biblical counsel

How Important is Your Stuff?

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

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

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

True.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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).

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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…

 

 

 

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!

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 3)

I have a little garden behind our house. I drive my husband a little crazy with it because it is a cottage-style garden that derives its loveliness from its disorganization. What I mean is: The plants aren’t neat and tidy and trimmed–as he prefers.

Over the winter, he started talking about ripping the garden out. At first, I was very against this but as I started thinking about it, I began to realize that this would mean one less thing for me to keep after and I started to warm up to the idea. Although we never had an “official” conversation about it, I assumed it was going away. And so when spring came, I ignored that garden. But so did my husband. It grew wildly and crazily without barely a glance at it. It was starting to spill over on the pathway and I did think I should do something about that, but with the crazy busy spring/early summer we had, I just kept putting it off. We didn’t use that pathway that much, anyway.

Finally, on Saturday, in preparation for a gathering we were having at our house, I decided to give that garden a little care. And what I found was a little overwhelming. The weeds had not only kept some of my favorite perennials from showing their faces at all, but they had also taken over and were growing so high, so as to overtake the perennials that had fought for life. The few flowers that did bravely poke their heads through to the sun were rather anemic-looking.

There was a particular type of weed that had really taken over. It was one that I had planted as a perennial many years ago, naively not realizing that it was invasive. Oh, how sorry I am that I planted that plant. It has made that garden a major challenge since that time.

So why am I sharing this on a post about worldliness? Because, my dear readers, that invasive weed is just like the world. It looks very beautiful, at first, and we naively have no idea of the deadly damage it can-and will–do. But, sooner or later, if we don’t keep after that weed, it will take over our garden so subtly and so comprehensively that not one piece of spiritual fruit will remain untouched by the effects of that weed.

Worldly thinking is such a danger to the believer. We can not–we must not–forget this as we strive to live obedient lives for God. Worldliness is deadly to the spiritual health of every believer.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. Romans 13:14

Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ is the polar opposite of fulfilling the desires of our flesh. We are in a constant battle to think like the Lord instead of like the world. The world says fulfill your flesh and follow your lusts. But the Lord says to yield to Him, obey His commands, and to practice godly wisdom. In all avenues of life we should carefully examine if and how worldliness has entered into our thinking.

In today’s Part 3 of this series, I want to take a look at how worldly thinking has invaded this area of Problem-Solving. (You will find the posts on Items 1-3 here and on Items 4 & 5 here.)

6. PROBLEM-SOLVING. There are thousands of books published each year that claim to contain methods and miracle cures to help us fix any bad habit or issue we may face. There is an abundant amount of therapists and counselors and coaches for almost every possible problem that is stealing our happiness. There are more websites, ministries, and organizations to help people with their problems than ever before. And yet, there seems to be just as many problems as before. Are the worldly methods effective in solving problems? I am sure they are at times. However, according to scripture, we know that how Christians approach their trials and problems and even their bad habits should be vastly different than how the world does.

The World: The world says the ultimate goal is to fix the problem so that you can be happy. Do anything to make yourself happy, even if it means divorcing your spouse, leaving your children, or dishonoring your parents. Look out for Number One. The world promotes the ungodly, self-centered philosophies that flow from psychology. It says we have the strength to fix things on our own and that anything is possible if we just believe in ourselves. We don’t need God or any other strength or help outside of ourselves.

What the Bible Says:

1. We are to crucify our flesh, not satisfy it–

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. Galatians 5:24-25

This verse immediately takes the focus off of ourselves and gives us a different perspective, doesn’t it? Our desires and our passions are pretty irrelevant in the scheme of things. We have died to ourselves and we live for Christ. All trials, problems, and situations that we face should be viewed through this lens of the “Big Picture”. Perhaps our suffering and struggle may inspire someone else to turn toward the Lord. Perhaps it will change us profoundly and give us a stronger walk. Perhaps it will show the validity of our faith to a doubting co-worker or family member. There is a bigger picture.

2. It says that trials and problems make us stronger–

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:2-4

This means that God is sovereignly allowing trials and problems in our lives to make us stronger and to build our characters. This means that the goal isn’t about our temporal happiness but about looking more like Jesus, step-by-step. Our goal shouldn’t be relief from our problems but instead we should desire to learn and grow from any that comes our way.

3. The world’s thinking on any subject will look foolish when compared to God’s–

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. I Corinthians 1:20-21

When the world is all for something, it is usually a sign that we should avoid it. So many of today’s methods and claims and popular programs are full of new age philosophies and worldly wisdom. We should always be oh, so carefully discerning in this area of life (even with those that claim to be Christian, as so many have been fatally compromised.)

4. Problems will rarely be solved instantly–

But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

In this age of instant-everything, scripture says that our strength will be renewed when we choose to quietly wait and rest in the Lord’s care and sovereign will. While the world says “fix it as fast as you can in any way you can so as to avoid pain and sorrow and inconvenience and unpleasantness”, scripture teaches us that waiting is sometimes best.

