list is not exhaustive and I know that there are some that are just not coming to mind right now.

If we have a priority to walk with God and to teach our families to walk with God in the upcoming year, then I hope this list encourages you and gives you some practical ideas of how to get started–

1. Be more faithful in reading and studying Bible; memorize passages. God’s Word is transforming. We need the Bible in order to know and love God. It is our guidebook, showing us how to live. It is our mirror, convicting us of sin. And yet, I hindered my walk for years by being satisfied with shallow devotionals instead of actually reading the Bible. And yes! Memorize! I just started this last year and I can’t even begin to tell you the difference this has made in my walk with the Lord. Oh, why didn’t I do this earlier….??

2. Be much more diligent to have my kids learn and study and memorize God’s Word. God’s Word was always the authority in our home, but, oh, how I wish I would have been so much more faithful in having my kids in the Word and memorizing it in a much more systematic way. This is the only thing that will carry them through the trials that come to us all and the only way they can stand under the persecution they can expect to receive as Christians.

3. Put my distractions aside and play more with my kids. The laundry, the dishes, the household work, the phone call, the tv show–they could have waited. Not that I never played with them. But, looking back now, I realize now just how fast the time goes and I wish I would have spent even more time with them.

I am so very glad I didn’t have the temptation of looking at my phone when I had kids. I feel rather bad for those of you who have smartphones and tablets at your fingertips, tempting you to check on them and then pulling you in at all moments of the day. I encourage you to put them in a room far away and focus on your kids! Trust me, you will regret it if you don’t.

4. Be more diligent to keep an eternal perspective in all things but especially when it pertained to raising my kids When we are in the midst of parenting, we are often concerned about two things–will my kid still like me if I do or don’t allow this? And will their friends still like them if we don’t allow this? But neither of those matter. It’s so much more important that our children love and serve the Lord than that they fit in with the in-crowd–this one fact changes so many decisions we make as parents! Sure, they may be mad at us or even scream at us, but standing firm pays off in the long run. For the most part we stood firm on God’s Word in our family and we were often ostracized because of it, but as I reflect on our parenting years, I do regret some of the decisions we made based on peer pressure. (Let me add here, that there is also the opposite–where we make far too many {unnecessary} rules that have nothing to do with scripture. Please don’t do that. It breeds rebellion. If you have a rule, make sure it has a scriptural principle behind it and that your kids know what that principle is.)

5. Be much more careful in what I set before my eyes and listen to with my ears; I was always fairly careful, but even things I would have considered “innocent” I can see now were promoting infidelity or bad language or lying. They were full of human wisdom or showing an ungodly model of a family (just how many sitcoms can make Dad look like a complete idiot?!?). I would work harder earlier in my life to eliminate all forms of entertainment that do not glorify God. I know some of you may think I am “over the top” but entertainment changes us. We are fooled into thinking it doesn’t matter but it most certainly does. I still have so far to go in this area, but I do feel like a different person since I have eliminated quite a bit of what is worldly entertainment from my life. But that’s a topic for another day…

6. Be kinder to my husband; I think I am especially cognizant of this because of losing my sister-in-law this past year. I’m sure my brother would only love to have her there, irritating him in whatever way she may have done so. It is always hardest to be kind and loving with the ones that we live with. I really want to be more intentional in nurturing my marriage this coming year.

7. Have far more grace for others; I didn’t have a lot of grace for others as a young person. I am so very thankful that God has brought situations and people into my life that have wrought a great change in this area. But I sure do wish I would have recognized way earlier in life that “but for the grace of God, go I”.

8. Let the minor offenses go; This is another change God has made in my life due to people and situations. I had to intentionally forgive and choose not to hold a grudge–many times without the other person even knowing that they hurt me. Eventually it became natural (at least much of the time), but it took me too long. Life is so much more enjoyable if we stop being so easily offended.

9. Speak the truth of God’s Word with lots of love and kindness. I never had too much trouble speaking the truth, but the love and kindness part would sometimes take a backseat. I hope that I have made progress in this, although I am sure I sometimes still fail. Those of us who passionately love and defend the truth can often struggle with the love side of things. Would I have done more for God’s Kingdom if I would have changed my tone or said things differently as a younger person? Only God knows. In this, I am so very thankful for God’s forgiveness and mercy.

10. Think of others more often. I was SO selfish as a young person. Looking back, I am dismayed and distraught seeing it. I still can tend to be that way and I have to literally fight against my flesh and do what is right. Sometimes I win that battle and sometimes I don’t. But I truly want to be a blessing by thoughtful words and kind deeds–rather than a burden through sarcasm, human opinions about things that are not scriptural, and selfish acts. This is certainly an area in progress and I sure do wish I was much further along in this one!

Along with this, I wish I would have shared the Gospel so much more freely, without worrying what people think! I am so self-centered that I am {still} often more concerned with what people think about me than I am with someone’s eternal destiny!

11. Recognize that my parents are people who have feelings and need support. I am so dismayed when I consider how selfish I was as a teen and twenty-something. When I was getting married, my grandma was in the hospital. And then she passed away two weeks before I had my first child. I was so wrapped up in my life that I was not there for my mom. Oh, how I regret this! If you are blessed to have parents, realize now that they are people, too. That their life is not solely comprised of you and your world. Oh, how I wish I would have understood this sooner.

12. Waste far less time worrying about what “could happen”. Worry and anxiety are a prison. They destroy the present and do nothing to change the future. And yet, how many of us find ourselves in that prison, held tightly by their chains? This is a battle in many of our lives but we must fight it instead of cave into it. We are, in essence, saying we do not trust in God. And therein lies the issue. Oh, how I wish I would have wasted far less time in this useless and faith-sapping activity.

___________________________________

So there’s the list. Not that I have arrived. Some of these continue to be quite the challenge for me. One of them I thought I conquered and then, years later, it came back with a vengeance (#12, if you want to know!)

Most, if not all, of these things are changed by intentional choices with the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit. I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to this over the course of the past few months.

Some of the things above have changed over the course of my lifetime, simply from growing in Christ. It has sometimes been two steps forward and one step back, but, gradually, over time, they got so much better. Not perfect but better. But even these things came from changing a small habit or behavior. Making a conscientious choice to sit down with God’s Word in the morning or to mentally turn away from the negative thoughts when someone says something hurtful or to choose to offer grace when someone does something I just can’t understand. Although sometimes still a challenge, it is far more natural now to respond correctly. But it wasn’t always the case. I had to intentionally make a choice.

It is hard to improve anything without intentionally choosing to do so. Before you think I am all caught up in man’s wisdom and the “I can do anything I set my mind to”, I want to stop right here.

