joy

One Thing We All Know For Sure

hourglass

A 48 year old man is on his way to a job when suddenly, with no warning at all, a car, driven by a teen-aged girl, crosses over into his lane. They are both killed.

A curious young boy steps too close to rushing flood waters and is swept away. He is one of 24 who are killed from flash floods in West Virginia.

A young family is playing on the lake beach of a famous resort. Suddenly, an alligator grabs their two year old and he is drowned.

The room is loud, the crowd is dancing and drinking, with no thoughts of eternity on their minds. Suddenly, shots fire. Over fifty are dead within minutes.

A man isn’t feeling well. He goes to the doctor and discovers that his body is riddled with cancer. Within months he is dead.

A 55 year old woman is on the beach on a windy day, celebrating her birthday with friends. Suddenly, a beach umbrella comes flying at her without warning, its point embedding itself in her heart. She is dead within minutes.

These are just six stories of death among the thousands that play themselves across the world every single day. Recent stories that you may have heard about. We don’t like to focus too much on death, but for just this one day, I want to talk about it.

There are a lot of opinions about a lot of things in this world. And with our new post-modern culture, we find that most people accept all opinions as true and valid. If you share anything about the Gospel with someone, you will most like hear something like this: well, that is true for you but it is not true for me. (As if 2+2 can equal 4 for me but equals 6 for them. The argument is so illogical I can’t stand it!)

But there is something we all can agree on–something that no one will argue over. There is one thing we all know for sure. And that is that we are all going to die. And, disconcertingly, few of us have absolutely any idea of when. This is not something we really want to think about, is it?

But perhaps we should think about it a little more often, because it would help us do a re-focus of a few things–

1. First and foremost, pondering death should make us think about our eternal destiny. Do I know where I am going to spend eternity? Am I confident in this? If you aren’t sure or are perhaps confused about the gospel, please read this post. If you think you are going to heaven because you said a prayer asking Jesus to come into your heart, then I would ask you: does your life give evidence of your belief? Do you read and study God’s Word? Would your family and friends testify to the working of God in your life? While it is true that we only need believe in order to be saved, it is also true that true belief yields a changed life. (Matthew 12:33; Matthew 25:41-46) Is your life a living testimony of the work of Christ? If not, then perhaps some soul-searching is in order.

2. If we are confident we are saved, then we also have some soul-searching to do. Death should push us to share the gospel. Many have never heard the Truth from God’s Word. Oh, they may have heard parts of it or they may have heard mangled, twisted bits and pieces taken out of context. But many people still think they are working their way to heaven. What are we going to do about it? Our days are limited and we have no guarantees. Has anyone heard the Gospel from us? Have we planted some seeds along the way? Could we plant more? These are the questions that arise when we think of death.

3. If I knew I was going to die in 5 years, what would I do differently? Would I be kinder? Would I work more? Or less? Would I really try to fix my anger issue? Or climb out of debt so my family isn’t stuck with a mess? Would I make sure my relationship with my kids, my spouse, my parents was healed? We humans like to operate on “someday” time. Someday I’ll talk to that person. Someday I’ll work on this or fix that. But, for most of us, someday never comes. We focus on the everyday cares of life and rarely give attention to changing and growing, choosing instead to live very comfortably at status quo.

4. Death is a great reminder of God’s Sovereignty. He holds our days in His hands. God has even numbered the hairs on our head (Luke 12:7). He knows everything–past, present, future. A day is as a thousand days to Him (2 Peter 3:8) God operates outside of time. We can rest securely in the care of our heavenly Father, knowing that we (and anyone we love) will not be removed from this earth before their time (which, by the way, is a concept that is SO much easier to write a sentence about than to actually live out).

5. Pondering death changes how we view our trials. We can become quickly overwhelmed with life and allow this to steal our joy, if we aren’t careful. Whether it be a houseful of children keeping us crazy busy or a bothersome physical trial, life can get us down. Whether it be a job that demands much from us or some relatives that suck the life out of us, life can move from joyful to draining in a short time. So much depends on our attitude. I feel a bit hypocritical even writing about this. I am very guilty of letting my circumstances control my mood. This is a constant struggle for me, but I am guessing that I am not totally alone in this (am I??). It is so easy to let external circumstances be the driving force of our lives. But we know that we should be controlled by the internal joy that we receive from the Lord and the peace that is available to us when we submit to His will. This is the secret to true and lasting contentment. Elisabeth Elliot put it this way: With acceptance comes peace. Somehow when we think of death it gives us a different perspective on the trials that are plaguing us, doesn’t it? It brings them into proper focus.

6. When we think on death, it reminds us of just how blessed our ordinary days are. We move from one day to the next and complain a little if nothing exciting is happening. And, yet, ordinary can be swept away in an instant. Let’s appreciate it now–before it’s too late. Life changes. Sometimes it is very gradual and sometimes it is in a moment. How important that we appreciate each day and each stage of life. My daughter actually just wrote post on this. Maybe you want to check it out.

As you go about this week, I hope that you will think a bit on this. Who are the lost that you rub shoulders with every day? Do you have a passion to share the Gospel with them? What needs changed in your life to make you look more like Christ? What work does the Lord have for you before you leave the earth? Do you spend a lot of time complaining? Is it time to start working on a heart of gratitude and a spirit of contentment?

Life is short. And none of us has any guarantees. The time to shine our light is now. The time to change is now.

Because only the Lord knows what tomorrow holds.

James 4:14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

 

Rescued

rescued

Imagine you are on the ocean a thousand miles from land. You are literally dying from thirst. Your lips are parched and your skin blistered from the scorching sun. The only thing keeping you from drowning in the unfathomable depths of the endless ocean is a flimsy yellow raft. The days are ticking by and death seems close at hand.

