Christian Living

What Chickens Can Teach Us

A year or two ago, we got some chickens. This past summer one escaped without us noticing and was found without her head just a few yards from the safety of her pen the next morning.

We googled what takes off just the head and then leaves the rest of the chicken (you’d be surprised at the answers!) and then filled in any gaps or places in the pen that would provide a way of escape.

Unfortunately, this was not our last headless chicken. The other night my husband went down to the pen and found a headless chicken inside the pen. He was furious. What in the world?? How had this happened??

More googling.

Did you know that chickens are very curious creatures? Apparently, this can get them into trouble.

Apparently, some animal (we are thinking a raccoon) put his paw in the pen at a place where it was dug out just a bit under the fence. When the chicken got close enough to see what was going on, he grabbed her head and pulled. Only there was not enough room to pull the entire chicken through. And so, yet another chicken lost its head.

Had that chicken curbed its curiosity it would still be alive today. But it just couldn’t resist and moved closer and closer to the fence until BAM!! Its life was over. In the course of a few seconds.

Oh, upon this experience, I couldn’t help thinking how much like chickens we are! In several different ways!

First, there are the chickens that stood by and watched that chicken approach danger.

Some of us are so curious. We just can’t resist getting as close to the fence as we possibly can.

And, as we approach danger, all of our “chicken friends” just watch. No one says a thing because–for goodness’ sake!–we might be offended. People care more about us being offended or mad at them than they do about saving our spiritual lives. Have you ever thought of that?

When it comes right down to it, if we are honest, our unwillingness to speak up against sin and false teaching is more about our own selfish desire to avoid any pain and suffering than it is about truly loving someone.

Warning that person that is steeped in false teaching or caught up in a habitual sin is taking a big risk. A risk that may cost us a relationship or even our reputation. For most of us, that risk is too high.

And so we stand by as we watch others approach real spiritual danger. Pretending we care but not caring enough to speak the truth.

And then there is that chicken that approached the danger. Let’s talk about her for a moment. Oh, how close to the world we want to get, thinking we can go just one more step to satisfy our worldly desires. But, in just a moment, the consequences for getting that close can destroy our lives. While it can never kill us if we are truly saved, it can–and usually will–wreak havoc in the lives of both ourselves and our family. Sin always brings destruction. Creeping closer to the world, being lured towards the edge by the raccoons of this world is always a bad idea.

And then there is the chicken-keeper. My husband. The guy who built the fence. Now, we are not perfect chicken-keepers. To say the least (I can hear my family laughing now!) But even as a non-lover of animals, he was downright angry about some wild animal killing his chicken and worked hard to protect the others by placing boards around the bottom and doing all he could temporarily until a more permanent solution could be put in place.

This reminds me of John 10, where Christ is our Shepherd and He promises to take care of us. He builds the fence of His Word around His sheep (which never needs mended) as our protection. But sometimes we seek to escape the boundaries of the Word. We disobey its commands, we love the world, we love a hidden sin, we are beguiled by a wolf dressed as a sheep…and, while we can’t lose our salvation thanks to our Good and Loving Shepherd, we pay consequences that are so very costly.

You know, pastors are supposed to follow Christ’s example and protect the flock in his care. They are to preach the Word, regardless of popularity and people-pleasing, in order to truly love their sheep.

So sadly, many seem to be so much more caught up in “building a business” than loving the sheep in their care. They seem to care much more about the numbers than they do about spiritually strengthening and protecting their congregation.

This is such a sad commentary on this even sadder church era.

How thankful we should be for the pastors out there who lovingly and selflessly care for the spiritual needs and protection of their flocks. There are still some out there and what a blessing they are to the true Church. And to the sheep that sit under their care.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking through after the unfortunate chicken incident. May we give as much attention to protecting the spiritual welfare of those we love as we give to protecting their physical welfare. The world is a dangerous place and filled with raccoons, owls, hawks, foxes, and minks. They are all after your heart. After the heart of your spouse. And especially after the hearts of the next generations– your children and your grandchildren.

We are charged to love them by protecting them. And this will never happen by letting them skirt as close to the fence as possible. Instead, we must teach them the boundaries of God’s Word and set the example for them of living by those same boundaries. And, through it all, realize that all of it is impossible without the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who have been saved through faith in Christ alone.

May we pray diligently for spiritual protection and monumental courage for ourselves, for our families, and for our pastors and other church leaders, in a mainstream church that’s so far gone it is almost unrecognizable.

 

 

 

The Next (Little) Thing

A month or two ago, I had the privilege of sitting down with an elderly couple and talking with them about life. The one spouse is in pretty ill health and so they are confined and unable to do much of what they did in the past. Several times during the conversation, one of them mentioned how they used to enjoy visiting people like themselves and how often they would do this. I think it is very hard for them to be a “visitee” rather than the “visitor”… as it would be for most of us, I guess.

In the course of the conversation, it came up how few visitors they actually have. Even after they spent so much time visiting in the past.  My heart grew just a bit sad for them as I contemplated them sitting alone, day after day, unable to go much of anywhere, due to circumstances beyond their control.