I am not saying that lasting change can be had without the Holy Spirit. What I am saying is that becoming more Christ-like isn’t just going to happen one day without any work from us at all.

Galatians 5:24-25 says this:

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

We have to crucify our flesh. It’s an action on our part. In this verse and earlier in that chapter we can also see that we are to walk in the Spirit (v. 16) Again, it’s intentional action on our part.

Life is like a quickly fading flower. Those of you who are young will blink and find yourselves where I am. You, too, will look back over your life and wonder how in the world you ever got here so incredibly fast. Live intentionally now so that your “things I’d change” list is shorter than mine!

(For those of you who have lived as long or longer than I have–what would you change? Your comments on this may help a younger reader. We are all different and have different struggles, so I’d love for you to share your thoughts on this.)

 

 

The Domino Effect

Once upon a time there was a young man. He married his high school sweetheart and together they had a few kids. But one day, after several years of marriage, this man chose not to turn his eyes and his heart away when he looked at a woman who was not his wife. Eventually this choice led to a broken-hearted wife and devastated children who would struggle to heal from his rejection for years to come.

He made a choice for his “personal happiness” and, yet, his happiness wasn’t the only thing affected.

Stories like this have happened over and over again throughout history. Replace the pronouns. Sometimes it is wives who do this same thing. For personal happiness and gain, a choice is made that negatively affects the rest of someone’s life. Forever.

You may have been on the receiving end of something like this. And it’s not always an affair. But it is always sin.

Galatians 5:19-21 is a great list to reference for these “domino effect” sins–

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: [d]adultery, [e]fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, [f]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.

Each one of these sins–when chosen–does not affect the sinner alone. It affects all those who surround the sinner.

As sin grows, it spills over on to those we love and on to all those that are in our circle.

We can change their day by an angry outburst or we can change their life by choosing adultery.

Thankfully we know through many examples (David, Peter, etc) in the Bible that we can choose repentance and we can be restored after we make sinful choices. But, after all is said and done, the consequences remain.

Better to not have made the sinful choice at all.

I don’t think we often give much thought to how our daily choices are affecting those around us.

The first example I gave was an extreme example, right? Kids from broken homes –especially homes with a parent who disappears or, maybe worse yet, uses them as a pawn in a battle–have some extra challenges to work through in life.

But let’s think further how our even our most mundane choices affect our kids, grandkids, and anyone who is watching us.

What are some of the things that have a domino effect on our families and circle of friends?

What about how we handle affliction and trials? Anger and discontentment often snake their way down family trees. Are we setting a godly example in how we respond when things don’t go our way?

What about choosing to live in an unhealthy way or being unwise in how we spend money? We set our kids up for failure because they are always watching. And, often, they will choose to live how we chose to live. Think about your life right at this moment. Would you want the children in your life to have your life? I am not talking about the things we can’t control–like diseases or unexpected financial setbacks. I am referring to being wise and godly in the choices we can control.

What about how we fill our minds (tv, movies, books, music)? Are these leading those who are watching us towards God and His Word or are they leading them away from Him?

What about choosing to extol a false teacher? Giving credence to a false or heretical teacher puts our friends and family in grave spiritual danger. Deception often starts by a casual comment, such as “have you read the book…?”

You see, these choices aren’t ever just about us. And these choices have the potential to lead someone toward the broad way or the narrow way. Very few things are neutral. By our example, we lead those who are watching us towards a godly life or towards a carnal life. We encourage them to walk in the Spirit or to walk in the flesh.

So you think no one is watching you at home when you privately watch that terrible tv show?

Well, that might be true. Maybe only God knows that.

BUT…

You think that show isn’t affecting you?

All that goes into our brains–whether we will admit it or not–affects us. And this, in turn, affects others.

Our philosophies; our sensitivity to worldliness; our choice to follow human wisdom or God’s wisdom; our love for God–these are all affected by what we fill our minds with. And this mind-filling will, quite naturally, spill out on to others in our conversations and our discussions.

No sin is private.

Unless you are living on an island far far away with no one else on it, there is a domino effect.

We may feel this more acutely as a parent. (Oh, the weight of being a godly example when you are a parent!) But this doesn’t disappear as we move into our grandparent years. And it still exists, even if we never have kids or are a single adult living alone.

People watch us.

Choices may be made to abandon Christianity or to embrace it by someone watching how we live.

 

Interestingly enough….

This domino effect also works the other way around.

When we live lives that please God and we obey His commands, we find that this also affect others. As they watch us, they are emboldened to live for Christ or they are drawn to His Word. We can encourage them to live for Him by our choice to live for Him! We can encourage them to be courageous and stand for Truth by our choice to live courageously and stand for Truth!

We can have a good influence on others or we can have a negative influence.

But we will have an influence.

What kind of influence will you have? When you have left this earth what will have been your domino effect?

May we give this serious consideration before it’s too late.

 

 

An Intentional Life

How do we get from “here” to “there”? Is there some shortcut or some magic path that will take us where we know we should be?

A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to speak to a group of Christian ladies about parenting intentionally: Making daily parenting choices in light of our goal that our children walk closely with God. As I was thinking a bit more about this, I realized that it is not just parenting where intentional living is necessary.

It is necessary in all aspects of life.

A few years ago, I experienced a lot of change. During that time, I started eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. While I am no binger, I would fill my plate with unhealthy things like potato chips (oh, how I love potato chips!!) and eat dessert every day–sometimes multiple times a day. I didn’t feel like cooking, so a few times each week, we’d go out or bring in takeout. I drank soda and sugar-laden iced tea. This became my lifestyle for a year or two. It was easy to fall into these habits because they were what my flesh called for. I was just obeying my flesh when it came to food.*

Unsurprisingly, I gained a lot of weight. I became uncomfortable and every step made my knees hurt. I hated photos of myself, trying on clothing was a torturous, discouraging process, and I couldn’t even hold my grandchildren without experiencing pain.

At some point, this past summer, this idea of eating intentionally took root. I knew that if I didn’t change, I would live like this for the rest of my life. And I didn’t want that. Oh, how I didn’t want that. So with fervent prayer and a little help from a weight loss program, I finally got serious about changing these extremely bad habits that my lazy flesh had adopted.

So every single day I had choices to make. Instead of following my flesh, I made little, intentional choices that added up to big changes.

And guess what? Eating less chips and desserts, cutting out sugared drinks, and cooking more at home leads to weight loss. I chose to be more intentional about what I put in my mouth and I lost weight. I didn’t need to eradicate these things to lose weight or to keep the weight off. In fact, eliminating them would have led to failure in my case. But being more intentional in consuming them has changed everything.