Or imagine you are in the belly of the earth, deep inside a cave. You have lost your source of light and you have lost your way. You don’t know where to turn and the darkness is so thick you can touch it. You can’t even see your hand in front of your face for there is not a hint of light anywhere. You recognize that you are never going to be able to find your way out and you start facing the fact that you are going die a slow, torturous death in this place, leaving behind a pile of bones that someone may stumble onto some day in the distant future.

In both scenarios, all hope is gone. Your life on earth is over and you know it. You have faced the facts and are simply waiting to die.

Now, suppose that–against all odds– someone rescues you. Not only does he rescue you, but he gives his life to save you. He knew that your rescue depended upon the sacrifice of his life but he chose to save you, anyway.

How would you feel about this person?

What kind of passion would you express when you tell the story of your dramatic rescue? What kind of words would you use when describing the person who gave his life to save you?

Most people would tell the story of their rescue in great detail, infusing their words with zeal and fervor. They would try to convey –as much as words would allow– the deep, abiding love and tremendous awe and respect they have for the stranger who saved them.

And this passion is given for a temporary escape from something that’s still going to happen eventually. Our rescue hasn’t cheated death permanently–it’s just given us a bit more time here on earth.

Why do we feel such great passion about a temporary physical rescue and yet feel little or no passion regarding our spiritual rescue?

We were sinners completely without righteousness (Romans 3:23). We were headed for eternal separation from God. Eternal separation (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). Our final destination was going to be hell–a place of torture and fire (Luke 16:24).

Unending punishment was certain.

We were without hope.

And then came the day long ago that God put His plan of salvation into motion. He sent His only Son to the earth as a baby. That baby would grow into a man who would die on a cross for the sins of man. He took our sins on Himself and covered us with His blood and righteousness so that we could be reconciled to the One, True God!

And then He rose again, victorious over death!

O, Death where is thy sting? O, grave, where is thy victory? (I Corinthians 15:55)

We haven’t been given temporary respite from death–we have had an eternal rescue!

And yet, most of us Christians talk about our rescue like we talk about what we are having for dinner. There is no passion, no fervor. We don’t tell our neighbors and we don’t tell our friends. In fact, some of us do all we can to avoid bringing up the subject, nervous and afraid to speak the name of Jesus.

But how can we keep from praising His name? How can we keep from singing?

Salvation is far more than an intellectual acknowledgement. Even the demons acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 8:29). Salvation is a change of heart.

If our hearts have been changed, then praise should spill forth without effort because we have been rescued! We have left the roiling sea of sin and have found the solid anchor that holds! We have left the inky, black darkness that has blinded us and have walked into marvelous light!

How can we keep from praising Him? How can we keep from singing?

I know this type of  passion and fervor in “Christianity” isn’t always acceptable. We don’t want to get too excited because we don’t want to look strange. But have you been to a sports event lately? Or a concert? Passion and zeal abide there for literally no reason. And we can’t bring some excitement to our dramatic, eternal rescue from sin and hell?

As we focus this week on the death and resurrection of Christ, let us consider what Jesus did for us and the passion we have towards what happened. Let’s ponder our wretched sinfulness and reflect on how He reconciled us to God, gave us eternal life, and saved us from eternal damnation. If we are truly saved, we will find that we can’t keep from praising His name and singing out!

 

Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name. (Psalm 18:49)

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. (Psalm 28:7)

Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. (Isaiah 42:10)

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

10 Reasons Why We Avoid the Altar

Fight

Sometimes I just don’t really want to be a Christian.

That’s just the honest truth.

Oh, I am not talking about the kind of Christian that is so popular these days–the kind who call themselves Christians and then go on to live however they want and do anything they want and still believe they have fire insurance from hell because they said a prayer. I’m not the judge, but God’s Word itself tells us about these kind of people—

But 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, 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! 2 Timothy 3:1-5

No, I am talking about the real kind. The kind that Paul describes in the New Testament. The kind Jesus says He is preparing a place for in heaven.

Being this kind of Christian is so hard some days. In fact, if it weren’t for the Holy Spirit living inside of us true believers, drawing us to the Word and transforming our lives, it would be impossible.

I happened upon the lyrics of “Trust and Obey” the other day. It was the fourth, little-sung verse that really made me think–

But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

There is such truth in this verse–supernatural peace and lasting joy and God’s favor are just part of our reward when we sacrifice our life for Christ. But, oh, how much our human flesh hates that altar! We sing songs that say we surrender all or lay all at the feet of Jesus, but do we? Really?

It costs us so much. And so many of us don’t want to pay the price. I thought of ten reasons why we are so tempted to avoid the altar–

1. We have to give up our independence. Our life is no longer our own and we hate that. We want to make our own decisions and choices without anyone–even God– looking over our shoulders, telling us what to do.

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:1-2

2. We have to hand over our dreams, our hopes, and our expectations to God. We are told every day by some author or TV personality to follow our dreams. But is this, truly, what scripture teaches? No, it is not.  And this can be extremely difficult–especially if we don’t know our heavenly Father well enough to trust Him. (The absolute beauty of this sacrifice is that God changes and molds our dreams to reflect His will and, so, when it is all said and done, we are more far more fulfilled than if we would have had our own paltry dreams, anyway!)