This conversation has been much on my mind since it occurred. Why don’t more people visit the elderly, the sick, and the shut-ins? Why is this relegated only to the official “clergy” when it is something any of us could do? What is keeping us from this act of love and kindness?

As I have been pondering over this, I have recognized that it could be because there is no immediate reward for this type of service. While feeding the poor, taking care of orphans, being a social media influencer for Christ or doing some other public thing often yields much praise and fanfare from the church; other acts of love, such as being a full-time mommy, care-taking, visiting the sick and the elderly, teaching Sunday School, making meals for others, witnessing to someone at work, and a whole host of other “behind-the scenes” services, don’t tend to yield the praise of men.

So this makes us naturally believe (wrongly) that these services may not be as important. Often, it is not even that we are consciously thinking this. It is just what our experiences teaches us: If a service yields the praise of men, it must be important. If it doesn’t, it must be unimportant.

But, truly, nothing could be further from the truth. Thankless jobs that yield no applause are often the most important!

God tells us in His Word that we are all needed to make the body of Christ run as it should–

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? (I Corinthians 12:15-19)

Each of us is given a different role in the body and this is a wonderful thing! If we were all a foot or an eye, how could the body of Christ even function? Some people are called to minister in very public ways and they are often truly an inspiration to us! Others are called to behind-the scenes jobs that go unnoticed. Both of these people are important in God’s eyes and necessary to keep the body of Christ functioning as it should.

We also find out in scripture that God has specifically prepared good works for us beforehand

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

God knows our strengths and weaknesses. He gave us our talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts. He knows what we are good at and where we can be used best in the Body. And that’s what we are supposed to be doing.

Many years ago now, when my youngest daughter was about twelve, she really wanted us to adopt. While we were not quite ready for that, we did decide that perhaps we could do some fostering so we enrolled in a short-term program to care for kids. When we got our first (and only) placement, it was incredibly difficult. Now, I am not scared of difficult. Many times, the path we are to walk on is difficult. However, it was more than that. I just felt in my heart like this was not what I was “cut out to do”. And I felt incredibly guilty about that. Shouldn’t everyone be cut out to take in children? Was I simply being selfish?

I eventually figured out that, no, everyone is not called to that ministry. And that this is as God has designed it. Because there are so many other just-as-important things to do for God’s Kingdom. While I have great admiration for those of you who are called to foster and adopt children or are passionately serving the poor and sharing the Gospel with them, it took me awhile to understand that there are so many of you, quietly serving the Lord in ways I will never know, who are doing jobs just as important. We need to pray and ask the Lord to show us what He wants us to do. Where He wants us to be serving right now– today– and then do it as Colossians 3:23 says: heartily and as unto God, not unto men.

And, in doing what God has set before us to do, we are promised to be prepared! In fact it says we will be filled with all grace abounding towards us, always having all sufficiency in all things to do what God has called us to do. That is quite a promise, now, isn’t it?!? Paul puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 9–

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

A few months ago I was feeling a bit at a loss. Am I still doing anything good with this tiny little corner on the internet? Should I be working on something “bigger” and “better”? In talking with my wise mother (whom I am still so blessed to have in my life for counsel and guidance!), she reminded me of the value of building into the lives of my grandchildren and the importance of supporting my children as they seek to raise children for Christ.

It was a very clarifying conversation. I didn’t need bigger and better. I just need to be faithful in what God has called me to do right now. Today. And, until He shows me differently, this calling is spending time with my grandchildren, helping my husband with our landscaping business, teaching Bible Studies, and writing to encourage the saints at a tiny, unknown blog called Growing4Life. That’s what God has for me today. I don’t need to be searching for anything bigger or better or something that yields the acclamation of men. I just need to be faithful with the things that God has for me to do on this day. And to be willing to do what He has for me tomorrow.

What does God have for you to do today? It may be adopting orphans or feeding the poor. But it may be something else. Something just as important but much less public.

May we seek the Lord in how He would have us serve Him and then may we go about it with much joy and perseverance, knowing that we are doing it for God and not for men. May we just faithfully do the next thing God has given us to do. Be it big or little.

 

A Way to Be Different

You know I was thinking of something this morning as I was reflecting on some of the changes over the past few years.

I think we have all been noticing the rising prices at the grocery stores. In a recent discussion about this, we wondered how many of the prices have actually risen compared to how many have been changed just because they can.

There are always people who idolize money prepared for any opportunity to gouge people out of their hard-earned wages. We can know, without a doubt, that some of this is going on as we face rising prices. Yes, many of the prices we are seeing are warranted. But it is just a fact of life that some aren’t.

The same thing is going on in companies, as well, where employees are doing things (perhaps spending time on the internet or phones or calling off on a whim, etc) simply because they can. They can be lazy and unproductive, often without consequences. Their employers need them and can’t afford to fire them and so they pretty much do what they want.

How a person responds or reacts when the status quo changes is a fairly good indication of their heart.

As believers, the changes in the culture should yield no negative changes in our behavior. We should continue to operate with integrity and kindness and honesty and love and selflessness, no matter the circumstances.

Why? Because we are serving God, not man.

Two verses specifically come to mind, as we consider this—

I Corinthians 10:31: Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Colossians 3:23: And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

This is why, as business owners, we don’t raise prices simply because we can get away with it. It is why, as employees, we continue to serve our employers with diligence and integrity. It is why, as believers, we continue to serve the Lord and others with loving-kindness.