Those old habits are always calling my name. Pleasing our flesh is like a rushing river that is always threatening to draw us in. Paul puts it so well in Romans 7:19, doesn’t he?–

For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.

And, yet, with the Lord’s help, we can say “no” to our flesh! We can choose to intentionally make choices that we know will please the Lord. This is a big part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives and yet, so often, we ignore it.

What are some other ways we choose to follow our flesh without any conviction to live differently?

How about financially? Buying what we want whenever we want is a real temptation in this culture of “having the latest and greatest right now”.

Or how about time spent in the Word and prayer? Our flesh will never call us to sit down and spend time with God. This habit will only be developed by intentionally sitting down and getting started.

Parenting has already been touched on, but we must understand that we cannot expect godly kids if we are filling their brains and their hours with ungodly entertainment, friends, and activities.

And what about relationships? If we want to have God-honoring relationships with our family, friends, co-workers, and others, this takes work. It doesn’t just happen. We have to intentionally build into the lives of others. Make time for them. It is improved by intentionally loving them, despite their being differences between you. Someone has to make the first move to heal or improve a relationship. Why not you?

So how do we live intentionally? How do we have the strength to choose what is right over the powerful pull of our flesh?

Galatians 5:16 tells us–

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

What does it mean to walk in the Spirit?

John MacArthur says this in his sermon on this topic

Now the concept of walking really does mean daily conduct.  There’s never a time in your life when you just arrive and from then on you’re permanently spiritual.  I do not believe the Bible teaches some eradication of the sin nature in this life or some second work of grace or some perfectionism, when you have reached that you never sin again.  Not at all.  It is a daily moment-by-moment walk and it comes and goes, depending upon our submissiveness.  By the way, if anyone of us says that we have no sin we make God a liar.  We never overcome sin totally but we can overcome it as a pattern of life by walking by the Spirit.  That’s a basic, daily, practical life pattern.  And I say it again, the only way you can do it, the only way you can walk routinely in the Spirit of God is to have spiritual thoughts.  And the only way you can have spiritual thoughts is to be communing with the living God in an intense and continual prayer attitude and being fed continually on the Word so that your thoughts are God’s thoughts.

Consider these words for a moment. We cannot expect to walk in the Spirit without intentionally making a choice to do so. In order to do so means time spent in the Word and in an attitude of prayer. This, then, leads us to experience victory over sin in other areas of our life, since we know scripture teaches us that we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh if we are walking in the Spirit.

And so we can see that intentional living starts here! It starts with our dedication and commitment to prayer and study of the Word.

If we don’t have that properly in place, then our battle with the flesh–whether it’s our eating habits, our parenting choices, how we spend our money, or anything else–will only lead to eventual defeat.

The thing is, we know from Paul (and from our own lives, too) that we never arrive in this. Our flesh will always provide battles for us to fight. Intentional living will be harder sometimes than others. We will fail. We will fall down.

We just can’t stay there. We need to get back to praying and spending time in the Word. We need to really think about our daily choices and where they are leading us.

May we never give up or give in but choose, instead, to live an intentional life–one that pleases God in every aspect.

 

*I want you to know that sharing that little story about my personal weight gain is rather embarrassing. I can’t believe I left myself get to that point. I share it in the hopes that I can offer some hope to those of you who might have also given in to the flesh when it comes to food. While food itself is not moral, when and how much we choose to eat can be a moral choice. There is a way to please God through our choices and a way to please our flesh. This is a much-ignored sin in our Christian culture but I was acutely aware that I was not pleasing the Lord while I was pleasing my flesh in how I ate during that time of my life.

Three Mortal Enemies of Spiritual Growth

This year has been incredibly busy. Part of the fall-out of that busyness is that my Bible study and prayer life really took a nosedive. When I did have a spare minute, I was just too tired to think. While I did continue reading for the G4L Bible Challenge, I found it challenging to fit in and I also found my reading to be more of a duty than an enjoyment. It saddens me to admit this but it is the truth.

As I was contemplating these past months, I was thinking about how much my busy schedule negatively affected my spiritual growth. As I was thinking about this, a few other things that stunt our spiritual growth also came to mind.

Let’s talk about them.

Busyness

In many ways being busy has become synonymous with living a productive life. Where I live with our German roots, there are many who feel guilty even sitting down for a few moments because that signifies laziness. And so just sitting and reading the Bible would make them feel like they aren’t accomplishing something productive. And then there are those that have no conviction that sitting is lazy but they are so wrapped up in work, lessons, sports, and the gym that when they have a minute to sit, they are simply exhausted.

Sometimes we can’t help our busyness and we have to endure for a season, understanding that God has grace for us during these times. It could be a new baby or needing to be a caretaker for an elderly parent. It could be a special project at work or school. These are occasional things that take us out of our routine and may, for a time, slow down our spiritual growth.

But there are those times that we can help our busyness. Times when we fill our schedules with the superfluous and unimportant. Times when we follow the crowd by putting Johnny and Suzie in every single activity or sign up for classes or activities that are not beneficial to our spiritual well-being. Most of these things aren’t wrong, in and of themselves, but when they keep us from God’s Word, this creates a problem.

If we feel overwhelmed and too busy, then we need to take an honest look at our schedule and contemplate if there is something we can eliminate or at least put off temporarily to give us more margin in our lives.

If we say that we believe prayer and studying God’s Word is the most important priority of our lives, then we must show this by our actions. If we are too busy to study the Word and pray, then we are too busy.

 

Pride

I have often pondered how someone can say they are reading the Bible and yet have no transformation whatsoever? How can someone have regular devotions or be in the Word and yet remain utterly unchanged? I’ve come to realize that it is pride that causes this. If we approach God’s Word with a lack of humility then our spiritual growth won’t only be slowed, it will be halted completely.

Why is this? Well, a prideful heart believes it knows most of life’s answers before even approaching the Word. A prideful heart has no interest in hearing suggestions from a different source other than one’s own mind. A prideful heart always thinks it knows better.

Why does this make a difference in our spiritual growth? We can turn to James 4:6 where we read that God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.

A humble heart is a heart ready to receive God’s Word as its final authority. In contrast, a prideful heart is not. This is the root of many of the false doctrines that abound today–prideful hearts that twist the scriptures to their own agendas.

 

Worldliness

Worldliness is a death knell to spiritual growth. I John 2:15 and James 4:4 couldn’t make it any clearer–we can love the world or we can love God. But we can’t love both.

God is opening my eyes to this more and more. When I was in my 20s, I was listening to a heavy rock song (yes, I used to enjoy this back in the day.) As I listened, God convicted my heart. The music made me angry. In fact, I’d purposefully play this type of music when I was angry because it would fuel my anger and make me feel better. This was the beginning of my journey in understanding that what we put in our minds affects us. It either moves us towards the Lord or it moves us towards the world. It can never do both.