 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. Matthew 6:24-25

3. We have to stand alone sometimes. This takes a tremendous amount of courage, as it means we can no longer follow the crowd. Peer pressure can be so strong. If we are a follower, this can be so difficult. We want to be liked. We want to be cool or hip or trendy. It’s hard to be the one that’s different. The one that people are talking about behind their hands on the sidelines of the soccer game or around the water cooler at work.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Ephesians 6:13

 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. John 15:19

4. We have to swim upstream in a downstream world. It is exhausting. Sometimes my husband and I just wanted to tell our kids to go to that movie, get that video game, or whatever, because we were just so tired of swimming upstream. It is downright hard work to be the one moving one direction, when the rest of the world is moving a different direction.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.  Matthew 7:13-14

5. We have to give up the things of this world. We walk away from the world and towards Jesus. But the ramifications are much broader than you’d first think when you read the verse below. Setting our eyes on Jesus and eternity means we purposefully change how we handle money, what radio station we listen to in the car, what movie we go to see, how we spend our time, what books we read, and how we celebrate holidays. We stop acting and looking like the world and purposefully, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, grow to look more like Jesus.

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

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-20

6. We lose the glory. This one can be really hard in this age of self-glory. We live in a world of “selfies” and mega-stars. But, as believers, should self-glory be our goal? As we grow in Christ, we realize the depth of our sin and that it is God who works in us to do any good thing. This can be hard to believe if we are full of pride and desire the glory for ourselves.

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

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. Colossians 3:23-24

7. I must decrease. Every choice, decision, and thought should be based on the Word. Salvation costs us nothing and yet it costs us everything. We are all at different points on our journey with God, traveling at different speeds and jumping different hurdles. But, as a rule, we believers are decreasing in our own eyes, while Jesus is increasing.

He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:30

8. We must turn away from human wisdom. Instead of believing what the scientists say, we look to the Bible. Instead of believing the psychologists, we turn first to the scriptures.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. I Corinthians 1:25

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; I Corinthians 3:19

9. We lose our rights— While we all have basic human rights that are set up in the first few books of the Bible, when we lay our lives on the altar, we give up our right to indulge, our right to follow our flesh, our right for revenge, our right to never forgive; our rights to do what we want, to say what we want, to live how we want, to watch what we want; to read what we want. We submit to the will of the Father in all things. We find out His will by reading His Word.

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body[c] and in your spirit, which are God’s. I Corinthians 6:19-20

10. We have to admit that there isn’t anything we can do to save ourselves from our sinful state. This may be the hardest thing of all for some of us. In our human pride, we like to insist that we have something good to bring. Did you ever think about the fact that Christianity is the only religion that doesn’t require something from man to be right with God? It doesn’t require good works or a human sacrifice. It doesn’t require prayer five times a day or a pilgrimage to some distant land. It is truly the gift of God to mankind. But, even when we accept Christ’s gift to us, we can sometimes forget that it has nothing to do with us and go back to thinking that our good works are helping us get to heaven. But this is not what the Bible tells us.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

 

But let’s not end this post in this place where all looks to be sacrifice with no reward. There are so many reasons why the price of laying our lives on the altar is so very worth it. Besides the fact that it is the least we can do to honor and love the Savior who died for us, we reap so very many rewards. Here are just a few verses to get you started. It may be something to study for yourself–

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. I Corinthians 15:56-58

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. 2 Corinthians 2:14

and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:9-11

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. I Timothy 6:6-7

 

We have one to life. One. And God has graciously given us a choice. We can choose Christ or we can choose self. But we can’t choose both. That is one of the fundamental truths of the New Testament. You will hear so many pastors and teachers and authors and song-writers telling you otherwise these days. But I encourage you to study the Word for yourself and read what it says. Laying our lives on the altar is just what we believers do. It is part of the wonderful transformation that takes place when we are saved.

Oh, we all grow at different rates and find ourselves at different parts of the journey, so I wouldn’t recommend looking around at how much your Christian neighbor has surrendered. That’s between him and the Lord. But have you laid your life on the altar? For, me, personally, I find it a daily struggle. I can see I am much further along than I was 20 years ago and that gives me hope. But each day I find myself struggling with my flesh in one area or another, but I continue the battle, never giving up. I hope you feel the same way. I leave you with these words of Paul–

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. I Timothy 4:6-8

May we, too, be able to say this same thing when we have reached the end of our lives.

 

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Christmas Dinner

So many of us consider ourselves pretty good Christians. We don’t drink in excess, we don’t steal from our bosses or cheat on our taxes. We have been faithful to our spouses and we go to church almost every Sunday. All good things.

But there is nothing like a week full of family get-togethers to remind us of our sinful natures. This is where the “rubber meets the road” in our profession of Christianity.

As families go, I am pretty blessed. But in every family we have the potential of run-ins and relationship problems because we all are different– we have different priorities and we have differing views on religion and politics. We don’t raise our kids the same way. And we don’t feel passionate about the same things. Some of us tend to be very loud and boisterous and others of us are quiet and reserved. All this means that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. How that plays out is not the same in every family.

Some families have loud debates or even arguments. Other families are full of sarcastic remarks that infuse every family gathering. In some families, it is just a cold, unbreakable tension that lies underneath all that goes on during their times together.

Hurtful remarks. Sarcastic comments. Cold shoulders.

They can all add up to a real lack of peace among family members.

And I am here to encourage you not to be part of any of it.

As Christians dedicated to growing in holiness each and every day, let’s be the ones that bring peace and unity to the family.

What does this look like in practical terms?

These thoughts came to my mind this morning before I started my Bible reading this morning. A few minutes later I read this in I Peter 3—

8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;[a] 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

These verses give us such clear instructions on how to relate to others—practical and helpful as we face a week of family get-togethers and parties with friends.