If anything, a status quo change should change us for the better. As we face uncertain days and unprecedented challenges, we should grow in both faith and love. As we struggle with trials, this should be a catalyst for positive change in our lives. As we are given opportunities to lie, cheat, steal like never before, this should strengthen our resolve to take no part in these blatant sins.

We have an opportunity to be different today in a way none of us probably ever expected. We have an opportunity to serve the Lord well without outside, unspoken moral laws pushing us towards righteousness. 

Will we take the opportunity? Will we serve the Lord with diligence, integrity, and joy even when we don’t have to?

 

 

 

 

It’s All in How You Look at It

Do you remember laying on the ground when you were a kid and finding shapes in the clouds? Oftentimes, two people looking at the same cloud see two different things. One might see a dinosaur, while another may see a truck. That is because those looking have two different perspectives.

As believers, we should always have a different perspective than the world around us when it comes to the small irritations, the bigger frustrations, and even the great trials in our lives. But how often I fail at this very thing! I thought of this the other day when I took a quick trip to a store.

My eyes strained and tried to make sense of the words. But, as I stood in that toy store, I knew there was no way that I could decipher the small print on the box I had picked up. The words were just blurred blobs of black. And I have to admit that I sighed as I pulled out my reading glasses. The sigh indicated my frustration and my heart of complaint. Though I didn’t speak, my head was certainly thinking it and God knows my thoughts.

A few minutes later, this thought struck me: Have you considered just how many people in history never had the incredible gift of reading glasses to extend the usefulness of their eyes?!?

Whoah. As I thought through this, I knew it couldn’t have been but a few hundred years that they have been in existence. And, although literacy has not been in existence all that long and the need wouldn’t have been terribly great for reading glasses, I knew that it would have been frustrating to grow older and not be able to see anything close up.  All through history, women would have to have had to mend and sew and cook and bake and wash clothing. How frustrating it must have been for them as their eyesight failed and detailed work became impossible to do well–if at all.

And I was complaining? If even in my heart, I knew this was sinful. I had the wrong perspective! Instead of being thankful for God’s gift of eyeglasses, I was grumbling because I needed them.

As I intentionally turned my perspective right side up, my overall attitude changed. There is just not room for complaint in a heart that is filled with gratitude.

I wish I could say I am always so quick to see what is going on in my heart when I complain. But, alas, I am not. It’s like second nature for us all. It is the thing we turn to when things aren’t going our way. Sometimes we have the wherewithal to simply think it. Other times, we vocalize it. No matter how we express our complaining hearts, it is always sin.

The Bible says this in Philippians 2:14-15–

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.

There are no exceptions that make a complaining heart acceptable. No conditions or set of circumstances that give us a right to complain.

If we continue to read the verses, we can see that this is how we shine as lights in the world. Isn’t this so interesting to reflect upon? We shine as lights in the world by not complaining and arguing about everything.

This has to mean then that when we do complain and argue (dispute), our lights are dimmed. Perhaps even turned off.

Later on in Philippians we read the following–

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

Did you catch that word in there that keeps us from having a complaining heart? It is by bringing our requests to God with thanksgiving.

Complaints and thanksgiving cannot reside in a heart side-by-side. They are mutually exclusive.

So, practically speaking, how do we cultivate a thankful heart rather than a complaining heart?

Sometimes, we can just turn our complaint on its head and change our perspective, as I did with my glasses. When we are doing housework, we can instead thank God that we have a home. When we are taking care of the children, may we remember the tremendous blessing of caring for these precious souls. When our car breaks down, well, let’s thank the Lord for the car in the first place. You get the idea. This change in perspective can be a powerful tool.

But what about the things that happen in life that have no upside? The things that devastate us and are life-changing? How do we go from complaint to thankfulness then?

It is only through trusting God and His Sovereignty. Intentionally resting in His promises in scripture will enable us to endure and be thankful–not for them but through them as we dwell on His love, His grace, His mercy. Understanding and believing that ALL things work together for God’s purposes and for the good of those that love Him (Romans 8:28) –this truth can and will uphold us and carry us through the darkest days.

Yesterday, I was in the company of an elderly couple who has been through some very rough times in the past couple of years. Things are still frustrating and difficult for them. When I asked them how the Lord has helped them, the wife said something like, “He’s just been with us all the way.”

When she said that, I thought of these verses from Psalm 37 (vs 23-24)–

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord,
And He delights in his way.
Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down;
For the Lord upholds him with His hand.

The Lord will uphold us, no matter what happens. And that is a reason to be thankful, no matter what we are going through.

Hearing this truth in the lives of those who have experienced it can be greatly encouraging. Even more encouraging is thinking back over our own lives and remembering the times we have been upheld. God won’t drop us now. We are His sheep and we can never be lost–

And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. (John 10:28-29)

So may we turn our complaints into gratitude today. May we remember God’s promises. May we look at things from an eternal perspective and, with a heart of gratitude, shine as bright lights in this very dark world!