As I started to gradually and intentionally work to remove worldliness from my life (which has been a lifelong process and I still continue to work on), I have personally experienced a renewed desire for Bible study, a reawakened sense of what pleases God, and a complete change in my desires. Only by the grace of God can any of us intentionally choose to remove worldly things from our lives.

Movies, books, and music that promote sexual immorality, sorcery, bad language, blasphemy, and all sorts of evil; Going to bars or dances; Dressing immodestly in order to be like the world and follow the trends; Gossiping and passing rumors; Gambling; Addictions (to any thing–including food); Materialism and always wanting the latest and greatest…

All of these things kill our desire for God.

All of these things, without exception, move us towards the world and away from God.

 

Do you struggle with any of the above? Is there any change you can make this week to set your spiritual growth on a better path? Many of these things sneak up on us while we aren’t even paying attention. I know that has been the case with me on many occasions. All three of these mortal enemies have worked their way into my life at one time or another. And, honestly, they still do. While we live in the flesh, we are forever susceptible to these enemies and we must stay on guard.

I hope this post will encourage you to examine your life and to start making changes that will boost your spiritual growth. Let’s choose to spiritually flourish in a world that is so lackadaisical and status quo!

 

How Does a True Christian Act?

If you live in the United States almost everybody is a Christian. It’s the religion they identify with and, oftentimes, it has been passed on from generation to generation. If one goes to a church that uses Christian names like “God” and “Jesus” and other terms from the Bible, there is an assumption that one is a Christian–even if there has never been repentance from sin or personal trust and belief in Jesus as Savior. (Actually I guess there are even many people who consider themselves Christians that rarely, if ever, even step inside a church.)

Of course, we know from the Bible that a genuine Christian has repented of their sins and trusted in Christ alone for salvation. When this happens, we are made into a new creation. Isn’t that a glorious thought? The old things are passed away and all things become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

So what does this new creation actually look like? How does this person act? What signs show that they are a new creation and not just a false convert?

Romans 12 gives us just such a description. It’s a great litmus test for us, giving us specific things to look for as we examine our lives and test ourselves to see whether or not we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Many of us are very familiar with the first two verses of Romans 12–

I beseech[a] you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your [b]reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Paul then takes a few verses to talk about spiritual gifts and the Body of Christ and how it should function. But when we arrive at verse 9, we find out exactly what a genuine Christian should look like on a day-to-day basis.

Before we spend some time looking at Romans 12, let’s remember one extremely important thing. The Christian life is not–and never will be–about perfection. None of us will ever be the “perfect Christian”.  Our focus must not be on being perfect but on testing our heart’s desire and our direction. What direction are we going? Are we growing in these things each year? Do we look more like Christ as we mature in the faith? What is our attitude about these things?

All of us will struggle with some more than others. And that’s okay, too. If we know there is a battle, then we know the Holy Spirit is hard at work, convicting us and showing us how we can grow.

So let’s take a look at the description of someone who is a new creation that we find in the second half of Romans 12, starting with verse 9–

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.

A genuine Christian will–

1. Love without hypocrisy

Hypocrisy: the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.

We should love without pretense. A genuine love that stems from our hearts.

2. Abhor what is evil.

Abhor: regard with disgust and hatred.

We should hate that which is evil. We should not be bringing it into our homes via our radios, phones, iPads, and TVs. We should not find ourselves entertained by books, movies, and music that glorifies evil. Instead we should abhor them. I speak specifically to this because I believe this is where many true Christians allow entrance of evil into their lives.

3. Cling to what is good.

Cling: hold on tightly to.

We must put a firm grip on the truth and pure doctrine. Don’t let go just because someone tells you to. Don’t compromise because it is easier. We must hold fast. (I Thessalonians 5:21)

10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;

Be kind to our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, giving preference to them. This same thought is echoed in Philippians 2:3-4.

Kindness is fairly trendy right now. It is cool to be kind. And that’s not a bad thing. But the kindness referred to here is the kindness we should show our Christian brothers and sisters and flows from a heart that is a reflection of our heavenly Father’s and His love for His children.

11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;

A true Christian is diligent and fervent as they serve the Lord. This means they are not lazy or apathetic. They serve the Lord with their whole heart, in whatever opportunity He has given them.

12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer;

The genuine believer knows that his hope goes beyond this temporal earth, and so his hope remains steady no matter what happens. He is patient in trials, all the while continuing steadfastly in prayer.

13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

True Christians meet the needs of their fellow believers. And they are given to hospitality.

Hospitality: the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.

Hospitality is not really all that popular anymore. Few people open up their homes to guests outside of family. And I have to admit, the modern life’s pace doesn’t lend itself well to hospitality. But is this a good enough reason to ignore this little phrase?

Perhaps having a hospitable heart is more about our attitude. Do we open up our homes freely when we are given the chance? Do we make people feel comfortable and welcomed, no matter where we meet them? Do we gladly share our resources and time as we are given the opportunity?

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Christians bless those who persecute them. We love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). This is humanly impossible. You do realize this, right? Only a true believer could bless the one that is hurting them. Do we love our enemies? Do we pray for them? Do we care for their souls? This is a great sign that we are a genuine Christian. If we struggle with this one, perhaps our first step should be to pray that God would help us to do this.

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Fellow Christians rejoice and weep with one another. Instead of jealousy and envy making us sulky at a Christian sister’s good fortune, we are genuinely glad for them. And when bad news hits, we weep with them. We surround our brother or sister with Christian love and care.

16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

True Christians are humble. Their opinions about themselves are not inflated and they are not boastful. They are no respecter of persons and they don’t care about someone’s popularity. They will talk freely with and offer their aid to anyone, no matter their age, sex, race, status, or reputation.

17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.

Christians do not take revenge on those that have hurt them. (Connects pretty closely to blessing those that persecute us, doesn’t it?) We are known for our regard of good things (true, right, holy) by anyone who happens to be watching us.

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

It is not possible to always be at peace with all people. Some decide they hate you and, no matter what you do, you can’t change their minds. But this verse gives us comfort. If it is possible. God clearly recognizes that it isn’t always possible. But as much as it depends on us, we are to be at peace with all people. Have we done all we can to bring about peace with those around us? This should describe us, as believers.

19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Again, we are faced with our attitude about our enemies. Genuine believers are not to live with revenge burning in our hearts. We are to actually do the opposite and reach out to an enemy in need. We are to do this and let God take care of the rest. Only God could enable a heart and mind to love an enemy in this way. Only God.

