Hope

Can you see that ant?

There is an ant here. Can you see it?

 

We recently installed granite in our kitchen. It is a lovely variegated stone with tans and creams and black.  And while I absolutely love how the granite looks, I realized that there is now an awful lot that I can’t see. It is so good at hiding dirt that it is hard to tell that there is any unless you rub your hand across it and feel the gritty surface.

This fall has brought an onslaught of ants to our kitchen sink area and, like you may have already guessed, they are hard to spot on our new counters. They hurry and scurry across the surface, but I really have to look to find them in the multicolored granite.  Now, when my counter tops were a single light color I could easily spot any insect invader.

Hmmm…those ants remind me of sins that go unnoticed in my life, if I am trying to live with one foot in the world and one foot out.  When I am caught up in worldly passions and interests and am trying to mix it all up with my love for Christ and holy living, then I tend to minimize or not even notice the sin in my life.  Instead of contrasting my sin against the purity of Christ, I compare my “weaknesses” and “flaws” to those of  others. “I am not as bad as they are,” I say.

And you know what? When we compare our lives to someone else’s we always have a hard time finding our own sin. It’s there, but it’s like a little miniscule ant getting lost in the big world full of sinners. But when I look towards Christ, my sin all of a sudden shows clearly, like a giant spot of black grease on a white shirt.

I have been thinking about this a lot recently and, to tell you the truth, sometimes it can be overwhelming. When I compare myself to the purity of Christ it isn’t hard to see how and why I don’t measure up in God’s eyes in a thousand different ways. But that makes salvation all the more glorious!  This is one reason it is so important to see my own sin clearly. But not only does this help me appreciate my Savior more, it also gives me an opportunity to show the world that there is victory over sin!

So many of us live in a constant state of defeat. We languish in bad habits and hurtful attitudes for our whole lives. Why?

*Eric Ludy says this: “We are so used to hearing futility, we are so used to hearing about the failure, and we know the failure in our own life, that we don’t believe in victory anymore.”

I believe that’s true.

But it is only by acknowledging sin that we can even begin the journey to victory. And sin, especially in the life of a Christian, can be subtle and hidden.  Oh, God will show us if we are looking for it, but if we aren’t, it tends to get lost in our worldly lifestyles, just like the ants on my granite counter top.

May we be wholly devoted to becoming like Jesus. May we throw away our pride and our rebellion, so that we may instead be aware of the sin in our life, and then repent  and grow as a believer. May we truly understand just how sinful we are so that we can better understand just how awesome our Savior is! And may we show a dying world that there is victory over sin!

 

I Corinthians 15:56-58 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

 

*Eric Ludy “The Spirit is Willing” 

Who Do You Look Like?

When my son was just a little boy, he used to play little league baseball. One day, as I was chatting on the sidelines with one of the moms, she said something like this, “Oh, I know who you look like! I have been trying to think of who you look like and now I have figured it out!” I looked at her, very curious to hear who she thought I resembled. Her next words could have knocked me over with a feather.

“You look just like Cindy Crawford!”

What?? That is the first (and last!) time that anyone has ever compared me to a beautiful model.  But I certainly felt honored. I knew this was a situation where she had no need to flatter or impress me, so I knew she had said it sincerely.

As I remembered this incident the other day, I thought about how my heart’s desire shouldn’t be for people to tell me I look like Cindy Crawford (or any other well-known, gorgeous woman) but, instead, to tell me that I look like Jesus.

Now, while I will never resemble Jesus physically, as he is a man from the middle east, I can resemble him by my actions. As we grow in Christ, we should grow more and more like Him.

Stop and take a minute to think about your life. I know for my own life, there are many areas in which I haven’t resembled Jesus at all.

Here are a few areas for us to think about —

1. Do I look like Jesus in how I love others? Look, anyone can feed orphans or go on a mission trip. I am not talking about the socially acceptable “love for others”, I am talking about the love for others we show in our everyday world.  The reactions and choices we make around our families and in our daily living. When a spouse needs some help and we are lying comfortably on the sofa, do we get up? When there is an interruption to a favorite TV show, do we grow quickly frustrated? When we are in a long line at the store, do we give the clerk an angry look or shower her with frustrated words? If someone criticizes you, do you grow defensive or hold a grudge? All of these are just normal, everyday occurrences, where we have the opportunity to look like Jesus…or not.