5. We aren’t alone. We have a strength bigger than ourselves to support and aid us–

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

It is wonderful to have the support of others, but the Bible tells us that, as believers, we can find refuge and strength from God. Have you ever thought about how amazing that is? I’ve often wondered how people can get through such terrible trials without this.

6. We must recognize that some of our problems and bad habits are just plain sinful–

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts thereof Romans 6:12

Some (not all, by any means) of our problems and issues and struggles come because we are choosing to sin. This word is not looked upon too kindly in the world or even in many churches these days. But it is always best to evaluate and examine our own behavior in the light of this concept. Is there any sin that is a part of this struggle I am currently facing? Am I responding in a biblical, loving manner? Am I behaving like a follower of Christ should? Is there an idol that has a grip on my life that is causing this issue? This is an important question as we go through the process of solving any problem.

From the above verses and so many more, we can safely conclude that our happiness and relief from a problem should never be our ultimate goal. While, of course, we desire to be relieved from our burden or trial, we shouldn’t be willing to sin or to go against God’s Word in order to fix it or to make it better.

We need to understand that so many of the methods that are used in counseling and psychology go directly against the Word of God. The truth of the matter is that the science of human psychology is deeply, deeply flawed. On so many levels. And so we need to be so careful not only who we listen to but on what we actually apply in our lives.

I think the other thing that needs to be mentioned in this post is our attitude towards even biblical counseling. I have noticed an interesting trend that is rather disturbing. If someone is in biblical counseling but it isn’t solving their problem or there is a demand for personal change, they tend to quit. When the going gets hard, we can tend to just quit.

If we are going to undertake true biblical counseling then we should expect it to be a difficult and rocky path. We are going to have to carefully examine our lives for sin. No more blaming others for our problems. What have we done to exacerbate and worsen the situation at hand? What changes can we make to better things? This is the attitude with which we should approach any counseling.

And what about when it can’t get better? What if we are struggling with a spouse or a child or a co-worker who has no interest in making the relationship work? What then? Do we give up? Or do we allow this difficult situation to grow us and perfect us, as James tells us in the verse above?

Biblical counseling can be helpful when approached with a humble, willing spirit. But even that requires great discernment as there are so many promoting themselves as “biblical counselors” who have absorbed so many of the world’s philosophies. Especially the philosophy of self-esteem–one of the most invasive and destructive worldly philosophies to ever make its way inside the church. It is in complete opposition to what the scriptures teach.

It is so tempting to allow worldliness to seep in when we are seeking to be rescued from a difficult or painful problem. But we must be so very, very careful to never allow our thinking to get skewed just because we are in pain, frustrated, or feeling imprisoned by our circumstances. This is when we are often at our most vulnerable to the wiles of Satan and can so easily fall to temptation. How important that we continue to seek God’s way even in the midst of the problems and trials and bad habits.

 

God’s Battle Plan for the Mind

A few months ago, we were able to visit the church where my brother pastors. Many of you know him as Pastor Dean as I’ve shared quite a few things here on the blog by him. In the lobby, I found a mini bookshelf with about ten books that he recommends to his congregation for reading. One of the books caught my attention. It’s title was God’s Battle Plan for the Mind and it was written by David Saxton. The subtitle was: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation.

Kind of like he’s hijacked the symbol of the rainbow, Satan has also hijacked this word “meditation”. So I was interested in reading about the biblical view of meditation. Just what did the Puritans have to say about it?

I picked up the book and paged through it. I saw that, for a small donation, I could purchase the book and so I decided to do just that. Now, I have a bit of a problem. I buy a LOT of books and read so few of them. I have the best of intentions but there are just SO many that I’d like to read. I’ll never have enough time.

But I started reading this one almost immediately and it was so incredibly useful and insightful that I kept right on reading until it ended. I was rather sad for it to end. I find that it’s always hard to come to the end of any good book, no matter what genre it is.

I highly recommend this book. Here are the links for your benefit (I get no proceeds from these links but provide them simply for your convenience). The Paperback edition can be found on Amazon or, for $5 less, you can get it at Christianbook.com  You can also get the kindle version here or the ebook version here.

Of course, I do recognize that the majority of you, for whatever reason, will probably never read it. And so I decided to take a few moments today to share a few of its best quotes and ideas, so that all my readers can benefit at least a bit from this book.

When I read a book, I keep a highlighter pencil (they don’t bleed onto other pages) and sticky tabs next to me. I mark things that really make me think or that I want to remember. This book has a lot of tabs sticking out from it. It will be hard to choose what to share.

These days meditation is pretty much understood to be the eastern, mystical practice of “emptying the mind.” But this is in complete opposition to what scripture teaches us. Here are some thoughts on biblical meditation that I hope will encourage you not only in its importance, but also in its practice. Quotes from the book are in italics.