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

And, finally, a genuine believer is not overcome by the evil of this world. Instead, we overcome the evil with good! We know that God is in control, no matter how evil this world gets and that He will triumph! Our job is to shine His light and go forth as witnesses in our homes, work places, on the sidelines and bleachers of athletic events, in our churches, and when we are shopping. Any time. All times.

____________________________________________

The Bible functions as a mirror (James 1:22-24) and Romans 12 is an especially painful place to look at my reflection. While I do see some of these in my life, I also see much need for growth. I hope that this glance at this chapter has encouraged and challenged you, like it has me.

May we cast aside our pride and may the Holy Spirit fill us with a desire to be more like Christ as we continue on in our life’s journey. I am so thankful that we have the Bible to cast light on our path and to show us which direction we should be headed. Let’s try to live out Romans 12 this week and every week. And in so doing, may we shine brightly for Christ in this dark world!

 

How We Are Like the Moon

Isn’t a full moon so incredible? Of course, most of the month, the moon is not near so bright. And some nights it is simply an unimpressive sliver up in the sky.

Even though early astronomers didn’t realize it, we now understand that the moon is simply a reflection of the sun’s glory. The moon itself does not have light, but it reflects the light of the sun.

A reader recently brought to my attention how much we believers are like the moon–

Our light is not our own, but is merely a reflection of God’s glory.

Our reflective light is easily dimmed by the dark shadows of sin and worldliness, just as the moon’s is dimmed by the shadow of the earth.

Our light, if we are a true reflection of Jesus Christ, lights up the dark night just like a full moon does.

And we know that some love that light. And some hate it.

Some love the moonlight and the way it helps them see. And others, with things to hide, hate it. They want the cover of darkness to hide their evil deeds.

While I know that sin does serious damage to our reflective light, I want to write a bit about worldiness and the damage it does. I have been writing a series on worldliness (which you can find here) and so this seems to be very relevant to that series.

As my reader pointed out, just as the world comes between the sun and the moon and blots out the light, so, too, does this same thing happen with us. The world gets between us and the Father and we grow dim because of it.

You see, when we allow worldly thinking to enter our minds, whether it be through entertainment, education, or careers or through social media, our circle of friends, or family–and any other way it finds its way into our hearts and brains–our lights start to dim.

Think about it.

Let’s say you spent the last two hours watching a movie full of violence or immorality. Is that an accurate reflection of God? Are we doing what He would do? Are we making a choice that makes us look more like Him?

Or are we purposely taking a step away in order to satisfy our own selfish desires?

Or how about how we choose to raise our kids, live out our marriages, or treat the boss or co-workers at our jobs? We have a choice to be a reflection of God and His desires or to follow after the world and look like everyone else, causing us to melt into the blackness that surrounds us.

Christian marriages, parenting, and relationships with unbelievers should look very different than that of unbelievers. But, so often, because of our desire to follow so closely after the world, we end up simply looking like everyone else.

Our lives become unremarkable and we end up casting just a dim reflection of light in the inky blackness that surrounds us.

Now this is so devastating for a few reasons–

First, we cannot be used by God. He has chosen to use us but in order to do that we must be pure and holy vessels. When we choose to live in sin or to look and act like the world, we are not fit for service.

Second, we lose opportunities to share Christ. No Christian can honestly say that they would feel comfortable sharing Jesus with a friend after partying for the whole night alongside them. And if someone says they do, there is little to commend any religious message they may spout off. We are automatically discounted when we join in the sinful activities of the world around us. If we look just like the world, they have no need to have what we have. They don’t need it. If our children look like everyone else’s children, if our attitudes are like everyone else’s attitudes, if our friendships, our marriages, and our families mirror the world, what use do they have with us?

Anyone can travel the path of least resistance. In order to stand out we need to stand on the Word. In order to fully reflect God’s light we need to do things His way.

Third, we lose opportunities to testify to the difference God can make in our lives. When we continue to be the best reflection of God’s light that we can be, we show the world that not only is God almighty and able to change us but that His love and grace is all that we need. We show them that being transformed is not about rules but about our deep love for God.

Knowing God is the only eternal light. While earthly things may flicker up briefly, only God gives us a new life that gives us a permanent reflection of light.

_________________________

Perhaps this would be a good time to remember that pure and holy are not synonymous with perfect. We do not have to–in fact we cannot--live perfect lives. Never forget that our Christian lives are not about perfection but about direction.

All believers, whether young or old, are a reflection. The question is this: Are we a teeny sliver of light in the darkness or a full moon lighting up the night?

 

What is Your M.O.?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, [d]how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 5)

This is Part 5 in a series that is exploring just how the world’s ways and philosophies sneak into our lives unawares. So often when people think of worldliness, it is with a very narrow definition. Perhaps they believe worldliness is equal to worldly entertainment and so they discern in this area, while letting the world affect their thinking in so many other areas. Perhaps they believe worldliness to equal materialism and so they are sure to live simply and generously, while worldly music and movies dominate their entertainment. You see, worldliness is not just one thing but it is a whole way of thinking that is anti-God.

The natural bent for all of us is to go towards the world. This is for a number of reasons. First, it is always easier to row downstream than upstream. When we become a believer we are rowing upstream and against the natural, sinful inclinations that we are born with. It is exhausting and takes a lot of effort. Second, we like to be like the world, insomuch that we don’t stick out and get made fun of. In other words, we want to be part of the crowd, even if it’s at the very edge. Otherwise, we look strange or eccentric or like some kind of fanatic. This is very important to most of us and this desire keeps many of us at the edges of the world hanging around the fence. And, third, and probably the biggest reason, is that the modern day false religion going by the name of Christianity says we can have salvation and keep the world, too. We can be like the world and still be saved, as long as we said “the prayer”. If one believes this, there is no reason to turn away from the world because they can have both things at the same time. Of course, this type of person can not possibly be in the Word because we can see over and over that this is not the case. But so many who would call themselves believers live in the world without nary a conviction because of the wave of easy-believism that has infected the ranks of true Christians in the last 50 or so years.

Today I want to take a look at how worldliness has seeped into our relationships. As I have been reflecting on this the past week, I became aware that there is far more world in the relationships of us believers than I first realized.

This will be hard to keep to a normal blog post length, but I am going to do my very best to be concise and to the point! Here we go–

8. RELATIONSHIPS. Relationships can be challenging under the best of circumstances. Even in a relationship where both are growing believers, there can be some hard moments. But, often, the holier we are the less challenges we will face. Each type of relationship has its own special challenges. But we can also find encouragement and guidance from scripture for each of these, as well, as we try to swim upstream in our relationships in a downstream world.