2. Do I look like Jesus in what I choose to do with my time? This question covers a lot of ground, doesn’t it? Would Jesus spend so much time on _________? (you fill in the blank with your favorite, time-consuming hobby or pastime). Would Jesus spend so many hours doing this, if there is no eternal value? Of course, there is nothing wrong with hobbies, but we do need to keep it all balanced. It also covers this question: do I spend my precious hours on entertainment that will make others think of Jesus? Or do I waste hours and hours on movies, video games, and listening to music that is against everything my precious Savior stands for?

3. Do I look like Jesus in the area of self-disicpline? This is a challenging question that encompasses two big areas: money and food. I covered the question of food in my recent post entitled The Sin No One Wants to Talk About, so I will move on to the other area– money. This is a challenging one. Money is one of those things where we can hide our true state of affairs. In this age of credit and debt, no one really knows how anyone is doing financially until they completely crash and burn. But, whether we make a little or a lot, we need to ask ourselves if we look like Jesus in how we spend our money. Are we focused on the here and now or are we focused on the eternal? Jesus was very clearly focused on the eternal, which is clear in scripture. So, in order to grow more like Christ, my priorities should be the same.

4. Do I look like Jesus in the words I speak? Words are so powerful. They can cut to the core. I have always thought that the old adage “sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me,” to be one of the dumbest things I have ever heard. Word do hurt– dreadfully. Whether we are talking about someone else behind his back (otherwise known as gossip) or are short-tempered and unkind to someone’s face, words are one of the quickest ways to tell if we resemble Jesus.

 

I don’t know about you, but I see much room for growth in many areas of my own life. In fact, I feel like the older I get, the more work I see ahead of me. But when I look back, I also see that I have come so far. And so, I will keep on going. I know I may not look like Cindy Crawford anymore — it is my guess that, to most people, I never did in the first place — but oh, how I hope I resemble Jesus more and more as I grow older.

I Peter 2:5-11

 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Wednesday Wisdom: Hell on Earth

Man-sitting-prison-480x357

I recalled again Richard’s words: Hell is to sit alone in darkness remembering past sins. Old memories burned like fire. You had no defense – no books, no radios, no distraction, no place to go when they came buzzing at you. Here self-deception ceased. Theories about new moral concepts didn’t help. Here you knew that the new morality was the old lasciviousness. Helena’s remorse was terrible. I knew what she was feeling. 

Nearly every woman in prison felt similar burning remorse. Nearly everyone was religious in some degree. Outspoken atheists surprised themselves by calling on God. Everyone wished to have her prayer heard.

But their prayers were wrong. It was like praying that two and two should be something other than four. Accumulation of sins can only bring unhappiness and remorse. It was over sexual feelings-adulteries, betrayals, abortions- that regret was most poignant. Women longed to talk about it and ease the pain. I remembered the words of David who had committed such a sin: “Blessed is he…whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1).  So covered by God that there is no need to uncover it before men.

This is from a book by Sabina Wurmbrand entitled The Pastor’s Wife. The book is Sabina’s story of her life and imprisonment under the communist regime in Romania. Her experiences are far beyond anything I could imagine. While she is at Labor Camp, a detestable and horrifying place, she tells of some of the women there who are without Christ.

As we read her reflections above, we can’t help but turn our thoughts inward. How about us? How would we fare languishing in prison or labor camp without any distractions? No iPhones, no computers, no TVs, no movies, no radios? Where would our thoughts turn when all we had to do was think during the dark, lonely hours in a room full of strangers? What sins would haunt us? What choices and decisions would we regret?