What is the danger of an empty mind? Henry Scudder explains:

When you are alone, be sure that you are well and fully exercised about something that is good, either in the works of your calling, or in reading, or in holy meditation or prayer. For whensoever Satan does find you idle, and out of employment in some or other of those works which God has appointed, he will take that as an opportunity to use you for himself, and to employ you in some of his works. (p. 41)

What about devotions? Is this the same thing as biblical meditation? Well, not necessarily. The author puts it like this:

Meditation and spending time with the Lord is like a good meal–it takes time to prepare and time to enjoy. Many Christian devotions resemble a person who is wolfing down a burger while driving on the freeway. However, our time with the Lord should look more like a couple who enjoy each aspect of a seven-course meal. (p. 57)

This thought really struck me because it is easy to have our devotions or quiet time just another thing to be checked off of our to-do list. How often do I view it as something to be cherished and savored? Something special rather than something I “have” to do? This was so convicting to me.

Why is meditation important? What good does it do? I’ve really been thinking about this as I have started to give more effort to memorizing scripture in the past few months. I am not as regular or dedicated as I want to be but I am taking baby steps in the right direction. One thing I have noticed about this is how often the words I have memorized will come to me in a situation just when I need them. If I am anxious, I will find Philippians 4:6-7 or Matthew 6:34 ease my mind. If I am going for a second piece of cake, Proverbs 25:16 will leap to mind. If I am worried about the future, Psalm 37:23-24 will come to mind. The truth is that: Unless we really spend time hiding the Word in our hearts–either through memorization or deeply reflecting on what we read, our spiritual growth will be seriously hindered.

Thomas Watson puts it like this–

“without meditation the truth of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation, all is lost.” (p. 66)

Saxton continues–

Although many read the Bible with giving meditation any merit, this is the only way to read the Bible in a completely profitable way. This will bring lasting change and spiritual growth. The believer reads scripture not for the reading itself but to consider its various truths. This gives power to the Scriptures to impact life. Watson wrote:

“Meditation without reading is erroneous; reading without meditation is barren. The bee sucks the flower and then works it into the hive, and so turns it into honey. By reading we suck the flower of the Word, by meditation we work it into the hive of our mind, and so it turns to profit…The reason we come away so cold from the reading of the Word is because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.” (p. 66)

Isn’t this so true? Bible reading is so much sweeter and profitable when we take some time to chew on what we have read, rather than to read distractedly so we can move to the next thing. Memorizing takes it even a step further and keeps the Word in our minds to chew on when we have a spare moment.

Why should we meditate? What’s the big deal? I greatly appreciated this quote by the author–

Without redeeming the time through godly meditation, one will be overcome with the evil of the age and be left vulnerable to polluted, depraved thoughts that incessantly seek a mind upon which to work their evil. Christians come into the faith with a sandstorm of carnal baggage swirling around in their minds. No believer will overcome the effects of mental pollution without using his time to continually renew himself. Christians who refuse to use their time to meditate upon the Word are as foolish as an army sentry without bullets or a fireman without a water source. (p. 101)

Oh, how true! Aren’t we so much more protected from the evil within our own hearts and the wickedness of the world around us when we are in the Word and meditating upon it?

___________________________

I have so many more quotes and thoughts I could share from this book but I think this is probably enough to chew on for today. I hope I have whetted your appetites and that some of you will consider reading it. I really think you will be glad you did!

God has created a great defense in the battle for our minds and it is biblical meditation. Don’t let the word “meditation” and Satan’s abuse of it scare you from practicing it in the way God intended.

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 1)

The past several months have brought several trials across my doorway. A few major ones but mostly minor. A few extremely heart-wrenching but most simply annoying or inconvenient. Through it all, I’ve had a choice in how I was going to react and respond. And, to be flat-out honest, I’ve been less than impressed with myself. The tough moments of life quickly show us our weaknesses, don’t they? You think you are getting somewhere in your spiritual journey and then BAM! A trial hits and you realize you haven’t gotten near as far as you thought. It definitely keeps me humble. To say the least.

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about recently in regards to this is worldliness. I found myself responding way too often just as the world would respond. Wouldn’t responding and reacting just like the world make me “spotted” by the world? (James 1:27) Throughout most of my life, I’ve viewed worldliness mostly through the avenue of entertainment. I’ve written several posts on trying to eliminate this form of worldliness from our lives. And rightly so. The lack of discernment in this area is epidemic in the lives of Christians. There is a gigantic disconnect between Christians and their entertainment.

But, while this is important, I’ve been realizing that worldliness is far more encompassing than entertainment. I’d like to take a few posts and look into this subject of worldliness. What does the Bible teach about it? What are some surprising areas where we need to be on guard against it? And what steps do we take to minimize or even eradicate it from our lives? If there is time, we may even take a look at how the doctrine of separation and the term “worldliness” was completely eradicated from our current church culture. Whew! That’s a lot to cover.

