growing in christ

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.

 

 

 

The Power of Distractions

I spent this past weekend in Texas with my daughter and her family. I was joined by my other two daughters although, sadly, my daughter-in-law and mom were unable to join us and so our little circle wasn’t quite complete. But we did have such a wonderful time together.

On Sunday we had a rare treat. My son-in-law had so kindly offered to watch the kids and so we were having a rare girls’ afternoon at a nail salon. Nail Salons in Texas really know what they are doing. I have had many pedicures in my life but the best three, by far, are the ones I’ve gotten in Texas. This one was especially good. They not only honored the appointment time but they treated us especially well and the services were certainly thorough and done right. In fact, it was wonderful.

Except for one thing.

Shortly after we sat down to enjoy our pedicure, a pillow was placed on our lap. I looked at the pillow. What is this thing for?

Well, I soon found out. Soon a manicurist was bringing her supplies over to my massage chair and my hand was in a little bowl of water. She was working on the manicure at the same time as someone else was working on the pedicure.

NOW… that may seem fabulous to someone who values time above all else when going into a nail salon. However, we were not those people and each one of us left the salon a bit disappointed.

Why, you may ask?

Or do you already know?

Put simply, it is impossible to fully concentrate on enjoying something when so much is going on. It was hard to enjoy a foot massage when someone was grabbing your arm and telling you to do this or that. One of the manicurists even told one of my girls she wasn’t allowed to use her massage chair during her pedicure (which sort of defeats the purpose of having one…). There was just so much going on that you couldn’t really enjoy it.

So, I’m not complaining. We know for the next time to either go to a different nail salon or to specifically request separate treatments. And it was a tremendous blessing to be able to afford that little luxury on a warm Sunday afternoon in Dallas.

But it does provide a great analogy and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

You see, I think when some of us (like myself) approach our prayer and Bible reading time, we may be a little like I was sitting in that chair. There’s just too much going on. We generally have our phone sitting nearby and we are attuned to every little buzz and ding. We can hardly keep ourselves from picking it up. Even if we don’t have it set for notifications from social media (which I don’t), we somehow are afraid we may miss something in a texting conversation. Or we think of something in the middle of our quiet time and, instead of writing it down, we take the time to look that thing up online right away (am I the only one who does that??) Or some may have the TV or radio in the background, forcing their minds to take in so much at the same time. Because our minds are always listening and struggling to understand–even when we don’t consciously realize it.

But just like that experience at the salon was not fully enjoyed because of too much going on, the same thing is true of our time spent in God’s Word. We can’t get to the place of thorough study when we are constantly interrupted. In fact, I believe the short updates and videos we have grown accustomed to have done grave (and irreparable?) damage to our ability to focus.

Generally, I believe we 21st century Christians have a distraction problem. Which I believe is mostly related to technology. The constant interruptions. The constant distraction. It’s changing our capability for concentration. It’s changing our brains.

Is there a way to change it back?

I’m not sure. But I believe one way to start is to keep my phone and iPad in a different room when I am spending time in my Bible and prayer. To perhaps set a timer or give myself a specific time without looking at my phone.

Isn’t that just pathetic? Seriously. I am embarrassed to even write about this as an issue for me.

But it makes me wonder if it isn’t an issue for some of you, too. (Please don’t comment condescendingly that this isn’t or never has been an issue for you. If that is true, then I am so happy for you. You are very blessed that this is not an issue. Please DO comment if this was an issue for you but you have since gained victory over this in your life. We can all use that kind of encouragement!)

Technology has changed our lives forever and I believe it has much more power than we give it credit for through the avenue of distracting us and keeping us from ever really thinking.

Particularly our smart phones have become a challenge, as most of us hate to be without them. And it’s often not for a silly, time-wasting reason. These little devices give us opportunity to stay in close contact with people we love who live oh, so far away. They’ve offered some good along with the bad. Which makes managing these things much trickier.

But manage them we must. If we are to live a godly and productive life, we need to control our devices and not let them control us. Particularly when we are in prayer and Bible Study.

And, so, that is my challenge to you and to myself today–

Let’s turn off or remove our devices from the area where we are spending time in prayer and in studying God’s Word. Let’s grab a tablet and pen and keep it by our side so that we can write down anything we want to text or research or buy or whatever for later. Perhaps you are someone who needs to just turn off the TV or radio. Whatever is keeping us from fully and deeply studying the Word, let’s commit to making that change–at least a few times each week. Let’s ask the Lord to help us make this important change.

Anyone want to commit to making this change with me?

 

 

Self or Truth? (It can’t be both)

I came across this quote yesterday–

He who loses his temper in argument has begun to care more about himself, and less about the truth. (Alfred Plummer)

What an interesting thing to reflect upon in this age of strong opinions and thoughtless, angry words. There is no dearth currently of harsh judgements, often accompanied by flaring tempers.