How would we find a spirit of gratitude and compassion amidst all of the turmoil and filth?  Could we sing praises in the midst of starvation?  Would we be thankful if we lacked almost every comfort we have now?  Could we maintain our Christian testimony while trudging over miles of plains to get to work and then baking in the hot sun, hoeing for the whole day, without any water?

And, as I read of her experiences, there was another question I had to seriously ask myself: How much of God’s Word would I remember if I were thrown into prison without access to a written copy? I felt ashamed to admit the truth.

I believe that in this day and age, we are so lost in our distractions. We drink and eat and take pills to medicate ourselves and our pain. We watch movies, read books, and go to concerts in an effort to escape our real lives. But what if our real lives – the lives we are living right at this very moment – is all that we have?  Sabina Wurmbrand goes on to talk about a society lady a few paragraphs later:

“What’s your conclusion?” she asked, brushing back her greasy hair with a gesture that belonged to her “smart-set” days. “You’ve seen it all- what do you think? For myself, I’ve only one thought left: if I could go free, I’d live happily on a crust for the rest of my life.”

Like many of her type, she had a deep sense of guilt for frittering her life away. Often she’s spoken to me hesitatingly, hinting at some inner torment that she’d like to reveal. 

Guilt for frittering her life away. Wow – that hit me hard.  Am I frittering my life away? Am I doing anything that matters with the time I have been given? This is such an important question to ask ourselves.

And, so, most of us sit here reading this thinking we would never find ourselves in prison or labor camp. This is America, after all. Who really cares?  How does this matter?  But I believe Sabina’s words beg us to answer two questions—

1. Am I deceiving myself?

2. What am I doing with my life that matters?

 

My Held Hand

The adorable two year old skipped by her daddy’s side.  She was trying awfully hard to behave and when daddy reached for her hand, she said “No!” and pulled away.  Thankfully, she had a very wise daddy who insisted. He grabbed her hand and together they walked along.  As they walked, in her excitement and immaturity, she would slip and almost fall but her daddy would hold her up. When she strayed to look at some interesting distraction, he would gently guide her back onto the path. And when a car came swerving around the corner, daddy whisked her out of the way.  He could do that because he was strong. Way stronger than the little girl.

Isn’t this just like God?  I was challenged by just this illustration last night at church. So often I try to do it all by myself. I skip along and ignore God and then I get discouraged when I can’t do it. But, if I am a believer, God is there to protect, comfort, and guide–just like that little girl and her daddy.  When we fall, God is there to pick us up.  Where we are weak, He is strong.  And when we stray off the path, if we hold tight to His hand and follow Him, He will get us back where we need to be.

I don’t know about you, but as I was listening last night, I felt a wave of relief  upon hearing that.  Funny thing was, I knew all of this already.  But, here lately, I had been trying to win some of my battles on my own.

I am ready to give my best this morning with the knowledge that someone far greater and more powerful than myself is always there – to catch me, to guide me, and to steady me.  Thank you, Lord, for that reminder last night.

Jesus loves me, this I know.  For the Bible tells me so.  Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.  Yes, Jesus loves me.  Yes, Jesus loves me.  Yes, Jesus loves me.  The Bible tells me so.

Leaving it to the Expert

We are doing a small kitchen remodel and I decided that I would help my husband by installing the new hardware.  This seemed like a simple task that I could accomplish to help him out.  I grabbed a screwdriver, summoned all of the elbow grease I had available to me, and got started.  I had only finished one door when Eric came in the kitchen and viewed me skeptically.  He left and returned a few minutes later with his drill.  Now I could get going!  Who needs elbow grease?  But as I busily started using my new tool, I realized that it takes a bit of skill.  I wasn’t used to the drill and ended up breaking and stripping several screws.  I looked at the screws hopelessly.  Now what?  I felt totally inadequate.  Sure, I could do the job if nothing untoward happened along the way.  But when things started going a little awry, I was a bit lost.  I decided to worry about them later and kept working.

When Eric came through the kitchen, I told him of my dilemma a bit shame-facedly.  He picked up the drill and removed the stripped screws immediately  (I still can’t figure out how he did that!) but it sure did make me think.