We are to be of one mind. This is what Matthew Henry writes in his commentary about this sameness of mind that we are to have with other believers—

Christians should endeavour to be all of one mind in the great points of faith, in real affection, and in Christian practice; they should be like-minded one to another, according to Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:5 ), not according to man’s pleasure, but God’s word.

This unity can only be experienced with our Christian brothers and sisters. We will not be able to be unified with unbelievers, as we are categorically in opposition as we journey towards two opposite goals.

However, even if we can’t be unified with unbelieving family members, we can certainly practice being compassionate, tender-hearted, and courteous, can’t we? We can practice returning good for evil. We can choose to bless, rather than to choose revenge.

Revenge is such an ugly word, but in everyday life it can be very tempting to exact. It’s not always something dreadful but can instead be how we choose respond to a person–making sarcastic remarks  or ignoring them, as we seethe in our souls.

Every day offers us opportunities to live out I Peter 3:8-10. But there are few times each year that offer us so many opportunities to practice this than during the Christmas season–a time that taxes even the closest of families.

May we be the ones that bring a breath of fresh air to our family gatherings. Let’s be the ones that offer abundant grace and blessing, no matter how hurtful the remark or how unkind the deed. It may not be easy, but we have the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us. Let’s walk in the Spirit and choose to show loving-kindness with a joyful heart this holiday season!

**On a different note**
I’d like to thank you, dear reader, for joining me on my journey to grow in Christ this past year. I count it as a privilege and a blessing that you would use some of your precious time to read my posts. I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Two Types of People

in everything

I was listening to Gateway to Joy the other day and heard Elisabeth Elliot say something like this: “there are only two kinds of people: the kind who complain and the thankful kind.”

And I had to ask myself:

Which kind am I?

I guess none of us are either kind all the time, but which kind am I most of the time?

The really great thing about this question is that we get to choose what kind of person we will be. It isn’t like the question are you short or tall? While we can’t change our height, we can change if we are a complainer or if we are thankful.

I would say that I am overall a pretty happy person, but these last couple of years have challenged that a bit. I have been thrown out of my norm, forced to develop a new normal, and I have rebelled a bit against that. I have had many moments– even months– that I have not been thankful. I have blamed it on my circumstances.

But God, I don’t want this in my life.

Slowly but surely, God is teaching me that my joy is not dependent on my circumstances. My grateful heart is not dependent on what’s going on in my life. Instead it comes from a heart surrendered to the will of the Father, trusting in Him and knowing that whatever is going on in my life is for His glory and my best.

This is a very hard lesson to learn, no matter what change in life we face. Or what circumstances. We all have them, don’t we? We traverse on this troubled and fallen earth where trials abound. We can all think of plenty of reasons to complain. But when we choose thanksgiving, we are like a lighthouse on this dark earth.

Let me give you an example.

I know two older women who have now lived out most of their lives. They have married, raised a family, and watched grandchildren grow up. They have health issues and life has changed considerably for both of them over the past ten or so years, giving them much to complain about.

But these two women are like night and day in how they face their circumstances and the contrast is remarkable.

The one complains frequently about her circumstances. The other one chooses to be thankful despite her circumstances. The complainer talks negatively about everyone around her. The other one does not. The complainer rarely has a positive thing to say. The other one is inspiring and full of joy. The complainer is lonely and has few friends. The other one is loved dearly by many. One is showing me what not to be like when I am old and one is creating a beautiful legacy.

One of these women is joining the roiling, heaving mass of discontented humanity and the other one is standing out like a lighthouse on the shore, offering hope despite life’s hard times.

This contrast has given me cause for great thought. I want to be creating a beautiful legacy of joy and thanksgiving. But how do I get there?

Perhaps the change starts in our minds, where we first get our initial thought of complaint. Most of us are wallowing in sinful, negative thoughts before ever speaking. And if we want to change, we need to recognize this. 2 Corinthians 10:5 commands us to take every thought captive. Captive. Instead of  letting our thoughts take control of us, we are to take control of them. This is where I fail so often.

I have that thought of sadness or irritation and I will feed it. Instead of taking it captive, I will set it out to pasture to gobble up all of my peace. And yet, life is so much better when I take those thoughts captive as instructed in scripture.

And so I am learning to choose joy and thanksgiving. In my Bible Challenge reading this week, I read that wonderful passage in I Thessalonians 5, including verse 18 about giving thanks always. God’s Word speaks to so many of our problems and struggles. But changing is no easy process and needs to be done very intentionally through the power of the Holy Spirit, just like the rest of our Christian lives. Intentional submission to God’s sovereignty, intentional scripture study and prayer time, intentional choices that lead to pure, holy, and thankful lives. Until one day God calls us into His presence to live with Him forever. The Hope of Heaven–now that is something for which to be truly thankful!

 

A Romp Through the Thicket

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Last Sunday night was a beautiful autumn evening. We hadn’t changed the clocks yet and so the sun sat low on the horizon as we stared at the breath-taking fall sky. We decided we had enough light remaining to take a short walk along the path we have behind our house. Our two dogs danced excitedly at our feet as it dawned on them what we had decided to do.

I have never seen a dog smile, but when we take our dogs for a walk I sometimes think I almost see them smiling. They are never happier than when they are exploring the pathway ahead of us. We think nothing of it and let them wander to their heart’s content, while we walk and talk.

Surrounding the path are corn fields,woods, and brush, with lots of places for our small dog, Belle, to explore that our Lab could never reach. And this particular evening Belle decided to follow her nose into the deepest parts of the thicket.

She is a dog, so she has no capacity to stop and think: Is this wise?