 

There’s a Supplement for That

Pills and supplements are a way of life in our culture. There is a pill for this and a supplement for that. Sometimes they work. Sometimes it is our head telling us they work (placebo effect) and sometimes they just don’t work at all.

When someone takes a bunch of pills and/or supplements and then complains and complains about their ailment or not feeling well and then tries to talk you into taking the supplement or pill they are taking because you have the same complaint or ailment, what is your first thought?

Yeah, me, too. Why would I try something that is clearly not working for them?

It is when we are ailing or faced with health challenges that we search out pills or supplements to help. And it is when we are discouraged or disappointed and faced with heart challenges that we seek a spiritual solution.

And, yet, so often we are like that complaining person taking the supplements. We encourage others to follow Christ but we complain and moan and act like the rest of the world. We tell them they will experience peace and joy in the midst of any circumstance but we don’t exhibit that ourselves, so is it any wonder that they aren’t interested?

If we are bound up and consumed by anxiety or anger or bitterness or disappointment or laziness or unmet expectations (or any other number of things that consume us), we are not going to be very convincing when we say that Christ is the answer. If we are easily frustrated or irritated; if we live in fear or we complain about everything, we won’t be a very good example for what life with Christ can be like. If we aren’t living a joyful life that is characterized by God’s love and peace, we may as well say out loud, “try Christ but He actually doesn’t work.”

Now, of course, we all have our moments. This isn’t about perfection but about direction. We all need to work through fear or disappointment or one of the other things listed above. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t transparent about our struggles. But if we are known by these things; if we naturally react like this without even recognizing the pattern of sin; if these things are what people think of when they think of us, we just aren’t going to be very effective for Christ.

I think Satan knows this. I really do. I think he knows full well that, while he can’t take away our salvation, he can most certainly make sure we aren’t actively helping to save anyone else.

So often these actions and reactions are extra hard to recognize or remove because they have become deeply ingrained habits. We complain out of habit. We grow easily irritated because we always grow irritated. We grow anxious before we even know we are doing it.

So how do we actually become what we say we are in Christ?

There’s a long word that sums it up perfectly: Sanctification.

Sanctification is the process of becoming like Christ. It is the lifelong process of becoming pure and holy. We will never do this perfectly on this side of heaven, of course. But, through the Holy Spirit, we can grow and change in amazing ways. We can conquer those sins that so easily beset us.

Most professing Christians these days do not give this a thought. They don’t consider becoming like Christ to be any goal worth attaining. They are more wrapped up in the world. But for those of us that are serious about our walk with God, this is something to reflect upon, isn’t it? If I am telling others about what Christ can do for them, am I showing this truth in my own life? What sins are habitual in my life? What am I doing that is hurting my testimony?

Oh, it is such a fundamental thing in biblical Christianity to be aware of and confess our sins to Christ, washing daily at the cross. And, yet, have most of us been taught this? Have you even considered this over the past few weeks? If we aren’t doing this, then we easily just accept the sins that so easily beset us rather than fiercely battling them. How important that we remember that victory can be ours by God’s Holy Word and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Scripture assures us that we aren’t without hope for change.

I’ve been really thinking recently about the status quo Christianity most of us are stuck in. We just live the way we have always lived because we feel hopeless to change. I wrote about that last week, as well. (You can find that post here.) I think we need to understand the possible eternal ramifications of resigning ourselves to besetting sins and wrong attitudes. They do not only affect us and those we love but they can potentially affect our witness for Christ.

May we study the Word and turn away from sin; may we walk in the Spirit as we live for Jesus every single day; And, in so doing, we will brightly reflect the light of Christ and bring hope to the lost who are searching so desperately.

 

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Romans 6:6)

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6)

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (John 17:17)

 

Flying Free

It is that special time of year when the dusky summer nights light up with fireflies here in Pennsylvania. My grandkids have been having a wonderful time running through the green grass, arms stretched out as they try to catch them.

The other night one of them asked if we could get a jar. After poking holes in the lid, this became our residence for the unfortunate lightning bugs caught by the little hands. The jar soon became full of little bugs with golden light shining forth from each one every few seconds.

Somehow the effect of the creeping bugs lighting up in the jar wasn’t nearly so enchanting as the fireflies flying freely in the yard and surrounding fields, lighting up the night.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sin lately. Oh, not the sin that we Christians gladly call sin and have no problem staying away from. I’m talking about the sins that we’ve come to accept as just part of us, rather than sins against God that need to be eradicated from our lives.

Things like self-indulgence, anxiety, grudges, anger, pride, gluttony, selfishness, fear, self-gratification, wasting time, ungodly entertainment, laziness, arrogance. The list goes on. We have deceived ourselves in believing these aren’t as big as those “other sins”. Or maybe that they aren’t sins at all.

But they are sin. And they do come with consequences.

These sins, loved and cherished by us, keep us imprisoned in ineffectiveness, severely dimming our lights for Christ.

Like the fireflies, we are in a jar. But it is of our own making. We bleakly shine our weak light, but few can see because they struggle to see beyond the sin that is so obvious to them and so accepted by us.

We all struggle. We all battle. But we can’t—we won’t—fight until we actually recognize that it IS sin. And that’s the key, isn’t it?