I want to take a look at a few of the most common relationships we all have and explore how the world’s thinking may be permeating them and then take a look at what the Bible teaches–

A. In Marriage

The World: In practice, the world promotes the woman as the head of the home, while the husband meekly follows her. While many men are involved with their kids (which is a good thing!) it is often in the capacity as servant to their wife’s desires. What she says he just does with very little leadership coming from him. I see this even in many Christian homes where the husband will just obey the wife, whatever she asks. This is completely opposite of what God designed for marriage.

The world would also tell us that our happiness is primary, so we are free to leave a marriage when it isn’t working for us. There are no parameters on this except for our own feelings of happiness.

A very loud minority of the world is demanding that marriage can be between any two consenting people, including those of the same sex. Even many who have called themselves Christians are abandoning God’s Holy Word and agreeing with this definition of marriage so that the minority is quickly becoming a majority with the onslaught of this philosophy literally coming at us from all angles.

What the Bible Says:

–On ROLES

God says that the man is to be the leader. Not only does he get to make the decisions but he also has to take responsibility for those decisions. I have always been glad that I am not a man! It is a real weight to bear if one is serious about their family’s well-being. Husbands are to love their wives and wives are to submit to their husbands. When it is done God’s way it is a beautiful thing. A wife well-loved finds it much easier to submit. God’s way always works best (Ephesians 5:22-24).

–On HAPPINESS

The only option to leave a marriage is if there is sexual immorality (Matthew 19:9). Our lack of happiness is never given as an acceptable reason to leave a marriage. I think there are many of you that could probably testify that some of your greatest spiritual growth has taken place through a really bad marriage. While we always must counsel young people to be oh, so careful in who they marry and while some marriages cannot be saved due to an unsaved or unwilling spouse, it is possible to grow and thrive spiritually in a bad marriage. And sometimes God will use this to bring an unbelieving spouse around. God speaks specifically to women regarding this in I Peter 3:1–Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives,

How important that we never give up hope, even in the midst of a bad marriage.

–On the DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE

Could there be anything more unpopular than speaking the words “I believe marriage is between one man and one woman”? And, yet, that is exactly what we find in scripture (Genesis 2:24). And, in fact, anything other than this is an abominable corruption of God’s design (Romans 1:26-27).

Marriage has been seriously attacked by the enemy. And he is winning in many places. How important that we do not allow him to win in our own homes! With time in the Word, prayer, and serious dedication to living a holy life, God will help us to navigate our marriage relationships.

Okay, I’ll be briefer with the last five. Promise!

B. Adult Children with Parents

I remember watching the interchange with someone with their elderly parent one day and was amazed and rather saddened at the lack of respect that was shown. While I am not yet dealing with elderly parents, I can only imagine that this would be a real challenge and frustration to adult children. And yet, as believers, we must respect our parents even when –or perhaps especially when–they grow old and frail. They have little dignity left and one way we can bless them is to continue to respect them and their desires.

The world says that there is no value in anything old. New is always better. This has filtered its way into how we feel about people. Youth is what matter in this culture while the elderly are often cast aside.

As adult children with parents, we can start to be affected by this worldly attitude and become disrespectful if we aren’t very careful. Of course, sometimes the disinterest and disrespect is a result of a parent who was always demanding or unkind getting their due, but, as believers, this is not an option for us–no matter what kind of relationship we have with our parents (Proverbs 20:29 and I Corinthians 13)

May we treat our parents with love and respect throughout all of their days.

C. With Friends

The world says friends are there to hang out, have fun, and party with. But God’s Word says something very differently. Who we hang around with is a very clear indication of our spiritual health. It is best to find friends who can help us grow and encourage us in our spiritual walk. A true friend will tell us the truth. If they see us going a wrong direction they will gently let us know and we will be thankful! (Proverbs 13:20; 27:5-6, and 27:17) Friendship between two believers is a truly wonderful thing!

D. With Co-Workers

The world says climb the ladder and step over whoever you want. The world says gossip and malign and tear down. But God says to consider others and to do nothing out of a selfish motive. God tells us to edify (build up) with our words. We should be a blessing and not a burden in the workplace. We should be the kind of person that people want to talk to instead of talk about. We should be the kind of person that gently steers the conversation a different way when the gossip is started in the break room (Philippians 2:3-4 and Proverbs 16:28).

When we are surrounded by unbelievers, it is so easy to become like them. Getting started in the Word each day and even memorizing some verses will help us remember that we are to be a light in a dark place.

E. In Broken Relationships/With Our Enemies

I touched on this a bit last time, but it bears repeating. The world will tell us that anyone that offends us or disagrees with us is our enemy and that we should treat them with ridicule, antagonism, and anger–maybe never even talk to them again. But, of course, we know that, as believers we are to respond completely opposite. We are to lovingly confront when we are upset and we are to forgive without measure. We are to extend grace to those who offend us and to those whom we disagree with. And when that same grace is not extended to us, we are to keep on loving that person anyway and “killing them with kindness” despite their ill treatment of us. This is far easier said than done and all of this–the grace, the forgiveness, the love–can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit. There is no other way (Matthew 5:43-48; Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:31-32).

F. With Those in Authority

Whether it’s church leadership or a police officer or the boss at work, the general current consensus from the world is that “no one is going to tell me what to do!” You hear some form of this almost every day if you are out in the world. The lack of respect towards anyone in authority is astounding. But I guess not so much when you consider that the entertainment industry really breeds disrespect and rebellion. Think of what has been going on in pop culture since the 1960’s and it is pretty easy to see how we got here.

But the really sad thing is how this attitude has permeated the lives of Christians. No one is going to tell them what to do–even someone who holds a place of authority in their life.

When it all comes right down to it, the root of this is pride, plain and simple. There is a lack of humility and teachability in a person who is disrespectful and this breeds disrespect for the leaders that God has placed in his or her life.

But we are told in God’s Word that rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft! (I Samuel 15:23) That’s certainly a sobering thought, now, isn’t it?? And we are also told to show proper respect to everyone and to honor those in leadership (I Peter 2:17; Romans 13:1-7; I Thessalonians 5:12-13).

__________________________________________________

I feel like each one of these would have been worth a whole post but I can’t write about this topic forever, right? I hope that this post has been helpful in getting you to think how worldliness may be affecting how you view certain relationships. Just one more way the world has seeped into our hearts and lives–sometimes without us even realizing it!