Which is too bad, for dangers abound in the thicket.

Hours later, while we were watching football, my daughter had Belle on her lap. Suddenly she cried out in dismay, “There’s a tick! And another one! And another one!”

My husband and I walked over to take a look. Sure enough, there were several small black things with legs that looked suspiciously like the dreaded disease-carriers.

Ugh. I hate those things.

How thankful I am for a husband who will do the honors of removing ticks (and splinters!) and so I found him a tweezers and he started removing the ticks.

Within a few moments, he had removed eleven of them!

Along with the ticks, he found several harmless burrs clinging tightly to her chin that were making it hard for her to open her mouth.

This romp through the thicket had been more costly than most.

The next day I gave her a bath and found one more tick lodged at her eye. I gathered my courage (is that what it’s called when you do something you absolutely don’t want to do?) and removed it myself. A dozen ticks in all.

At first, we thought they were deer ticks because they were so much smaller than the normal ticks we normally find around here. But after doing some googling and then later talking to the vet, we came to the conclusion that it must have been a nest full of just-hatched dog ticks.

As I bathed her, I thought of the possibilities of lyme or another tick-born disease. She seems fine, but now we will be watching her to make sure. But it seems unlikely (thankfully!), as they were not deer ticks and they are the ones that usually carry the disease.

So why I am telling you about my dog’s romp in the thicket?

Because we so often do the same thing!

We Christians will be traversing the straight and narrow and doing pretty well, too. But then something distracts us to our right or left. Or sometimes behind us. And we stray off the path.

We do have the capacity to ask ourselves: Is this wise? But, normally, that is not the question we are asking ourselves. No, our question often centers more around our selfish desires and whims and looks more like this: Do I want this?

Since we have a whole culture encouraging us to do what makes us happy, we consider that the blessing of man and move off the path into sin.

But how rarely we come away unscathed.

Some of us will get away with a few harmless burrs. Others will find a tick or two clinging to them. An unfortunate few will give their lives for their whims and come down with some terminal disease. At the very least, our clean, snow-white garments will become stained, torn, and dirty and the name of Jesus disgraced.

While sin looks like a blast, it rarely is. And the ironic thing is that while we chase after our happiness, leaving the path of righteousness to chase after things of the flesh (see Galatians 5:19-21 below), we really are eroding our only opportunity of true joy and happiness, which is to follow God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

Psalm 16:11 puts it this way–You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Following our own path does not lead us to joy and, more likely than not, will lead us to heartache.

I am truly amazed at the amount of people who call themselves Christians and yet regularly commit these sins, without conviction and generally defending them to be acceptable, listed in Galatians 5: 19-21: 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.

As if somehow these are no longer really sins.

As if God has changed.

But God hasn’t changed. And we are to avoid these things. Not only to please God but also to protect ourselves.

My pastor said something so profound yesterday about this whole topic of sin in our lives. It is something we should all consider as we leave the path of holiness and righteousness to chase after our dreams in the thicket:

Holiness always comes before joy and happiness.

Always.

Compromise with the world will not lead to happiness. Sleeping with that co-worker will not make us happy. Getting a different husband or wife will not make us happy. Getting drunk will not make us happy. Neither will cheating on our taxes, lying to stay out of trouble, or filling our minds with ungodly entertainment.

But following God whole-heartedly? Staying on the straight and narrow path? That is how we experience true joy and happiness.

Which is such a wonderful truth, isn’t it? God has designed it so that, in pleasing Him in all that we do, we actually are at our most joyous, happiest selves. True believers are not sad that they can’t join the world or participate in all its “fun” because we see it for what it is.

I love that God loves us and cares enough about us to bring us true peace and joy in following hard after Him. What a gracious and kind God we serve.

So let’s stay far from the thicket. Whatever beckons from the deep underbrush will never be worth the price we pay for it. Instead let’s keep our feet on the path of righteousness, living a life of godliness and purity, setting a glowing example for those who are following after us.

 

 

Practicing Joy When It’s Hard

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Sometimes the world around us seems so hopeless. We watch the news on TV, we age and our bodies grow weaker, and we hear so many stories of brokenness and tragedy. We come face to face over and over again with the hard reality that we live in a fallen world in a body headed for death.

These tough truths also come to light in the books of the Old Testament Prophets. These men of God predict the sword, famine, and pestilence on God’s chosen people. They have turned their hearts to idols and God has decided enough is enough. How would it have felt to be in Israel during that time? What would it have been like to live with the knowledge that the wrath of God was coming?

Could it be a little like right now? Oh, I know we aren’t Israel. And I know that the wrath of God fell hard on them in a way that will probably not be repeated until the Tribulation. But don’t you sometimes wonder how long the wrath of God will tarry for a nation that kills its babies at a rate of 2000+ per day? Or a nation that has declared God to be null and void and prefers to give credit to the ludicrous and illogical theory of evolution? How long can a nation last that lives like there are no moral absolutes? What can we expect when we turn our back on God’s chosen people, Israel? (Genesis 12:3)

I don’t tend to get dragged down too often by the state of this nation, but every once in awhile it just hits me. This is not the same nation it was. It is changing so fast it sometimes feels like it’s hard to catch your breath. And in the back of my mind is always this question: what will it mean for the faithful? What is ahead for us in a country that is becoming increasingly hostile towards anyone who follows the Jesus of the Bible?

This week, while I was thinking a bit about this, the Lord brought to mind my dear friend, Bea. It’s not often that you are good friends with someone who is 35 years older than you are, but we are a glorious exception. God has blessed our family tremendously by knowing her. She has functioned for many years as my kids’ third grandmother and as a source of godly wisdom for me.