Even if we Christians struggle with losing our tempers at home on occasion, most of us have learned (or are learning) the importance of not allowing that to happen in public. We understand the damage that does to the cause of Christ.

But the losing of one’s temper isn’t the only thing that shows one cares more about oneself than about the truth, now is it?

I believe there is another very acceptable way that Christians show their priority of self over truth. It’s lauded even. And this is a problem.

You see I think for most believers the temptation isn’t to talk too much but to talk too little. The temptation isn’t to prove the rightness of a point as much as it is to not speak up when it’s important.

And this can be confusing. After all, doesn’t the Bible teach that we are to be slow to speak (James 1:19) and that he who restrains his lips is wise (Proverbs 10:19). It sure does! So then it is important we interpret these in light of other scriptures (Mark 16:15; Philippians 1:13-14; I Thessalonians 2:4; Titus 2:1 and others) that encourage us to speak up.

You see, it isn’t so much in the speaking that we run into problems. What God knows (and what we quickly learn about ourselves) is that the sinful issues arise when we speak without thinking first or we talk before we actually listen to what the other person is saying.

It’s obvious that the Bible can’t mean to never speak up, given it’s many verses (and also the examples of godly people) encouraging us to do that very thing. But so many believers cling to those verses as if that gives them God’s permission to never speak the truth–even at the most opportune moments.

I guess each one of us struggles with this in one way or another. We all struggle with loving ourselves more than loving the truth. Whether it is exhibited by the relentless desire to prove we are right (and smarter than the other person) or it is by staying quiet so as not to draw unwanted antagonism or ridicule, both show the ugly love of self.

Only we can know why we are choosing to speak up or not to speak up. Only we can examine our hearts as to why we are responding as we are in times of opportunity.

James 3 reminds us just how dangerous the tongue is. It is an important reminder! There is so much potential to cause tremendous amounts of damage with it. But when we read the end of that chapter we begin to understand that it isn’t in the speaking but in the motives when we speak that the sin lies.

James 3:14-18 puts it like this–

But if you have bitter envy and [h]self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Bitter envy and self-seeking in our hearts are the proof that we are using earthly, sensual, and even demonic wisdom. When we speak up with these things in our hearts and minds, no good fruit can result.

But when we use the wisdom from above, then all is changed. Speaking up becomes about our dedication to the truth. It’s about being willing to admit we were wrong when necessary, it’s about being willing to yield on issues that are not of biblical import. It is peaceable and gentle.

I like how the ESV puts it: “open to reason”. This means are willing to have a loving, thoughtful discussion. And yet we must always go back to the Word of God as our standard and guide. This is our foundation for any opinion that truly matters.

God gives each of us many opportunities to share the Gospel and to point people to His Word. The question is do we love that other person and truth more than we love self so that we willing to speak up? And, if so, can we remove our love for self and our need to be right from the conversation?

 

Do we love truth more than we love self?

It is a very important question for any sincere follower of Christ.

 

 

The Road Trip

A few days before we left to see family it became clear that a dear friend of mine wasn’t going to make it. I agonized for a whole night over the fact that I was going to miss her memorial service and then, finally, just surrendered it to the Lord. I couldn’t change my trip dates and I couldn’t change the date of the service. It was out of my control. For some reason, God didn’t think I needed to be there.

A few days into our visit, we were told the date of the service. We would be able to make it –if we’d do the 19hr drive home straight through. We aren’t particularly “straight through” kind of people and generally like to take our time and make stops as needed. But these were special circumstances and, so, at 4am on the day before the service, we crawled out of bed, threw some clothing on, hugged our family, and headed out into the night.

Things went pretty smoothly for the first few hours. Until we got to Tennessee. South of Chattanooga we ran into horrendous traffic. It was around 4pm on Friday evening. We stopped completely. Waze offered no tiny accident symbol so we couldn’t figure out what was going on. I nervously watched our waze “arrival time” creep in the wrong direction. Finally, we breathed a sigh of relief as traffic started to crawl toward the city. I had to use the restroom something fierce and was feeling discouraged about that, as well. I felt like I was going to burst when, in God’s perfect timing, a rest stop appeared. I know this sounds foolish but if you have ever had to go to the restroom when you are in a traffic jam you will know the joy I felt at seeing that sign!

We continued to crawl after that stop and then gradually started to move at a more lively pace. But it was short-lived as we ran into more traffic on the north side of that city. Again, we sat. And crawled. And then sat again. Losing more minutes, we were both pretty discouraged. The drive was long enough without this. We continued to crawl towards Knoxville. This pattern continued on the other side of Knoxville.