It’s been awhile since I wrote a series, but as I’ve been reflecting on this topic recently, I believe it is critical to have a good understanding of it. I hope that this series is a blessing to us all as we strive to live holy and godly lives.

First, let’s talk about what the Bible teaches specifically about worldliness. A few passages quickly come to mind. You could find more if you do your own study. God makes it clear that we are to be separate from the world. Not in connecting with and loving others or in sharing the Gospel with the lost but in how we live our lives. There should be a vast contrast between our life and that of our unsaved neighbor.

Let’s look at three of the scripture passages that speak about this–

I John 2:15-17Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

Do not love the world or the things of this world. Wow. How more clear can you get than that? We are not to love the world or the things of the world. This encompasses all areas of life. Not just entertainment. Not just the obvious things we think of immediately. The world’s wisdom and philosophies permeate every aspect of life. Have you ever thought about this? I really hadn’t until just recently.

Romans 12:1-2I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your 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.

Do not be conformed to this world. The definition of conform is: to be similar or identical. From these verses, we can know that we are not to look anything like the world in any way. We can also see that as we grow and start to look more and more like Jesus we will look less and less like the world.

James 4:4Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Friendship with the world=Enmity with God. God couldn’t have made it much clearer than that, could He have? If we insist on being a friend of the world, then we have, by default, become the enemy of God. If we think about this seriously for just a moment, we have to recognize something that is very sobering: True believers are not friends with this world. This doesn’t mean that we don’t sometimes desire friendship or even cave to that battle. It also doesn’t mean that we are without struggle or growth in this area. This is not perfectly realized as a baby Christian or even as a mature Christian. What it does mean is that eventually the Holy Spirit convicts us and we recognize that we cannot be friends with God and friends with this world at the same time. God doesn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room in this area of befriending the world.

So we can see from these passages above that God expects us to remain disenchanted with the world and its philosophies. That we are to separate ourselves from it and to be different. In fact, it is this difference that will make us stand out to those who are seeking Jesus Christ. It will be this difference that makes us as light and salt to a lost and dying world (Matthew 5:13-14) Of course, this is a far cry from what is being taught in the mainstream church these days. Most popular Christian teachers, preachers, authors, and musicians are either completely ignoring this doctrine or promoting the exact opposite.

So let’s take a look now at some of the ways worldly thinking and attitudes creep into our lives when we least expect it. I confess I had to really stop and think about some of these things and I will readily admit to you that I have to recognize that I am far more worldly that I thought I was. It happens so subtly. How easy it is to fall prey to this–especially in a Christian culture that is promoting it so heavily.

So here we go. I will start the list today and continue on in the next post. Please keep in mind that in several of these categories the mainstream church isn’t too far off from the World. It’s a sad, sad thing and we must be on guard. Just because your favorite Pastor says it or a Christian author promotes it or a Christian artist sings it, does not mean it is biblical truth. We truly must compare everything to God’s Word. This has always been true, but perhaps never so critical as in the minefield that is called “Christianity” today.

So just how do we let the world slip into our daily lives so easily?

Let’s look at the obvious and not-so-obvious ways–

1. ENTERTAINMENT. Let’s start with the obvious. After all–it is one of the primary ways that worldliness inches its way into our lives.

The World: Watch, listen to, and read what you want. It doesn’t matter. Numb your brain as much as you can with any and all kinds of entertainment–no matter how wicked. God and even morals are irrelevant when it comes to entertainment. The only thing that matters is that you experience pleasure.

What the Bible Says: I will set nothing wicked before my eyes (Psalm 101:3). We can also look at Galatians 5:19-21, which provides one of several lists of the “works of the flesh”. These are things that we are not to practice as believers–and we can safely assume that they are things we are not to entertain ourselves with, as well.

This area of entertainment is one of the key ways Satan infiltrates a Christian’s life. Cleaning up and even cutting back on our entertainment has the power to tremendously change our walks with the Lord for the better. There is something that stands between us and the Lord when we are constantly filling our minds with the things He abhors. Until we are willing to give these things up, there is a wall there that cannot be removed. As we grow in Christ and yield our entertainment to Him, we will lose our appetite for these things. But we have to be willing to give them up first and let Christ “clean house”.

Think about not only what you watch but how often you watch. Pay attention to music lyrics on the radio. Think about not only what you read but how often you read frivolous fare compared to the solid food of the Word or even the works of solid Christian authors (most of whom are long gone now–Ryle, Spurgeon, the Puritan writers, etc.)