I decided that I would ask her her thoughts on finding joy when things are looking dark. She has a lot she could be discouraged about. Her health is starting to fail and life is very different than it was even ten years ago. Looking to the future doesn’t bring much hope, as her body will probably continue to grow weaker. And yet when I stop in she always has a genuine smile on her face. A smile that comes from her heart. I asked her how she finds joy in the midst of discouraging days.

She had some great thoughts and I know that you will benefit from them as much as me. As always, her practical wisdom is so helpful. When I asked her how she fosters joy in her life, she gave the following thoughts–

1. Count Your Blessings.

She went on to share just how good God has been to her through the years. She prayed for her husband’s salvation for 32 long years and God answered that prayer. And now this husband treats her like a princess, loving on her in a way that wasn’t possible in their busy, younger days. She enjoys the more relaxed, living-in-the-moment that they are able to do now. And she looks for even small improvements in her health or other situations. She says there are always plenty of blessings to be remembered.

2. Talk to God a Lot.

She elaborated here and told me she talks to Him all the time. She asks for strength to get through the day. And to help her find a lost earring. She talks to Him about her feelings of discouragement. And she prays for others. Instead of just (or perhaps along with) one designated prayer time for the day, she keeps a running conversation going with God all day.

3. Choose to be thankful.

This kind of goes with the first one, but it is a bit more intentional. She thanks God for her good days. And for the healing that is taking place despite her aging body. She thanks God for the blessings that are in her life. Even the smallest blessing is worthy of gratitude.

4. Press on through the discouragement.

When I asked if she had anything more, she added this final thing. And perhaps this may be the most important of all. We have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, continuing in the service God has for us, no matter what the task. Bea’s tasks have changed considerably over the years and she now finds herself in a place where she can’t do that much physically. But she can still pray and she can still encourage others. She can still cook and do some things around the house. And she can still love her husband and her family. When we are tempted to stop walking in our difficult places, our focus turns inward and we withdraw from life if we aren’t careful. We often end up in a fog of depression and misery, oftentimes curled up in a ball in our beds or zoned out in front of the TV. Self pity doesn’t make things better. It makes things much worse.

Instead we need to keep pressing on through the pain and the discouragement, remembering the future that is in store for us if we are saved and always prepared, with hope, for the return of our Lord and Savior. Isn’t it just wonderful to contemplate a life without pain and without sorrow? It seems almost beyond the realm of our comprehension. But that is what we have been promised if we are God’s! This life is not the whole picture. It’s just a tiny part of the whole.

I guess you can tell how much I love my dear friend. She has been such an inspiration and godly example for me. And not only has she been a great role model, but she has always been willing to share her struggles and her heart with me. Ladies like this are rare and I consider it a great privilege to have her in my life. I want to keep learning from her as long as possible and continue mining the treasure of her 80+ years of experience.

I hope this post has inspired you to find joy in the hard places! But I also hope it has inspired any of you who are women to find a godly woman whom you can talk to and learn from. One who is willing to be open and honest and who has years of experience and can help you avoid some of the pitfalls we tend to make as wives and mothers.

And, as I write this, I find myself encouraged that perhaps it’s not so hopeless, after all. Sure, the world isn’t going anywhere great, but we can’t quit. We ordinary women can make a difference by building into the lives of others and sharing the things we have learned from God’s Word. Oh, we probably won’t change the world, but we can help the people that God places in front of us. And, according to Titus 2:3-5, perhaps that is what we are supposed to be focused on, anyway.

Joining the Dance

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On Saturday, I finally worked up the courage to clean my son’s room.

I knew it would be the very last time I would clean it for him. When he moved away, he had left a sundry of assorted items on the floor and on the shelves, along with a basketful of items that he said weren’t his. That, along with a few other things, have sat in that empty room since he moved out in June.

I told myself that I was just too busy to get to it and had reminded myself that it wasn’t really any hurry, but I knew full well why I was putting it off.

Cleaning that room was going to make me sad. And it was going to remind me that my life was never going to be the same again.

But Saturday was the day.

And so I gathered some garbage bags, the vacuum, and my courage, and opened the door.

As I glanced around the room, I could almost hear echoes of the past. A little boy’s laughter. A sibling argument. A middle-schooler pesting a sister. A parent-teen discussion. It was all in the past. A loud, trying, crazy, happy, chaotic past.

I tried to find perspective as I cleaned the room. I thought of the possibilities and what I could do with the extra space. I eyed up the closet and contemplated filling up its shelves.

And, yet, somehow it just didn’t seem right–this filling up of a space that had been–and would, in some ways, always be–our son’s.

In the midst of my melancholy, I recognized the importance of pushing on and of finding the good in the now. Of seeing the possibilities and potential of this time in my life. Yes, life is changing but it’s not all bad.

God is teaching me and drawing me to Himself in a deeper way right now, as I am able to spend more time in His Word. I cherish the relaxed time I have with my youngest child and husband. And I love spending time with all of my kids (this includes the wonderful kids that have joined our family).

And, so, as I cleaned the room, I was also trying to clear away the last vestiges of sad nostalgia that had taken up residence in my mind this past year as, one by one, I have watched my three oldest kids start their own lives. And I somehow grasp the importance of enjoying this moment. There is so much to take in and savor and to love about life right now. When we get hung up in yesterday–whether it be a good or a bad past–we miss so much.

Life keeps changing. Some changes are good and some are not. Some change we can control, but there is much we can’t control.