We had had no traffic issues on the way down and were a bit puzzled. It was Friday evening rush hour but this seemed much worse than usual. I finally remembered the popular attraction that the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area is in the autumn. I can’t help but think that perhaps people were traveling there for the weekend. But that is just a guess.

We started to travel along again and then, suddenly, came to an abrupt halt. This time there was a little accident symbol in the waze app along with a tiny red line running up the left side of the app and this discouraging number: 1 hour and 30 min. 

We could expect to be sitting in this traffic for an hour and 30 minutes. I was downright frustrated at this point. And pretty discouraged. I hate staying up late at night and determined in college, actually, that 2am was my limit. I learned pretty early on that 2am was the latest I could stay up and actually function the next day. Our original time to get home was around midnight. Our arrival time was already showing after two and now we were stuck in this accident traffic.

I stewed and stewed and stewed. And then I finally just surrendered. This was in the Lord’s hands and He knew what was going on. And how thankful we were not to be the ones in the accident. There is always something to be thankful for.

I sent out a few texts asking for prayer that we would stay awake in those wee hours of the morning as we sat there waiting to get going again. I didn’t know how this would all work but I was just going to trust God.

When the traffic started moving again our arrival time had crept to after 3:30am. We realized that we should grab supper soon, as it was already after 8pm and restaurants would start closing. When we stopped I also grabbed a large cup of coffee and stuck it in the Yeti cup I had brought with me on the trip. The cup was a last minute, unplanned thing to grab that morning we left and, oh, how thankful I was for it now.

Around 10pm, Eric laughed and said we only had a trip “to see my brother” left. He lives about 5 1/2 hours away. That was pretty discouraging but we were happy to be moving along at a good pace and so we laughed and kept going.

Around 11pm, the coffee was working pretty well so I told my husband I would drive for a bit so he could rest his eyes. I turned on a radio drama of The Prince and the Pauper that I had on my Music app but had never listened to and sipped on my coffee as I drove into the night.

I was surprised to feel pretty wide awake and drove until 1am while my husband slept. I know that it had to be those prayers that had been lifted for us. My husband took over the wheel and the rest of the night was uneventful. We pulled into our home driveway just a bit before four.

So in the midst of that frustrating day, I was reminded of a few things and wanted to share with you here.

First, God was so good to allow me to be at my dear friend’s memorial service. Just when I had resigned myself that I would have to miss it, He made a way for me to be there.

Second, He provided small blessings that just wouldn’t have been necessary. A perfectly placed restroom and a travel coffee cup that was a last minute grab reminded me that God cares about the little stuff. The King of the Universe cares about the littlest details of our lives and I am always so amazed by that.

Third, It wasn’t until I finally just yielded my will to God’s that I felt any peace in the midst of those traffic jams. I think this is true in little stuff like road trips, as well in the big stuff of life. I always remember this profound statement by Elisabeth Elliot: With acceptance comes peace. That is just so true. While we fight against God and His will, no matter what the circumstances, we will be in turmoil. It is only when we surrender that we experience the “peace that surpasses understanding” that God has promised His children.

And, fourth, when we started moving along again, I had a moment to reflect on the frustrating hours behind us. In the past, those hours would have been filled with an irritated and short-tempered couple snapping at one another. We don’t tend to fight a lot but those kind of circumstances usually bring out the worse in us. Imagine my surprise when I realized that we hadn’t fought even once. Oh, we came close a time or two but we both restrained our tongues and our tempers in ways never before. God used that opportunity to show us that we are growing in Christ. We are actually changing and growing. It was an encouraging realization that we would have never noticed or become aware of– had we not run into those problems on the road. Our true colors generally don’t show themselves until we are put under some form of heat. We had been in a bit of heat and we could see growth. God is changing us!

This post may seem rather inane and silly to some of you. Who cares about a road trip, anyway? But I feel like this road trip is a microcosm of all trials and what we learn through them.

 

No matter what the trial, God is good.

No matter what the trial, God pours out His mercies (both small and large) on us.

No matter what the trial, we must surrender our will to God’s will.

No matter what the trial, we experience the opportunity to examine ourselves spiritually in light of our responses.

 

Life is full of troubles and trials–both great and small. But if we are Christ’s own, we are not alone. God walks with us, supplying us with His sufficient grace and mercy. No matter what the trial, they are all within His Sovereignty and He is using them for His eternal purposes and for our good.

 

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Romans 8:28-29

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

The Reward of Work

Movement caught my eye as I sat on the porch. I looked up a bit to the right and saw a robin sitting in the “y” of a branch. She had something in her mouth and was busily moving around. I realized that I was watching her build a nest right then and there. It was the coolest thing.