Sometimes it isn’t what we are watching but how often we are watching. I really had to think about this a few months ago. I had allowed myself to get lazy and we just turned the TV on every evening as a matter of course. It stayed on a good part of the evening while we mindlessly consumed what we considered as fairly innocuous programming. But somewhere in there God really convicted me and we made an effort to really change that. I realized just how much precious time I was wasting. If Satan can’t get us with the evil entertainment issue he will try to get us with the wasting time issue. We must be on guard for both. I was also challenged about my definition of “innocuous” programming. When we really evaluate what we are watching through the lens of scripture, we are really left with little to watch.

2. NETWORKING/BUILDING A PLATFORM. This is a more recent thing. Several years ago, I took an online class that taught me how to “build a platform”. I took it because at that point in time, I was hoping to grow this blog. It wasn’t until a bit later that I took on John MacArthur’s philosophy of marketing (as in: I don’t market myself. If God wants to grow the blog, He can take care of that. I will just be faithful to God and His Word, in whatever ministry He places me and let Him take care of the rest!)

The World: Get as many connections as you can. Work hard to connect with the ones that will help you build your platform. Numbers matter. Get as many followers and connections as you possibly can to enlarge your circle.

What the Bible Says: Don’t worry about building a platform. Our job is to serve faithfully in whatever ministry we have been called to (Matthew 20:16; Hebrews 12:28; 2 Timothy 1:3). John 3:30 takes it a step further: He must increase, but I must decrease. We aren’t even to be worrying about ourselves or our “platform”. Our focus should be on giving God the glory, sharing the Gospel, and growing the saints. He will take care of building any platform that we need.

Would it surprise you to know that there is not one word in the scripture about building a network? Does this mean it is wrong to be on social media? Of course not. We like to follow those with similar interests or those that encourage us in our faith. And it is fine for them to follow us. This is not about the what but about the why. Are we following someone so that they will follow us back? Are we commenting on something so that we will bring notice to ourselves and get our name out there? Are we developing a friendship with that guy or conversing with that girl because they have “connections”? In short, are we using people to further our own agenda?

One of the things I was told that I would need to do in order to build my platform was to read other blogs and be actively participating by commenting. I did try this for awhile, but at the time I was extremely busy and didn’t have time to read a lot of blogs that I didn’t really care about. Since that time, I only read blogs that I really enjoy. (This change in attitude has also given me total freedom from offense if friends or family don’t read my blog. There are just so many hours in a day and I totally get it if my blog isn’t their “cup of tea”. We all have to choose what we have time to do. I mean I absolutely love when someone I know personally tells me they like my blog or that they were blessed by a post. But I also know that just because they don’t take time to read this particular blog isn’t necessarily a reflection on their feelings for me. Okay–enough of that bunny trail!)

In summary, we must not use people to further our ministries, careers, or personal followings. In fact, we should spend minimal–if any–time marketing ourselves. The world would say use people and puff yourself up. But the Bible says love people and diminish yourself. See how these are complete opposites?

3. LANGUAGE/COMMUNICATION. How the world talks and communicates should be very different from how we Christians communicate on so many different levels–how we talk, what we talk about, and even the tone with which we say what we say.

The World: Foul language; Agreement equals love; Gossip; Speak your mind no matter who you hurt.

What the Bible Says:  Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29)

What exactly is edification? According to google, it is defined as: The instruction or improvement of a person morally or intellectually. Now if we run everything we say through this grid, it clears up a lot of things real quick.

Are we edifying someone by using foul language? No.

Are we edifying someone if we stand around and talk about about the boss or a fellow employee? No.

Are we edifying someone if we give our agreement to something that we know is wrong? No.

And one more–

Are we edifying someone if we speak our mind in a brusque, matter-of-fact manner without a smidge of love or kindness? No.

See how helpful this verse is? Probably would be a good one for us all to memorize and reflect on before we say anything.

 

Are you starting to see how much the world has crept into our mindset? How many things we have let slide and never even think about? As I started thinking about this, it can be a little overwhelming. But we can’t let “overwhelming” stop us from living in submission and obedience to God’s Word.

My next post will continue with more areas we have allowed worldliness to seep into our lives without even thinking about it.

 

 

 

The Case of the Disappearing Hair Cream

My eyes scanned the store shelves. Oh, no. My heart sank. Could it be they stopped making it? No, that couldn’t possibly be.

Let me back up just a bit. I have very thin, rather lifeless hair. My hair would definitely be one of things at the top of the list were I given the opportunity to change anything about my appearance. But many years ago–perhaps 15 or more–I had stumbled onto a texturizing cream that had worked wonders. I bought it year after year after year. Until that fateful day.

I asked the store clerk. She thought maybe they were just out of stock.

I went back several more times over the course of the next year and realized that it had happened. My hair cream was off the market. At that point, I purchased nine tubes (yes, nine!) off of Amazon and started on my search for a new, comparable product. But, time after time, I’d be disappointed. It would be inordinately sticky. Or too thin. It wouldn’t hold my hair enough. Or it would hold it too much. I was growing less and less sure that I’d ever find a replacement. This went on for a couple of years and my stock was growing dangerously low.