But there is always one thing we can control: Our attitude. We can choose to dance and move in step with the change or we can choose not to. Growing sad or depressed won’t keep change from happening, it will just make us miserable.

And so on Saturday when I finished that room, I was ready to join the dance of change. Oh, I know I will still have my moments of tears and sadness, but I am ready to intentionally grab hold of my new life with joy and expectation. I had prepared that room for new opportunities–just as I am becoming prepared for new opportunities.

 

Diamonds and Axeheads

Diamond Necklace

Several years ago, I lost a necklace. Not the big, chunky kind made out of brightly-colored beads. This was a delicate chain with a small diamond charm. The special kind your husband gives you to celebrate a special milestone or anniversary.

I had taken it off at the end of a long day and placed it on the end table. When I thought of it the next day, it had completely vanished. I searched everywhere. I couldn’t find it.

We came to the conclusion that it had probably fallen in the small trash can next to the table. I sadly realized that it was lost forever. We have a big dumpster which holds all of the trash that our sizable company discards. The bag holding this necklace was in that dumpster. The chances of finding a tiny little gold chain inside a large trash bag in an even larger dumpster were slim to none. We didn’t even know which trash bag was the right one.

My husband decided to look, anyway. That’s just the kind of guy he is. I sent up a little prayer letting the Lord know that I would greatly appreciate finding this special necklace.

Within just a few minutes, Eric came inside the house holding the chain in his hand. Unbelievable. Why would God care about such a thing?

A few years later, I lost my anniversary band. It was a little big and when the weather grew cold and my fingers shrunk even further, the band must have slipped off. How well I remember that Monday at lunchtime. I looked down at my hand and realized it was gone. We searched everywhere for it. But my heart sank, knowing full well that it was unlikely that we would find it.

For several weeks, I prayed that it would somehow miraculously turn up. This ring meant even more than the necklace, as it was bought to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. It was very special and also rather expensive. I was heartbroken.

It never turned up.

But when my birthday came around a few months later, my husband presented me with a small wrapped box. When I opened it, I found the exact same ring that he had purchased over a year earlier. He had bought me this because he knew just how disappointed and upset I was about the loss of that ring. And you know what? This ring means almost more than the first one. It symbolizes unconditional love even through my failures and stupid moments. It shows me commitment and willingness to go above and beyond. He could have been furious and never bought me another piece of jewelry again. Instead he bought me a replacement for the ring I had lost.

So why am I telling you this?

These events came to mind as I read the account of the floating axehead in 2 Kings 6. Elisha’s servants decide to build a new dwelling. At least one of them is so poor that he needs to borrow an axe to fell the trees. While they are working by the Jordan, his iron axehead falls into the Jordan. He is in much despair over this, because it is not his and he does not have the money to replace it. Elisha asks him where it has fallen, throws a stick in the water, which causes the iron axehead to float, and the servant picks it out of the water.

This whole story takes place in only six verses. It’s only a minute portion of the Bible, but there is much to learn here. This man’s life was not in danger. His home, his wife, his children, his education are not mentioned. We know nothing about him.

What we do know is that iron was very expensive in those days and this lost axehead would cause him financial difficulty.

What we do know is that God cared enough about this man and his seemingly trivial problem to provide a miracle on this man’s behalf.

Now, I’m sure this didn’t happen every day and there were probably some axeheads that sat on the floor of the Jordan at the great displeasure and inconvenience of their owners and borrowers. God did not make every axehead float.

But in this instance, God decided to intervene.

This incident shows us that, just like my diamond necklace, God cares enough to help in the little things. Sometimes He chooses to show Himself in an amazing way.

But sometimes, as in the case of my ring, He instead has a lesson to teach us or something to show us by not interceding. And that’s okay, too.

No matter how God chooses to answer us, He knows best. We can count on Him to take care of us all the way. He will give us the strength and grace that we need–and even occasional little miracles–as we go.

And we come once more to the necessity to rest wholly in God’s Sovereignty. I am convinced that this one thing is what will bring us joy and peace as we travel through life. God cares about us. He cares about even the smallest thing. We know that He is in control, no matter what comes our way. What a comforting thought!

 

The Many Faces of Pride

PRIDE

I’ve had a really rough week. You don’t need details, but suffice it to say that I came face to face with my loathsome, prideful self yet once again.

Does that ever happen to you? Or am I the only one? You think you are doing pretty well in this Christianity thing and then something happens that you didn’t see coming or someone doesn’t meet your expectations and you react. And that’s when you realize that you still have so far to go. While it can be really painful, I am so thankful for these times, for they remind me of why I need a Savior so incredibly much and they help me to grow more like Christ.

Pride is an insidious, deadly sin. It gobbles up our peace and joy so quickly. It destroys most everything in its wake. Or, at the very least, keeps any relationship from being the best it could be.

Humility is the opposite of pride. Christ was humble, even to death on a cross, and humility is what He requires of us. First and foremost, humility is necessary for us to understand our need for a Savior. But, after our initial conversion, it is also so key in staying in a right relationship with God. It is absolutely critical for healthy family relationships. Humility helps us to be a better co-worker, a better child, a better spouse, a better parent. We are happier when we are humble. We bless others when we are humble. We experience much greater peace when we are humble.

When we think of pride, we often think of the kind that David exhibited in I Chronicles 21 (and 2 Samuel 24). David took a census. This was apparently an act of pride that cost him (and the whole nation of Israel) dearly. We can’t know for sure, but according to my Bible study notes, David’s act of taking this census could have angered God for a number of reasons. Perhaps because David was trying to gratify his pride in the great strength of his army and military power. Or he was putting more trust in his forces than in his God. Maybe this was showing that he was taking credit for the many victories of Israel. Whatever his reason, we know that God was angry, as we read in the passage.