I am right there with you. I struggle with many things on that list and I am beginning to understand the offense they are to a Holy God. Our flesh wants to excuse them but if we want to walk in victory, we can’t make excuses. There is no place for rationalization of sin in the life of a vibrant Christian.

When I opened the front door this morning to let out my dogs, the jar was on the porch. Inside was one lone firefly. Apparently, when we took the lid off for a few minutes to return freedom to the little insects, this one missed the window of opportunity. We put the lid back on and put it on the porch for another night, never noticing the little bug still imprisoned in the jar.

I can’t help but think of how many of us are like that little bug. We have been caught and placed in the jar through our own lusts. We are imprisoned there without hope. But God opened the lid of the jar, through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. He provided us a way to freedom. He provided us a way to shine His light before the world.

And, yet, so many of us keep going back into the jar. We get ensnared by these sins that we don’t like to call sins and back into the jar we go.

If we are a believer, the lid of the jar is open. Why are we staying in the jar? Why are we not confessing our sin and battling our flesh, in order to live in victory?

I believe it’s because we’ve been deceived into believing we must live in the jar. That there is nothing wrong with the jar and we can’t expect a better place to live in this fallen world than the jar.

But I’m beginning to understand that this just isn’t true. We Christians don’t need to live in a jar imprisoned by fear and anxiety. Or grudges and unforgiveness. We don’t need to be imprisoned by our lust for material goods, ungodly entertainment, or food. We can be free of the pride that keeps us from living a Christian life filled with joy and peace.

God has removed the lid and we are free to live in victory. But the first step is humbly admitting it is actually sin.

I am reminded of these verses in Galatians—

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Galatians 5:24-25

Have I crucified my flesh with its passions and desires?

While this seems like an absurd way to obtain freedom, it is actually the only way we can find the freedom we long for so desperately.

Will you join me in asking the Lord to show us how we aren’t pleasing Him? Shall we pray that He will help us to admit that our dearly held sin(s) must be admitted and then eradicated? Shall we fly out of the jar and be on our way to freedom, where we can make the most impact for Christ and shine brightest?

 

 

 

Life and Legos

Have you ever had assumptions made about you? People are really great at assuming. They assume they know your motives, your reasons, your “whys”. They make assumptions about choices and decisions. These assumptions are often fueled by rumors. Rumors that we are all too quick to listen to and pass along.

These rumors and assumptions can really get us down for we are rarely given an opportunity to defend ourselves.

Have you ever been faced with a terrifying bit of news? Of course you have. Whether it’s an unwelcome diagnosis from a doctor or a piece of news that comes to our ears through a news anchor, we have all had those moments.

These terrifying moments can bring on major fear and anxiety for they make us realize that we have zero control over what happens.

Have you ever been accused wrongly or unfairly treated? Whether it is through favoritism, a misunderstanding, or because of standing for what is right, these moments come to us all.

These unfair accusations can make us really angry, because, well…it’s just not fair!

Have you ever been broken-hearted or hopeless? Perhaps through the loss of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, or the realization that you will have chronic pain for the rest of your life?

These moments of despair can make us depressed and zap all the joy from our lives because we just don’t feel like going on.

__________________________

I just finished reading the *biography of John Bunyan. He dealt with all of these things and more. As a young man, assumptions were made about him because he had been quite the wicked young man. The Lord got a hold of him and radically changed him but people just couldn’t forget the old man. He faced more trouble when his young wife died and left him with four young children to care for. Later on, he received the news of a prison sentence for a crime that wasn’t even a crime by the law of the land. It was totally and utterly wrongful imprisonment. While imprisoned, his precious Mary, his oldest (and blind) daughter passed away. When he was finally released from prison, his rabid opponents tried to stop his ministry through rumors and wrong accusations.

John found himself in a prison cell for twelve years. The religious wars in England at the time were ferocious and the tides turned every which way at any time. But, no matter which way it turned, his young wife (his second wife) found herself up against a brick wall in any effort to get him released.

Now, he could have grown depressed or angry. He could have ended up languishing in bitter disillusionment and unabated fury. But he didn’t.

Instead, he picked up quill and paper and started writing. And kept writing. And then wrote some more. His best known work is called Pilgrim’s Progress and is still a best seller among Christians today!

What was his key? Why could he continue on, despite the ill treatment and the heartbreak in his life?

There’s a small quote of his that shows us how he managed to do this. I have been mulling it over and over in my mind since I have first read it. I believe it is the key for us all–

“If ever I would suffer rightly I must first pass a sentence of death upon everything that can properly be called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyments, and all as dead to me and myself as dead to them. The second was to live upon God that is invisible.”

You see, he was putting scripture into practice. Paul basically told us this same thing in Philippians 3:8–

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

And so we must realize that it’s only in releasing our grip on the things of this world that we can experience the peace and joy that God has promised. It’s only in surrendering our sense of fairness, our reputations, our family members, our health, our finances, our futures to God and His Sovereign will that we can conquer our fears, worries, anger, and despondency.

This brings to mind an example of this I saw just a few years ago lived out right in front of my eyes. How well I remember the calm acceptance of my brother and his wife as they faced the fact that her journey on this earth was winding down to an end. It is because they were learning to release the things of this life to grasp instead the bright shining eternal gift of Christ.