And then one day, just a few weeks ago, I was scrolling through an online store and came across a product that I thought might be worth a try. Why not? I added it to my cart.

After it arrived, it sat there for a few days. This shows you how little expectation I had that it would work. It was almost like I was stalling the disappointment.

One morning, I pulled it out and opened it up. It was a little sticky. I sighed, placed a dab of the white cream on my fingertips, and reached my hand up to my head and…it worked! It worked better than the original! I couldn’t believe it. Finally, I had found a replacement.

I am still so surprised when I use it and it works. It works for hours. It’s better than the original in every way.

So what is my point?

Well, I’d like to tell you another story. Don’t get caught up in the details of the story. Please keep in mind that I am not telling you what your convictions should be. I am telling you my testimony so that you will see that God won’t give conviction without making it possible to experience victory. And that if you are filled with conviction then be sure to follow it through–and if you are smart you will do this much quicker than I did.

If you are a “music” person, this will make more sense to you. I love music. My life would be incomplete without it. I love all kinds of music–well, most kinds, anyway. I had to actually train myself to turn it off sometimes and learn to enjoy quiet.

As a college student, I listened to a variety of music, which included quite a bit of secular rock and pop. As I matured as a believer and became a mom, I began to realize that the lyrics of much of the secular music I was listening to was saying the complete opposite of what the Bible taught. It wasn’t what I wanted to teach my kids or fill my head with. I made the decision to eradicate most of that style from my life. (Which I have never regretted).

While I listened to classical and southern Gospel and jazz music while the kids were growing up, mostly what I listened to was of the Christian Contemporary Music variety (or CCM as it is frequently called). I had nary a hint of conviction about listening to this and was content to have this as part of my life for a very long time.

And then, several years ago now and through various avenues, God started to bring to my attention some concerns with this music. The lyrics were theologically wrong more often than not. The artists themselves were less than impressive when interviewed and often admitted to worldly lifestyles and bad theology. And, the truth of the matter was, if I listened to anything with a heavy rock beat, it would actually negatively affect my mood.

I remember often being angry about something and turning on a heavy rock song. Christian or secular, it didn’t really seem to make much difference. It matched my mood and would feed my anger. I vividly remember the day and exactly where I was when I realized that I needed to make a change. God had filled me with conviction that this music–no matter what the lyrics said–was not His music.

That led to ten or more years of me fighting against this conviction. I was basically addicted to CCM and the rock-style of music and, to be truthful, had no interest whatsoever in giving it up. Besides if I didn’t listen to modern music, what in the world would I listen to? What would even be left? I had already given up rock music and was viewed as really odd because of it. Did the Lord really desire I give up CCM, too? And was I really willing to make myself look even odder? Was I convicted over nothing? And yet the fruit of this music in my life wasn’t the best on many different levels: Teaching me incorrect theology, affecting my mood, and leading me towards the world rather then away from it. I had to admit this. Oh, how I vacillated back and forth for a very long time.

Finally, one day in the not-that-distant past, I said something like this to the Lord: “Lord, if it is Your will that I stop listening to this music, you will have to remove my desire. You will have to help me because I can’t do it on my own.” And I left it at that.

I had no instant answer. I still liked that style of music the next day. And the day after that. But a year or two down the road, a small miracle had taken place. That music had lost its hold on my life. I now was content to fill my ears with hymns and songs that didn’t need a heavy drum beat. I started listening to classical and instrumental much more often. While I still listen occasionally to a theologically correct CCM song or album, I have lost my passion for it. Now, I can take it or leave it.

And here’s the thing: I am a much healthier Christian for it. I even experience less fits of anger. I think rock music does something to our psyches. I can’t prove it. I can just share my experience. I do think it has been proven, actually, but that’s not my point.

My point for today’s post is to let you know that if God gives you conviction, it is for a reason. And the sooner we follow Him, the sooner we will be experiencing the wonderful benefits of yielding to the Spirit, separating ourselves from the world in that area, and growing in our sanctification.

So back to my first story. My new hair cream surprised me by being so much better than my old hair cream. Oh, I could still use the old stuff, but I much prefer the new one. I found something better to replace the old.

So, too, is the issue of music for me now. Oh, I can listen to CCM on occasion but I don’t really enjoy it very much anymore. God really did deliver me from my passion for it. I have no other earthly explanation.

When God calls us to give up something, we don’t spend our lives pining for it. We don’t long for it when we run into it again in the world. He actually takes away our hunger for it. And He gives us new and better desires. It is truly amazing! This is sanctification at work.

While I know this post wasn’t officially about music, I also realize that many of you won’t agree with my conviction about it. In fact, I imagine I will lose some readers over it. People feel very, very strongly about their music. It is one of the reasons I don’t talk about it that much.