She would take the longest time to get the bit of string or grass in her mouth situated at the right place and then fly off to find another one. Sometimes it would fall from her mouth and she would have to fly down and pick it back up again and start the process all over again. Sometimes she would put a piece of fuzz one place and then move it, rearranging it until it was in the perfect spot. When I went to check on her a few hours later, I found her nest about half done. And then, a day or two later, I found her faithfully sitting on her nest. In fact, she is there right now, as I type here on my porch this morning. I look forward to seeing her care for her babies and watching them grow.

God has designed birds in an amazing way. How does that bird know what to do? Isn’t that incredible?? Do you think she wakes in the morning and says to herself, “I don’t feel like building a nest today. I think I will wait until tomorrow.”? Birds are driven by instinct, as are all other animals. They do what they are driven to do, through the intricate and intelligent way they have been designed by their Creator.

What I saw last week was a bird doing what she knew she had to do. It took so much work but she faithfully brought piece after piece after piece and then arranged them carefully with her mouth. Because that’s what birds do. The reward of her work was a masterfully created nest that was just what she would need to lay her eggs and then care for her babies.

Sometimes I think we humans are too smart for our own good. Because we can think and reason, we often end up thinking and reasoning ourselves out of work.

And, while we are seeing a sharp decrease in those who want to do any kind of work at all, I wanted to focus specifically on the work of relationships.

My girls and I will sometimes talk about the work of raising kids. My oldest daughter has three boys, my middle daughter has two girls,  and my daughter-in-law has a girl with another one arriving any day (I am so excited to meet her!) We will often discuss how it is so much easier (at least in the short run) to let things slide than it is to go to the child and deal with it. How you have to deny your own selfish desires in order to do what’s right.

Lazy parenting will never yield good results. We can’t parent by our feelings. Because we will never feel like disciplining them. We will often feel tired, making us want to say no to their requests to play with them. We will feel like it is easier to do the job ourselves instead of having them come along side us to do the dishes or help feed the animals or mow the lawn. We don’t often feel like having the hard conversations about God and sex and all of those other awkward questions kids have because we might not have the answers and finding the answers takes time. All of these things take work. A LOT of work. We must do the hard work in order to be an effective parent. There is no other way.

The same holds true for marriage. Marriage takes work. It takes putting ourselves aside and doing what is loving and kind, even if we don’t feel like it. It’s spending time with one another even–or maybe especially–when a million other things are calling our names. It’s going the extra mile and forgiving over and over again. Block by block, year after year. Like the robin, we keep going. Like that string falling to the ground, we, too, will have setbacks. We will struggle but we keep working. Because we know the work will yield an amazing reward.

(Of course, that specific reward of a healthy marriage can only come if both are willing to do the work. I know that some of you reading this are probably not in that situation and so you will have a different reward. You will have the invaluable reward of living in obedience to Jesus Christ in the midst of really hard.)

And so parenting and marriage take work. Our flesh just wants everything to be easy. We don’t want to have to intentionally plan. Life is easier when we can just coast (although that “easier” is temporary). The bottom line is that we just can’t have healthy relationships without giving effort and doing the work.

And that is true for our relationship with God, as well.

We can’t think we are going to be spiritually healthy if we only give God an hour on Sundays. That is like eating once a week.

We can’t honestly believe that we are going to be close to God without ever reading His Word. That is like receiving a letter from someone we say we love and yet never opening it.

We can’t believe we are close to God just because we feel like we are when that worship song comes on. That is deception.

Prayer and Bible Study take work. But they yield incredible results in the life of every believer if done with a humble heart that desires to obey. The power for the Christian life is in these things and yet so many just aren’t willing to do the hard work.

I, myself, was not willing to do this for many years. My own life is a testimony to the power of God’s Word at work in a believer. Small step by very small step. It’s not instant, by any means, and the further you go the further you know you have to go, so that generally keeps the pride at bay. The more you study God’s Word, the more your eyes are opened to just how sinful you really are. And the more you realize how sinful you are, the more you understand just how precious the gift of salvation is. It truly is that “pearl of great price” that Matthew talks about in chapter 13.

But none of this can happen without work. Many are willing to work at jobs, careers, hobbies, and friendships but, for some reason, aren’t willing to invest in the things that matter most– spiritual health and precious families.

Of course, I recognize that most of my readers here are cognizant of the work involved in a life well-lived and are faithfully–if not perfectly–doing their best each day. So I hope that this post is an encouraging reminder to keep building the nest the Lord has set before you. May we remember our most important investments. And then do the hard work of preparing both ourselves and our dearest loved ones for all eternity. The reward will be tremendous and we will never regret it.

 

 

The Fragrance of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

John 15:18-20

 

 

 

How Would Someone Describe You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps these are good questions for us all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Instead of turning away from them, we are them.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

Loving a Lie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Who Me? I’d Never Hold a Grudge…

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

Lord, I want to be like that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how do we build stronger relationships?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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