As believers, the more we die to self and gain Christ, the more we are victorious in our Christian lives.

This isn’t exactly what most want to hear. In our self-obsessed culture, we want God to fulfill our dreams and pour down blessings.

But the actual blessings we receive from God aren’t all that appealing to the carnal soul.

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The other week, my son came into the house and said, “We have lots of legos!” I was confused and followed him out the door. What I saw sitting in the bed of his truck were 5-6 boxes of varying sizes filled with legos! A customer’s children had grown tired of legos and she didn’t want to bother selling them, so she asked if we wanted them. My son loaded them up and brought them home. Thousands of dollars worth of legos.

When our grandchildren laid eyes on those boxes they grew wide with excitement. As we pulled one off the truck and they saw all of the pieces and parts and potential, they were thrilled. Particularly the oldest, who at six years old, could really appreciate them.

Now, to an adult or a small baby, eh… who cares. Legos are not really their thing, right? Not really considered that big of a blessing. And maybe even a nuisance.

But to a child? Wow.

I think God’s blessings are a bit like that. They don’t look all that attractive to the unbeliever. Forgiveness of sins and peace with the God of the Universe? Eh. Not all that important, as they yearn after the worthless “fool’s gold” of this world. Peace and joy in the midst of trial? But they want promises of NO trials.

It isn’t until we are saved that God’s blessings fill us with awe and appreciation. Because they are specifically for those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and eternal life.

And so victory and blessing in the Christian life isn’t going to look all that appealing to the unbeliever or perhaps even to the immature believer.

It isn’t until we give up the temporal for the eternal that we begin to understand.

 

I wish I could say I am able to live out the truth of John Bunyan’s statement above. I wish I could say that God’s blessings are always enough for me. But, unfortunately, in my battle with my flesh and my {ever-loosening but still tight} grip on this world, I cannot. I can only write about it in hopes to encourage us all towards this ideal, knowing that God will faithfully continue His work in those of us who are His as we journey together towards the eternal city.

 

for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Philippians 2:13

 

 

*A Pilgrim Path: John Bunyan’s Journey by Faith Cook. Highly recommend!

 

A Few Thoughts From the State of Texas

I have spent the past week in Texas, visiting my daughter, Adrienne, and her family. It’s funny how you never really know where your kids will land. I never dreamed I’d make so many trips to Texas!

As we headed to the airport, the weather was overcast and the sky was gray. As the plane lifted up, up, up through the clouds, the gray soon was replaced by clear blue sky and white clouds below. Underneath all of those clouds was a rainy, cloudy world but above them was this beautiful crystal blue made even brighter by the sun.

I couldn’t help but think that we are living in that rainy, cloudy world right now with a new storm on the horizon every time we turn around. But this is not our final destination. And far above all of this chaos is the mansion the Lord is preparing for us. We will fly there someday. I just can’t think it will be long now.

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My daughter had minor surgery and so I was helping her care for her kids a little more than I would usually. One of the things that always had me stumped this past week were when the kids would need a drink. The cups were on a shelf with all of the lids in a bin. I could hardly ever find the proper matching lid. And if I did, I was sure to be confused about what “plastic thingy” to put in the lid–if it needed any at all. But, to Adrienne, this was as simple as…well, breathing. She knew every lid and plastic thingy and cup in that cabinet and she knew exactly what went with what. I did not and I needed her help. There was no shame in me asking for help because there was no way I could possibly know. Now what would have happened if I acted like I knew and put the wrong lid with the wrong cup and got all defensive when the juice spilled all over the floor and she gently told me that that lid doesn’t go with the cup?

I didn’t do this, of course, but are you following my train of thought here? It’s easy to admit you don’t know which cup goes with what lid. Not as easy to admit some other things. Oh, how quick we are to charge right ahead when we should have gotten counsel from those who are wiser than we are. How quick to get offended when someone knows more than we do. About anything.

Instead of humbly admitting we don’t know everything, we tend to act like we do and then get upset when things don’t work quite the way we wanted it to. If someone kindly mentions something we could have done better or even avoided, we get defensive and offended. Whether it’s about our parenting, our marriage roles, our life choices, false teachers and discernment, or anything else, how important to remember that we can all grow and learn. We are never too old, never too knowledgeable, never too wise. As long as we are on this side of heaven, we will have things to learn and lots of growing to do.

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Adrienne and her husband live in a nice housing development that has a beautiful pool and splash pad. The other day we headed down there. It was a lovely morning to swim but only a handful of people were there. Besides a few others, there were three in particular whom we noticed. In one corner was an older woman sunning herself. In the other corner were two twenty-somethings. The reason these three came to our particular notice is because they both had their radios blaring loudly. With two totally different stations. One was country, the other was pop. Or maybe it was rap. All I know is that the two together made a cacophony of displeasing sound to the ear.

Oh, how like this world this trip to the pool was. One side is playing all of the songs of social justice, communism, and leftism. The other side is playing the songs of revival, freedom, and patriotism, and maga.

It’s all so loud. All the time.