However, if any of you reading this have started to have little niggling doubts about this modern day music that is labeled “Christian”, may I encourage you to start praying about it. And then start listening to the lyrics, comparing them to scripture. When the radio is on or you are listening to any song–secular or Christian–pay attention to what message is really filling your brain. Is it a biblical message? Or is it anti-biblical? Pay attention and be diligent in prayer. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom and guidance and then the strength to make a change if you are convicted to make one. He is faithful.

 

What Does the Bible Say About…(Prayer)?

Prayer is one of those subjects that can be a little daunting. We know we should pray. We really do want to pray. But, if we are honest, it is downright hard for many of us to make time for prayer without distractions. Oh, we will pray throughout the day (and what a privilege this is!) but to actually pray for any length of time in any consistent manner can be a real challenge. It is so easy to talk about but not-so-easy to put into practice.

The other thing about prayer is that Satan has attempted to hi-jack it for his purposes, invading and deceiving many in the church with a new type of prayer that is never mentioned or supported in scripture. It is called Contemplative Prayer and you can read more about it here and here if you desire to be aware and knowledgeable about this great danger.

Whenever Satan hi-jacks something good it tends to make us biblical Christians nervous whenever the subject is brought up. And we are always wondering: How do we know if what we are being taught about prayer is actually from the Bible? This is a wise and valid question to ask. We are told to test all things (I Thessalonians 5:21).

This week my Bible Study lesson was on prayer. As I worked to prepare for this lesson, I decided to see if Pastor Dean had any sermons specifically on prayer. I was delighted to find that he had actually, in preaching through Matthew some years back, preached on each section of the Lord’s prayer, which is found in Matthew 6:9-13. He also has four introductory sermons on prayer based on Matthew 6:1-7.

As I was listening  the other day, it dawned on me that some of you may appreciate these biblical (and very helpful!) sermons on prayer, as well, and so I decided to put them all here in this one place.

I feel sure these sermons will not only teach and remind you of just how our Lord Jesus commanded us to pray but that they will also give you a new and fresh vigor for your prayer life.

 

How Not to Pray (Matthew 6:1-7)

Praying Like a Hypocrite (Part 1)

Praying Like a Hypocrite (Part 2)

Praying Like a Heathen

 

Overview (Matthew 6:9-13)

The Pattern of Prayer

 

An In-Depth Look at the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)

The One to Whom We Pray (Part 1)

The One to Whom We Pray (Part 2)

Hallowed be Thy Name

Thy Kingdom Come

Thy Will Be Done

Forgive Us Our Debts

Deliver Us From Evil

The Doxology

 

 

When It’s Time to Reap

She sat there in her hospital room, old, confused, and alone. A lifetime of bitterness and grudges and pride was being harvested. Her unforgiving heart and her need to be in control had pushed away most of her friends and family, leaving her to walk through this latest health crisis alone. When one of her children reached out to her, she clung to her pride and her bitterness and pushed them firmly away.

It is, by far, one of the saddest, most heart-breaking things I have ever witnessed. And I was reminded of Galatians 6:7–

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.

We reap what we sow. It is a principle of life we cannot escape. If we sow seeds of bitterness and unforgiveness and grudges, those seeds will grow into plants and those plants will produce fruit. Deformed, loathsome fruit.

If we sow seeds of love and grace and mercy, those seeds will produce good and healthy fruit.

But there are other bad seeds to sow, other seeds that produce bad fruit. Galatians 6 goes on to say this in verse 8–

For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.

Any sowing that is done to our flesh will reap corruption. Any sowing that is done to the Spirit yields everlasting life.

BUT, you may be thinking, that old woman is not me. I am sowing good seeds, I have a good relationship with my family and friends. Lest we get too confident in ourselves, I remind you of something that John Stott once said–

“Every time we allow our mind to harbor a grudge, nurse a grievance, entertain an impure fancy, or wallow in self-pity, we are sowing to the flesh. Every time we linger in bad company who’s insidious influence we know we cannot resist, every time we lie in bed when we ought to be up and praying, every time we read pornographic literature, every time we take a risk that strains our self-control, we are sowing, sowing, sowing to the flesh.”

Oh, we all do it. Every. Single. Day. Maybe not to the extent that will leave us old and alone. But we all sow to the flesh, reaping the consequences of our sinful choices.

God sent His son to forgive our sins and give us eternal life. But salvation does not erase the consequences of sinful choices. We continue to live with those until we die.

Thankfully, living a life that is pleasing to the Lord eliminates so many of those ugly consequences. And that is something we can start to do right now! Today! His commands are not burdensome. They protect us! And what a wonderful protection they are.

We cannot change the consequences that we are experiencing from sinful choices of our past. BUT we can change the future. Here are a few questions we should ask ourselves as we contemplate our future harvest:

What seeds am I sowing that will yield an abundance of good fruit?