 

**If this series on worldliness is a blessing to you would you consider letting me know? It is so hard to know if what I am writing is helpful–especially when it comes to a series…

 

 

 

His Will, Not Mine

Shortly after three of our four kids left the house (which happened within a little over a year), I found myself fairly troubled. Perhaps I even experienced a case of slight depression. I was not where I wanted to be. And, in fact, what made it worse was that I didn’t even know where I wanted to be. Did I want to go back to being a mom of preschoolers or teen-agers? No, I certainly didn’t want to do that. But I also knew that I didn’t want to be at this place where I had no idea who I was or what I was supposed to be doing. I had left my comfort zone of full-time mommyhood behind me and had no idea what lay ahead. Compounding this were several other dynamics that, all combined, thrust me into a rather dark period of my life.

Many times, during my quiet time, I would complain and simply pity myself (ashamed to say it but true) because my life had gone by so quickly. I wasn’t ready for this new stage. I just wasn’t ready. I had been very content and comfortable in my mother role and I just wasn’t ready for it to be over. Tears would fall as I reflected on the past. The thought that kept repeating itself over and over in my mind was “This isn’t what I want. This isn’t where I want to be.”

Even as I had this thought, I recognized the utter selfishness of it. If I truly believed the Bible, then I knew that my life should never be centered on what I wanted. While in my head, I knew that I exist on this earth to know God and to make Him known, my emotions put up a giant struggle to be heard and obeyed. I knew there was a much bigger picture (and that what I wanted was fairly irrelevant in that picture)–and yet– even as a committed believer in Jesus Christ, I found myself in a tremendous battle with my emotions.

Thus I was thrust into God’s kiln to be tested and tried in a way I had not experienced before.

(Let me just say here that this is one of the things in my life that God has used to teach me submission to His will. I am aware that there are some women who long for the day when their kids leave the house–I just wasn’t one of them. I know this will seem utterly foolish to some of you and you won’t get it at all. God may be using or has already used something totally different in your life. Honestly, I never had any idea that my whole identity and a good chunk of my security was wrapped up in my role as a mom. But I also recognize that not all of you will relate to this. I do hope this post takes the reader beyond the details and focuses more on learning how to respond when something we want is refused or taken away.)

The last five years or so have been some of the most difficult of my life. I thought I knew who I was and then, suddenly, I realized I didn’t know who I was at all. God gave me the opportunity to live out all that I had talked and written about all through the years and I was failing. Miserably. I became slightly obsessed with figuring out who I was supposed to be now that my mother role was just about over. I faced a whole new wave of uncertainty when my baby left for college a few years later. (I still don’t really know exactly where God is taking me, by the way. Every time I think I am supposed to go one way, God shuts the door and pushes me another direction. What I am learning through all of this is that I need to simply submit and yield without fuss. He is teaching me to be content even when things don’t go at all as I had planned. It’s an excruciatingly slow process and I doubt I will ever be able to say that I have arrived in this area of my life.)

There were two especially bright spots during this time and I treasure them both greatly. First was the birth of my grandchildren. Kids just bring sunshine wherever they go. How can you not smile when they are around?

And, second, and much more importantly, was how aware I became of my need for Jesus. Up until this time, if I am being totally honest here, I thought I was a pretty good person. Yes, I needed a Savior but not as much as some people did. I am almost ashamed to write it and I never officially “thought” it, but as I look back, I can see this is what I believed.

But when I came face to face with my self-centeredness and spoiled-brat mentality, I recognized pretty quickly just how utterly sinful my heart is. My appreciation for Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has increased a hundred-fold in the past few years.

I am still on this journey of putting what I want on the back burner while focusing on what God wants. And He keeps giving me opportunities to yield to Him and His will. It’s not been easy but I do feel like I am moving the right direction.

Why am I sharing this now? I don’t really know except that it all came to mind when Eric and I had the opportunity to spend a few uninterrupted hours talking with my brother (Pastor Dean) a few weeks ago. As most of you know, he lost his wife in April after a year and a half battle with cancer. Even as I write this it still seems surreal. My sister-in-law of 20 years is now with the Lord. Still feels like it just can’t be. As we talked, he shared how he had given Grace to the Lord before he even met her. All he owns is God’s, and that included his much beloved wife. His commitment to Christ is truly a beacon of light in the ever-increasing self-focused, dream-following, mainstream church.

One of the things he said that sort of summed up what I have been struggling through is that he doesn’t ask what he wants but always tries to focus on what God wants. Of course, no one can do this perfectly but this should be our goal.

Sometimes our wants line up with God’s. And sometimes they don’t. This can happen in big things like the heart-breaking devastation of losing a wife and mother to cancer. God called Grace home, despite her family’s longing for her to stay here on this earth with them. Other times, it’s an unimportant, mundane thing where our will doesn’t line up with God’s–like a mom dealing with the empty nest. My time as full-time mom had passed far too quickly and was never going to return, despite my deep sadness and the disconcerting uncertainty that accompanied it. God uses both the big things and the little things to test and grow us.

Perhaps you are facing something totally different. A move you don’t want to make. A lost job. A child that has turned away from the faith. Financial burdens. Family strife. Elderly parents with health issues. There is no end to the problems and struggles that we face on a daily basis. And, often, in these situations our wills don’t line up with God. Many times God seems to says no and the burdens seem to last forever. Or He says wait and we find ourselves stalled in a place we just don’t want to be.

Many times our “wants” are centered on relief from hurt and pain. Our “wants” are often focused on experiencing a carefree, easy, comfortable, and happy life that is free of burdens and problems. But there are also many wants that we have for others, like the salvation of a loved one or relief from pain, disease, or addiction for a family member or a friend. These are wants not centered on us but still leave us wondering when they go unanswered.

And, yet, so often it is when God says no or wait that we experience our greatest growth. These are also the times that we get to shine with real biblical faith before the dark world and the false church. It is easy to smile when things are going well. Having hope, peace, and joy in the hard times–well, that’s when we really stand out as believers. It is actually when we don’t get what we want that we have the potential to be the most effective for Christ!

In this false religion that goes by the name of Christianity, we find people obsessed with self and purpose and following dreams. It is so easy to fall prey to this same mindset if we aren’t extremely careful.

There is a little verse in John 3:30 that flies directly against self-centered Christianity–

He must increase, but I must decrease.

Read that again.

He must increase but I must decrease.

What I want doesn’t really matter in the scope of life. The critical question in regards to our lives is “What does God want”?

Luke 9:23 clarifies this thought even more–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

If we desire to come after Christ, we must deny ourselves. We must pick up our cross and follow Him. Does this sound like a self-centered faith to you?

One of the most effective tests to find out just how yielded we are is when God’s will doesn’t match ours.

Do we put up a fuss and complain (even if it just to God or to ourselves)? Do we desperately try to fix situations ourselves? Do we grow depressed or anxious? These are all signs that we are putting our own wants and desires ahead of God. They are showing us that we don’t really trust God and His sovereignty in all areas of life.