Why do I always think I can fix things?  Why do I always think I have to?  If there is an expert around (in this case, my very handy husband), why not ask for help?

Aahh.  Yes.  The same thing goes in life, too.  If God is there waiting to help us, all-powerful and all-knowing, why do I want to rely on my hopeless, measly skills to remove myself from a jam or a problem?  I have a few ideas why we do this–

1.  Pride – I don’t want to admit that I need help.  I can do this on my own.  We behave like little two year olds who scream “I can do it myself!”.  It sounds silly to write, but many of us think it, even if we have learned that it is socially inappropriate to speak it.

2.  Arrogance – A word very similar to pride, but just a little different.  We have been taught that we can do anything we want to do.  We are amazing and talented and beautiful.  We can do anything we set our minds to and we certainly don’t need supernatural help to do it.  This common theme is heard across this great land.  You can be anything you want to be and nothing can stop you.  What a rude wake-up call when we find out we can’t do everything and Someone certainly can stop us!

3.  Biblical Illiteracy– Most of us are not spending much time learning more about God’s Word and filling our minds with godly sermons, songs, and exhortations.   We are letting ourselves starve spiritually and instead focused on feeding ourselves with the world’s food.  We don’t really think about the ramifications of this until we find ourselves in a place of suffering.  All of a sudden, we realize we aren’t close to God at all and we have no idea what to do or how to pray.

4.  Misplaced Focus – When we are trying to figure out a problem or work out a relationship, we spend most of the time focused on ourselves.  I need to fix this because I am hurting.  This needs to change to make my life better. I can’t bear this pain.  How could God let this happen to me?  But the Bible tells us that trials produce patience and  perseverance and character and hope in us (James 1, Romans 5).  We need to remove the focus off of ourselves and place it on to God.

As I write, I know that I am guilty of these four things so very often.  Unless I take time to check my heart and mind when I am going through a trial, I am very apt to fall prey to one or more on this list.  But I realize that, unless I turn to God in my hoplessness and devastation, I will end up with the impossible.  Only God can fix the “stripped screws” of my life. If you aren’t a believer, you may be skeptical.  But I am here to tell you that I have seen God do amazing things that can only be attributed to Him.  If only we would turn to Him sooner and more often!   May we be teachable and focused on God.  May we be thirsty for His Word and growing spiritually in the good times, so that instead of hopelessness and frustration in trials, we can instead turn to Him with confidence and patience.

There’s No Place Like Home

Last week I was on vacation.  The posts you saw here had been written ahead, my husband prepared a weeks’ schedule for his employees, the kids took off work, and our whole family packed up and headed to the Great Smoky Mountains.  We had an awesome time doing all kinds of things.  Of course, 6 adults and “almost” adults being together 24/7 in a camper makes for some challenging times, too!  But, overall, it was a lot of fun.   However, as our last day rolled around, I found myself ready to go back home.  Nothing bad had happened on my trip to drive that desire, it’s just that I love going home.  Home is the place where I am most comfortable and where I feel like I belong.  I know that I am blessed because I actually love going home.

As we talked about this readiness to go home, one of my girls mentioned a conversation she had had with Grandma  about a favorite relative that had died recently.  My mom had told her that she thought perhaps dying was a little like that if you are a believer.  You have had a great life on this earth, you really enjoyed it, but you are, after all, a traveler in a foreign land and you are ready to go home.  That analogy took on new meaning for me this past week.

It makes perfect sense.  I feel so blessed to be here on this earth and to be living the life the Lord has laid before me.  But I know that I don’t really belong here.  I realize it when I watch the news or when I look at Facebook.  I can feel that I don’t belong when I am in the store and I hear a song with lyrics that make me cringe or when I hear the foul language coming from a group of people nearby.  Oh, I am having a great time here — but it is not my home.

I find this a comfort as I think of those who have gone on to Heaven before me. They are home!  They are no longer pilgrims on this earth where they do not belong, but instead are home in the arms of the one Who loves them most. What an incredible realization!  What a blessed hope!

Philippians 3: 20-21  For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.

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