Just as my daughter and I sat there annoyed to be hearing both stations all the time, so we Christians find ourselves frustrated by the loud noises on either side of these issues. If you understand that what is happening in the world perfectly lines up with scripture, then you know that both sides are wrong. Neither side is biblical. They are both simply two wings of the same bird that is flying to the same place.

But if we were going to swim, we had to listen to the competing music. Thankfully, we can leave the pool. And if we are going to live in this world, we have to listen to the competing sides. Thankfully, we can retreat to no-noise places.

I believe the world will continue to get louder and more dissonant as it prepares to accept the coming antichrist, who will bring a short time of tentative peace before things get considerably worse than they already were (Revelation 6:1-2).

But this is all a part of God’s plan and eventually we will leave this stormy place for the skies of crystal blue. So stay strong by the power of His might and keep looking up!

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So those are a few thoughts I had this past week while spending time with family. Living life and daily happenings have so many lessons for us if we but open our eyes to see.

 

That Elusive Contentment

I sat at my computer working on one of my least favorite jobs in our landscaping company. It’s not something I have to do often but it is something that needs to be done. I reminded myself how much I hate this job (inside my head) a few times before remembering a conversation I had had with my youngest daughter a few days before.

She was telling me how she thrives on trying new things and pursuing new hobbies but that sometimes there are seasons in life that there is no time for that because there are other priorities. And how important it is to find contentment even when there isn’t the next and new hobby or adventure or experience. She went on to say how sad it is that her generation is being taught to always look for the next “experience” to fulfill them.

And that is what has happened. While my generation was about getting stuff, her generation is about getting experiences. Many of them hop from one to the next. Their contentment is driven by these new experiences.

But it matters not whether we search after contentment in stuff or in experiences. Both are deceiving us into believing contentment can be found outside of God.  In fact, our search for contentment in anything outside of God is fruitless and disappointing.

As I sat there at my computer, I thought about the impatience I feel when I am doing a job I don’t like. Let’s just get this over with and move on. But this time–and maybe for the first time ever–I took a moment to think about why I am telling myself I hate this job. It really is not that bad. God has given me the tools to do it and it’s a small part of my life. And I suddenly recognized the need to be content even in doing this mundane, ordinary job that I don’t like.

This really made me reflect on this idea of contentment. So many of us spend our lives jumping from one stage, one experience, one remodel, or one big purchase to the next. We have been taught that contentment comes with change. And so we are constantly changing.

Our culture has molded us to want and desire change. How often do we find a favorite scent or flavor of something just to find it has left the store shelves never to return? Or we go into the bank and the person you’ve talked to forever has been moved to a different branch? Just because. (That actually happened to me many years ago– my bank at the time moved their employees every three months so you could never get to know any of them. That was when I left that bank.)

But somehow in the midst of the constant changing, we became convinced that change is what it will take to make us happy. If my kid will just reach this stage. Or if my husband would just do this. If we’d just make more money or be able to redo the kitchen. Or if we could just lose weight or get a college degree. You can fill in your own sentence here. We all have our own “next thing”.

But I am learning–ever so slowly–that when that thing arrives that you thought would make you content, it only lasts for a bit and then your heart feels empty again and that next change calls your name. It’s a vicious and never-ending cycle.

So how do we find real and lasting contentment? Where does it come from and how do we get it?

As always, the Bible has something to say about this! Let’s take a look–

 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Before we get to that beautiful promise that God will never leave us or forsake us, we have this seemingly irrelevant sentence: Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. Why would the Holy Spirit direct the author of Hebrews to write that? Perhaps it is because God knows full well that His being with us and never forsaking us is enough. Why do we covet and crave the temporal? We can be content with whatever God has given us at any give time, knowing full well we rest wholly in His sovereign and loving care.

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (I Timothy 6:6-8)

These verses remind us that all of these things we hunger after are just temporary. We cannot take any of this with us when we die. It will all fade away back to dust. Does someone live a fuller, happier life because they have a million dollar house and can buy anything they want? Does someone live a fuller, happier life because they have traveled the world? Well, maybe…but maybe not. Because the Grandma over there who has submitted to the Lord’s will for her life and chosen to obey Him is going to have a much better life than the Grandma that hasn’t, even if they have everything money can buy. The young man who chooses to go into his trade job, joyfully living for Christ, is going to be far happier than the young man who has a prestigious career but follows his own selfish desires.

The choices we make in our lives that bring God glory always also bring us the greatest contentment. God’s plan and workings are both mysterious and quite amazing!

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

These are probably the most well-known verses regarding this subject of contentment. When we read Acts, we recognize that Paul isn’t just writing this out of thin air. He’s writing it out of his own personal experience. He has both abounded and has suffered need. He has learned this the hard way.

So what is Paul’s key to this contentment? First, we see from verse 13 that he recognizes that contentment comes from Christ alone. That it is Christ who strengthens us in all circumstances and that turning our eyes upon Jesus and taking them off of our circumstances is the key to this contentment.

But I think we can also gain a little insight into this contentment of Paul’s by turning back a few chapters in Philippians–

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. (Philippians 3:7)

It is here that we recognize that Paul was able to find contentment because he understood that earthly gain matters not a bit. Christ was his center. Christ was the source of his contentment. To live is to live for Christ alone. To die is to be with Christ for all eternity.