And our pride often looks like David’s in our own day-to-day living. We take credit for something; we want the glory; we draw attention to our accomplishments and awards and accolades.

But let’s just say that we don’t really struggle with this type of thing. Maybe we hate attention and would never boast about ourselves. We would never count our successes and victories and put them out there for all the world to see. Is there still the possibility that pride could still be an issue for us, if boasting and taking censuses isn’t our style?

Of course, the answer to this is a resounding YES.

So what are some ways that pride hides out in the dark corners of our minds and hearts? I have been really thinking about this topic of humility this week. Knowing that in order for my relationships to work right, I need to be humble. In searching some of my favorite authors on this topic, I came across a $2.99 Kindle book called Sermons on Humility by Charles Spurgeon. I have not finished it, but in the first few pages he shares several different ways pride exhibits itself in even the most “humble” of us. I will follow each one with a few practical, modern-day examples —

There is the pride of the heretic, who will utter false doctrines, because he thinks his own judgment to be better than the word of God, never content to sit like a child to believe what he is told, he is a disputant but not a disciple. He will insist upon it that his own reason is to be the well-spring of his own beliefs, and he will receive nothing beyond his own reach.

This is immediately what I think of when I think of the Christians who claim that homosexuality isn’t a sin, that unity is more important than truth, or that the world evolved. They have the pride of the heretic–relying on their own intellect or on the intellect of other men instead of on the Word of God. The other person that comes to mind is the one who says there are many ways to heaven or that there is no hell. They, too, are holding their own thinking in higher merit than the Word of God.

There is next the pride of the Papist, who attaches merit to his own works, and hopes to will heaven as the reward of his own doings.

While they may not brag or boast about this, many think they are good people, quietly assuming that their good deeds outweigh their bad ones and this will be what gets them into heaven. Even many, many Christians (or shall I say people who identify with the religion of Christianity) believe they are going to heaven based on their own merit. This is pride. This is the kind that keeps our eyes blinded to our need for a Savior.

Next there is the pride of the curious. The man who is not content with simplicities, but must pry into mysteries. He would if he could climb to the Eternal Throne, and read between those folded leaves and break the seven seals of the mysterious book of destiny. You know well our apostle has many things in his writings which are hard to be understood, yet he uttered them because of the Spirit, and you never meet with any attempt in the apostle’s writing as you do in the preaching of some ministers, as you do in the conversation of some professors, to reconcile predestination with free will. He was quite content to preach to men as free agents, and exhort them to repent, quite willing to speak of God as working in us to will and do of his good pleasure, while we also work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Paul was never curious to find out where the lines of truth met, he was perfectly content to take his doctrine from his Master’s spirit, and leave the old wives fables and endless genealogies and disputings, and questionings, to those who had no better guests to entertain.

I included this whole section here because it goes so very well with my post from Monday. I agree with Spurgeon whole-heartedly– it is prideful to think we have to understand the things we can’t understand. Yes, the ungodly will call you stupid and unintellectual when you take this approach (mostly because of their own personal pride). They don’t know God the way we do if we are saved. They don’t understand that submitting to His sovereignty is an incredible blessing. That some questions can go unanswered because the ones that really matter have already been answered. They can’t get it. Their eyes can’t see.

Again, there is the pride of the persecutor; the man who is not content with his own notions, but would hunt to death another, the pride which suggests that I am infallible, and that if any man should differ from me, the stake and the rack would be the due deserts of so great a sin, against so great a person as myself.

We may not want to see someone physically harmed when they don’t agree with us, but how many broken families and split churches fall under this type of pride? Millions? Trillions? This is perhaps the most tempting one for “godly Christians”. We think we are right. We believe that our opinion is best. We believe we are infallible. But if it’s not within the pages of scripture, is it actually something worth a broken relationship?

Is any special piece of furniture or bank account worth the fracturing of a family upon a parent’s death?

Is any decision of our adult children worth the tense and strained relationship that comes when we keep insisting they are doing the wrong thing or making the wrong choice?

Is any opinion of mine worth holding on to if it’s causing stress and constant argument in my marriage?

Is my hurt pride over what I heard that someone said about me worth a broken friendship?

NO, a thousand times NO. The answer to all of these questions is NO.

And so, so many of us fall prey to this deadly sin, leaving a trail of broken hearts and strained relationships. I don’t want to do this. I want my marriage more than I want to be right. I want a right relationship with my kids more than I want to be right. I want to be a good testimony more than I want to be right.

Keep in mind I am not talking about biblical truth here. Of course, we have to stand strong and fight for the truth held within the pages of scripture. I might add here that even these biblical debates can and should only be done with great gentleness and kindness. But most of us are not arguing over biblical doctrine (a few more of us should be! We seem to not find that important, while inane, silly things get us so riled up!), instead, we are debating and arguing over issues which have no biblical mandate. No right or wrong. I am talking about the silly, stupid stuff we won’t bend on. The stuff that isn’t worth it.

Life is hard. Relationships take work. And no relationship works well without at least one party practicing humility. Joy and peace elude us without humility. Unanswerable questions haunt us without it.

And so we start with us. Today. The only place we can start. And we take our desire to be right, our yearning for glory, and our prideful thoughts about how good we are and hand them all to the Lord, asking Him to humble us and to become more like Him.

Often crying and screaming inside our heads as we endure the emotional pain of the process.

 

 

Spurgeon, Charles (2014-09-28). Twelve Sermons on Humility; Titus Books. Kindle Edition.

 

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