What seeds am I sowing that are going to yield the fruit of corruption?

AND…

What can I change to make my harvest so much better?

 

As God has a way of doing so often, He brings just the right book or sermon along at just the right time. That very thing happened this week. If you’d like to think on this topic a bit more, I recommend this sermon by John MacArthur on the principle of sowing and reaping: The Inescapable Law of Sowing and Reaping.

 

 

The Issues Behind the Issues

We have become a people that responds to issues. Whether it’s our own emotional health (anxiety and depression) or our kids well-being (ADHD, anger issues, rebellion), our situations at work and church (relationship problems), or our marriages (struggles and strife) we work hard to find an escape hatch very quickly. We want to be free of the hassle, inconvenience, grief, and pain that these things bring. And so we quickly medicate, change jobs or churches, or leave our spouse.

Before I continue on, let me be clear about something. I am not judging you individually. I know that some people legitimately need medication, that sometimes we must change jobs or churches, and that there are even times that warrant leaving our spouse. So please know that this is not about any individual but rather about a trend I have been noticing.

It is easier to take the escape hatch than to wade through the unpleasant waters to fix the issue. It is easier to just fix something temporarily than to take the time to fix it for the long haul. Tape is easier to apply than digging and drilling and nailing.

So I do get it.

But there are almost always deeper, spiritual issues behind the issues we can see.

A hyperactive child may be crying out for discipline. Refusing to discipline in a biblical way leads to undisciplined, uncontrollable children.

An angry child may be frustrated by the lack of control he feels because mom and dad are always fighting or perhaps because something happened that they just don’t want to tell you. Instead of parenting to the issue, it is critical that we get to the bottom of things.

An anxious woman has an issue with trusting God and submitting to His will for her life.

An angry man may be struggling with his loss of control over his circumstances.

A struggling relationship at church or work is driven by envy or jealousy.

And sometimes there is no big underlying issue but it’s just a certain stage in our lives or our children’s lives that we must walk through.

And on and on and on the list goes.

But as a culture we have been conditioned to simply fix problems without digging deeper. When we do dig deeper it is through the use of a humanistic psychologist and not through God and studying His Word or even by using a biblical counselor. (This is a tricky area because even a lot of “Christian” psychologists and counselors use a lot of human wisdom that is in complete opposition to what God’s Word teaches. See here for more information.)

And there is nothing wrong with getting the right outside help. Sometimes our pastor or a good biblical counselor or even a friend can help us see things we can’t see. But may I suggest that we first pray and ask the Lord to guide and direct us and start digging into His Word to see if there is something we are missing?

I know that as I have struggled with terrible bouts of anxiety and depression these past few years that it has been a sin issue for me. Yes, I have had a tremendous amount of change in my life over the past 5-7 years, some that I saw coming and some that I did not. And, yes, I have hormones that are wreaking havoc in my body. And, yes, owning a business and having a ministry that is not the most popular can be extremely stressful. But at the end of the day, it was a sin issue. I was not trusting God, I was self-centered and self-absorbed, and I was not in submission to God’s Will for my life. Plain and simple.

I thank the Lord that He showed this to me. It was extremely painful (another reason we avoid digging beyond the issue) and it’s not over yet. I still have days of great struggle and pain. I share this to hopefully encourage you because I know that I am not alone in this. Others have shared with me their struggles in this area.

But mostly I share this because I think it is so important that we do a little digging and wading through the gunk before we find that escape hatch. I believe that we must give some effort and prayer before we head to the pharmacy or walk away from a situation. Perhaps this is just the thing that God is using to teach us and/or our children an important lesson. Perhaps by lessening the pain, we are actually missing out on learning something very important. In our urgency to diminish the pain and grief and hassles, we may be missing out on something very glorious.

And so today I want to encourage you to spend some time in prayer and God’s Word and to be patient as you work through issues in your life and the lives of your children before heading for that escape hatch. God is so faithful and He will meet your needs–sometimes in ways you could never even have imagined! But when we are so quick to fix our own problems, we miss out on seeing His provision.

And sometimes…

We can’t fix the issue. And God doesn’t fix the issue. That doesn’t settle very well with our 21st century selves. We believe we should be able to fix everything. But sometimes God allows a situation in our lives that remains unresolved. Just like Paul’s thorn in his flesh, we plead for it to be removed and God says no. But we know from 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, that we can rest in God’s sovereignty even when this is the case. God has a reason and we can trust Him (Romans 8:28-30).

Life is not fun and we are burdened with all kinds of heartaches and frustrations living in this fallen world. But God is faithful and will meet our needs. But we are so often caught up in fixing and solving our own problems that we leave little opportunity for God to work in the way that only He can.

So let’s take some time to figure out the issues behind the issues, praying and asking the Lord for guidance as we study the Word to find out what He has to say on the matter. And let’s do this first rather than as a last resort.

 

 

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