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And so scripture reminds us that true and lasting contentment isn’t found in changing our circumstances. Rather, it is found in changing ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13).

May we turn to the Word as we seek after contentment rather than turn to the world with all of its empty promises and fleeting feelings. The world might make fabulous promises but they are barren and hollow. The Bible, on the other hand, not only makes promises, but God keeps every promise He makes. True contentment only comes through trusting and obeying God.

 

 

 

A Trip to the Zoo

The monkey spotted something interesting. It jumped down and came over to the window to investigate. It moved its hand towards the window, trying to grab the food that was so enticingly being lifted to the mouth of my grandson on the other side. It stared for awhile. Almost like it was thinking, “How can I get that food?” Of course, the thinking was worthless because he could never get it. Not without some help from the zookeeper, which was about as unlikely as a 100 degree day in Alaska in January.

After awhile, he gave up and moved back from the window. Meanwhile the baby monkey’s antics entertained us. Trying to hang on to the rope as she grabbed bits of what looked like zucchini from the floor, she made us laugh. She was just like a toddler, learning to do all of the things her elders already knew how to do with ease.

On that same day, we had had the fascinating opportunity of watching a giraffe drink from the stream right in front of us. Have you ever seen that? It is an amazing feat of dexterity. She spread her front legs wide apart as she leaned her long neck down to take a drink. Then she’d lift her head high, seemingly to let the cool water flow down her long neck. And then back she’d go for more.

Of course, I just love flowers (which you probably already know!) and so I was not only interested in the animals but also in the many lovely flowers throughout the zoo. Especially gorgeous were the large camellia shrubs in full bloom. If you know anything about plants, you know that camellias thrive in warmer temperatures and are not normally found this far north. Apparently, there are some zone 6 varieties (which I need to hunt down. It’s one of my favorite flowers.)

The zoo is such a great place to be reminded of God’s awesome creation. How can one walk around a zoo without awe for our Creator? The variety, the colors, the incredible capabilities and designs, and the sheer beauty all literally shout that there is a Creator.

Some flat out deny that there is a God. The Bible has something to say about  these people–

The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1a)

We also know that all people know full well that there is a God, no matter what they say. In fact, the wonder of creation tells us–

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and [g]Godhead, so that they are without excuse, (Romans 1:20)

But there are far more people who give lip service to believing in God that live like atheists. While they might talk about Him creating the animals or go to church on Sunday, their day to day life is lived without Him. They are practical atheists, living as if God doesn’t exist. Uninformed and indifferent to what the Bible says about how we should live; uninterested in pleasing God, they passionately follow their own hearts and desires.

Which brings us back to that monkey and the snack he couldn’t get. Living life for our own selfish gain and to fulfill our own self-focused dreams has us grasping at the air, trying to reach the impossible. And if the impossible happens and the zookeeper actually allows us to have that “snack” , it doesn’t satisfy. It never does. It just makes us long for something more. Something different. Something better.

The things we so long for in this world are so very temporal. Not only do they not last but they just can’t satisfy. Power, popularity, wealth, fame… they are fleeting and do not fulfill.

I often think of this when I see movie stars from my era. No one cares much about them anymore. They have become yesterday’s celebrities and most have sunk back into insignificance. When you read the stories of these stars, they are generally sad, sad tales filled with the consequences of compromise and sinful choices to “make it to the top.”

Even in this current day, I watch so many who claim Christ make deep compromises in order to be popular. Can they be happy?

Compare these to the godly 90 year old who led a simple life loving and serving the Lord without compromise who dies with the hope of life eternal.

Which of these lives actually brings more peace and joy? Which do you want to be?

It all starts with acknowledging the Creator. Recognizing that God created the world. And then understanding His plan for mankind, which can only be found in the Bible, and submitting ourselves to Him, repenting of our sin, and accepting His wonderful gift of salvation as we recognize the utter impossibility of being right with God without Jesus Christ.

His transforming love and power then change us. He makes us a new creation (2 Cor 5:17); He gives us the strength to serve Him abundantly (2 Cor 9:8); He gives us joy and peace (Romans 14:17); He guards us from the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:3); He guides us (Proverbs 3:5-6); He works all things out for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28-29); He promises us eternal life with Him that is far beyond anything we could even imagine (John 14:1-4; I Corinthians 2:9).

Really reflect on these abundant blessings that we receive upon our salvation. Is there anything in this world comparable to these? Do you really think that a few years of popularity or some money can even compare to these blessings? Why do we get so caught up in the temporal?

Even we genuine Christians can struggle with this. As I write this out, I realize how silly we must look to God with our mixed-up priorities–chasing after fame and fortune (or hobbies or entertainment or having control) when we have what is really important right in front of us, freely given the instant we are saved.

But we are human. And the age-old battle still rages within us. The desire to be popular, rich, to have control, to be engrossed in things that are irrelevant and unimportant–these idols die hard.

However, the more we are in the Word, the more we see these for what they are– snacks on the other side of the glass that are often unreachable and always unsatisfying.

Oh, may we have the wisdom to take delight in the eternal and abundant blessings that are ours if we belong to Jesus Christ as we appreciate the beauty of creation that surrounds us each and every day.

 

 

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