It is a hard lesson to learn. To say the least.

I remember talking with my sister-in-law a few months before her death. She told me that she was at peace. That she had fought her battle with God’s sovereignty ten years earlier when she had been diagnosed with cancer for the first time.

Oh, dear readers, until we can bow before God in all things, we will not experience His peace.

His will, not mine.

When we fully accept God’s will for our lives and trust that He knows best, we will find the peace and joy that is promised in the scriptures. No matter what disappointment and hurt and pains swirls around us. He will never leave us or forsake us. We will never, ever be alone.

Not getting what we want is not an indication that He doesn’t care. Instead, it’s a reminder of our sinful, demanding nature–like an ant shaking its fist at a human being is a little how we must look to the God of the universe when we demand and manipulate and sulk to get our own way.

His will, not mine.

May that be what carries us on through the difficult days and the unanswered prayers.

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 4)

If you are a regular reader, then you will know that this is the fourth installment of a series I am currently writing on worldliness. You will find the rest of the series at this page.

Thinking through this subject of worldliness is not a very popular thing to do. Those who call themselves Christians, as a general rule, are very comfortable in looking exactly like their worldly counterparts. In so doing, they blend in instead of looking different, they aren’t mocked and persecuted, and they get to do all of the fun things the world gets to do and still have fire insurance against hell. Who wouldn’t want that kind of Christianity? Oh, these folks might give a little more money away and display a bit more kindness, but when it comes to how most who call themselves Christians dress, entertain themselves, where they go, how they spend their money, how they react and respond–well, most tend to be little clones of the rest of the world and nary give it a thought.

Even for Christians who do desire to keep worldliness on our “radar”, it so easily and subtly slips in that we can get caught up in a worldly attitude or action before we even realize it. It is for those who truly desire to decrease worldliness in their lives that I write this series. Most out there who take on the name of Christian would never bother to read a series like this and this is why this blog will never be on any “top ten” list. Which is totally fine with me because I don’t aim to please man with what I write, anyway. Fame is definitely not my end game and it is God who I want to please. The “Christian” culture of today (I use quotes because it is not Christianity but some false religion going by that name) requires no sacrifice, no self-denial, no persecution. Of course, no true Christian could write to please this current culture without serious compromise. This is probably worth a post of its own but I’d better move on to the topic at hand before I digress too far off-course! I do hope that this series is a blessing to those who truly desire to live for Christ, even in this area of worldliness. Today’s topic especially hit home for me. This is topic #7 in the series–

7. RESPONDING TO CRITICISM. Ooohhh, this is a convicting topic. The world has seeped into this area of Christians’ lives so easily and so thoroughly. Most of us are probably completely unaware. I know this because of my own struggle to respond like Christ and also because of the way I hear Christians talking about others who have had the audacity to criticize them.

The World: If someone dares criticize you, the world tells you to defend yourself. And to get angry and perhaps even hold a grudge. The world encourages antagonism, avoidance, hatred,  rejection, and scorn towards anyone who dares to speak any word that you might perceive as criticism against you. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if it’s not true criticism but are words born out of love and concern–if the person hearing the words even feels criticized, the world tells us that the person speaking those words is the enemy!

What the Bible Says: We are given a completely different response to criticism in the pages of scripture–

We are to forgive.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15

There is no exception clause to this and so we can assume that this also means we must forgive someone who speaks words we don’t want to hear. But it goes even a step further–

We are to examine and test ourselves.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. 2 Corinthians 13:5

If we truly desire to grow in Christ, then we must be willing to hear what others have to say and give it some consideration. Does what the person say have merit? Is this an area in which I need to change? If it is then we should do something about it. And if we carefully evaluate it and we believe all is well, then we can–and must–let it roll out of our minds without a trace of bitterness.

I fear I must mention this here: Most of us have people in our lives who criticize us constantly. Nothing we do is right. A lot of times the criticism is about things that have no moral component or biblical issue. This can be very difficult. Many of you have critical parents or in-laws, adult kids, friends, co-workers, bosses. How do we deal with this as believers? I can tell you two things I have learned–First, consider their words and then let it roll. If it is something that won’t help your relationship or to do your job better, or it isn’t a biblical issue, then just let it roll. Second, remember how this continually critical person makes you feel and be sure you don’t do the same thing!

We are to be kind and long-suffering in all circumstances.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; I Corinthians 13:4

Even if we feel deeply hurt and offended by words spoken to us, it does not give us the right to lash out in anger. Again, there is no exception clause given in I Corinthians 13. As Christians, we are to be long-suffering and kind–no matter what the circumstances.

Pride is the reason we so easily fail in this area of responding to criticism. So few of us have the humility it takes to respond immediately to any kind of criticism in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. This week, my pastor said something that really brings this down to the nitty-gritty. When someone criticizes you, what is your immediate response?

Self-Defense or Self-Assessment?

Ouch.

I know how often I lash out in self-defense. How dare they think that about me? How could they make this assumption or that accusation? Pride rears its ugly head and off we go, almost before we realize what we are doing.

For most of us Christians, we do a turnabout face fairly quickly as we recognize the sinfulness of this response. But it is SO hard to get that first response right. Can I get an Amen?

This is especially true when the criticism or accusation is false. When someone outright lies about you or accuses you of something you did not do, our self-righteousness rears its ugly head and we feel quite justified in speaking our defense. Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with speaking the truth in response. I am referring here to the attitude with which we tend to do so. We may be angry at the person or allow it to determine our mood. We may have feelings of hatred or even revenge. We may struggle to forgive that person. We may hold a grudge or feel bitter towards them. What does the Bible say about this?

Well, pretty much the same thing we’ve already covered–

Forgive, examine yourself, and be kind and long-suffering.

And then there are three more things that would be particularly applicable in the case of unfounded criticism–

Turn the Other Cheek.

But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. Matthew 5:39

Let the Lord Deal With It.

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19

Love Your Enemies.

But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, Luke 6:27

We are to turn the other cheek, let the Lord take care of any repayment, and love our enemies. We are not to get into a shouting match or any type of battle with someone who treats us unfairly or unkindly. We are to turn the other cheek. We are to avoid fighting. We are to leave revenge with our King and never take it into our own hands. God knows every detail of what has transpired and we can trust Him to deal with it in His time and in His way. We are to love. Our duty is to forgive and to love. Can you imagine? Only a true believer can love their enemy for it is truly impossible to do this without Christ. In our obedient choice to love our enemies, we will set ourselves drastically apart from how the rest of the world responds.

So let’s go into the world today and respond to criticism–whether it’s constructive or unfounded– in a way that is befitting those who represent Christ!

 

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: