Life

Are You Ready for Death?

Kobe Bryant and his daughter died a few days ago. Along with thousands of other people. Those two weren’t the only ones who faced God on Sunday, January 26. Many passed from this life to the next. Some were expecting it and many, many, like Kobe, were not.

None of us knows what day we will leave this earth. That’s why it is so critical that we are ready to go at all times.

This isn’t going to be a long post. I just want to encourage you (and myself) to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that we are ready for the inevitable. 100% of us will die. The question is not “if”, it is when.

So here are just a few thoughts for us all today–

1. If you do not believe the Bible is 100% true, then what are you basing your belief about the afterlife on? Is it a man? A religious system? And on what is that person or system basing their beliefs on about the afterlife? This is one area of life we cannot afford to get wrong! This is the difference between heaven and hell. Between a life of eternity with God or an eternity without God. We owe it to ourselves to thoroughly research this. If you don’t believe the Bible, then I challenge you to actually put reasons to your belief. Make sure that you’ve done a thorough study. While true faith isn’t based on logic and rationalism, it is often the starting point of the search for many.

Don’t be an ostrich with your head in the sand when it comes to the subject of death.

(If you wonder what the Bible teaches about life after death, you can read more here.)

2. If we do know where we are headed, then shouldn’t that change how we live? Shouldn’t we be more interested in treasure in heaven than treasure on earth? Shouldn’t we be more interested in pleasing God than pleasing people? And shouldn’t we spend more time looking in the mirror of the Word than the mirror in our bathroom? Remembering how close death is for all of us should really remind us of (or even change) our priorities.

3. If we do believe the Bible is true and we are confident that we will spend eternity with God through our faith in Jesus Christ alone, then a good majority of us really need to ask ourselves these questions: Why aren’t we more passionate about our faith? Why are we so caught up in all of the stuff that is so temporal? Why don’t we care more that so many are not going to be in eternity with us, given their own declarations and wicked lifestyles?

Is this not a sobering thought? The co-worker next to you could get in his car tomorrow and crash. The unbelieving family member could face his Maker next week. That terminal diagnosis could be told to our lost spouse or parent in a month.

Are we praying fervently for them? Are we taking the opportunities we are given to share the Gospel? Be sure that I am not talking about smashing them over the head with it in a harsh way. But, rather, are we having heartfelt discussions with them? Are we pointing them to the anchor of the Word?

Dear friends, life is short. Our days are like grass. May we seek the things that are above. May we live each day with eternity in mind.

 

As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 For the wind passes over it, and it is b]”>[b]”>bb]”>]gone,
And its place remembers it no more.

Psalm 103:15

 

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

 

 

The Domino Effect

Once upon a time there was a young man. He married his high school sweetheart and together they had a few kids. But one day, after several years of marriage, this man chose not to turn his eyes and his heart away when he looked at a woman who was not his wife. Eventually this choice led to a broken-hearted wife and devastated children who would struggle to heal from his rejection for years to come.

He made a choice for his “personal happiness” and, yet, his happiness wasn’t the only thing affected.

Stories like this have happened over and over again throughout history. Replace the pronouns. Sometimes it is wives who do this same thing. For personal happiness and gain, a choice is made that negatively affects the rest of someone’s life. Forever.

You may have been on the receiving end of something like this. And it’s not always an affair. But it is always sin.

Galatians 5:19-21 is a great list to reference for these “domino effect” sins–

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: [d]adultery, [e]fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, [f]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.

Each one of these sins–when chosen–does not affect the sinner alone. It affects all those who surround the sinner.

As sin grows, it spills over on to those we love and on to all those that are in our circle.

We can change their day by an angry outburst or we can change their life by choosing adultery.

Thankfully we know through many examples (David, Peter, etc) in the Bible that we can choose repentance and we can be restored after we make sinful choices. But, after all is said and done, the consequences remain.

Better to not have made the sinful choice at all.

I don’t think we often give much thought to how our daily choices are affecting those around us.

The first example I gave was an extreme example, right? Kids from broken homes –especially homes with a parent who disappears or, maybe worse yet, uses them as a pawn in a battle–have some extra challenges to work through in life.

But let’s think further how our even our most mundane choices affect our kids, grandkids, and anyone who is watching us.

What are some of the things that have a domino effect on our families and circle of friends?

What about how we handle affliction and trials? Anger and discontentment often snake their way down family trees. Are we setting a godly example in how we respond when things don’t go our way?

What about choosing to live in an unhealthy way or being unwise in how we spend money? We set our kids up for failure because they are always watching. And, often, they will choose to live how we chose to live. Think about your life right at this moment. Would you want the children in your life to have your life? I am not talking about the things we can’t control–like diseases or unexpected financial setbacks. I am referring to being wise and godly in the choices we can control.

What about how we fill our minds (tv, movies, books, music)? Are these leading those who are watching us towards God and His Word or are they leading them away from Him?

What about choosing to extol a false teacher? Giving credence to a false or heretical teacher puts our friends and family in grave spiritual danger. Deception often starts by a casual comment, such as “have you read the book…?”

You see, these choices aren’t ever just about us. And these choices have the potential to lead someone toward the broad way or the narrow way. Very few things are neutral. By our example, we lead those who are watching us towards a godly life or towards a carnal life. We encourage them to walk in the Spirit or to walk in the flesh.

So you think no one is watching you at home when you privately watch that terrible tv show?

Well, that might be true. Maybe only God knows that.

BUT…

You think that show isn’t affecting you?

All that goes into our brains–whether we will admit it or not–affects us. And this, in turn, affects others.

Our philosophies; our sensitivity to worldliness; our choice to follow human wisdom or God’s wisdom; our love for God–these are all affected by what we fill our minds with. And this mind-filling will, quite naturally, spill out on to others in our conversations and our discussions.

No sin is private.

Unless you are living on an island far far away with no one else on it, there is a domino effect.

We may feel this more acutely as a parent. (Oh, the weight of being a godly example when you are a parent!) But this doesn’t disappear as we move into our grandparent years. And it still exists, even if we never have kids or are a single adult living alone.

People watch us.

Choices may be made to abandon Christianity or to embrace it by someone watching how we live.

 

Interestingly enough….

This domino effect also works the other way around.

When we live lives that please God and we obey His commands, we find that this also affect others. As they watch us, they are emboldened to live for Christ or they are drawn to His Word. We can encourage them to live for Him by our choice to live for Him! We can encourage them to be courageous and stand for Truth by our choice to live courageously and stand for Truth!

We can have a good influence on others or we can have a negative influence.

But we will have an influence.

What kind of influence will you have? When you have left this earth what will have been your domino effect?

May we give this serious consideration before it’s too late.

 

 

The Path to Peace

Sometimes we are forced to travel a path that we just don’t want to be on. We diligently look for options to get off the path and find none. It is at that time that we are forced to make a choice.

First, we have the option to sulk, moan, complain, or get angry at God. When we cannot accept God’s sovereignty in our lives, this is the place many of us find ourselves. We do this over big things–like physical illness and death –but, sadly, we also do this over small things. When life isn’t the wonderful thing we imagined or we don’t get our own way, we so often fall into these sinful responses.

This choice to choose anger and/or sadness over our circumstances yields so many bad fruits.

Two of the most common fruits are bitterness and depression. When we are unwilling to accept the hand we’ve been dealt by God it can potentially drive us to extreme sadness (depression) or extreme anger (bitterness). Both of these turn us into people who are hopeless, unpleasant, and generally ineffective not just for God, but often within our own families or circles. They rob us of our very lives. I’ve seen this over and over. Is there anything more tragic than a person with tremendous potential for God’s Kingdom who has spent most of their adult life in bitterness or depression?

Second, we have the option to work feverishly at fixing our circumstances. We panic and then we pull ourselves up by our boot straps and we decide that, if God isn’t going to help us, we will help ourselves. We try all sorts of things and, as a rule, make things so much worse. All of it often ends in frustration and discouragement when we are forced to recognize that, whatever it is, is outside of our control. In fact, most of us end up at option one (above) after we’ve tried option two.

But we do have one other choice: We can surrender our will and trust God. What does this look like? Well, let me tell you.

I had the opportunity to spend a few days with my brother (Pastor Dean) a few weeks ago. As most of you already know, he lost his wife this past April to cancer after a year and a half of uncertainty. Through all of that, their family remained at peace. They lived out Philippians 4:6-7.

I saw that same peace recently. He is on a path he would not have chosen. He has to do the things he always relied on his wife to do. He is no longer part of a couple when he goes out. He has to grocery shop and clean. But, most importantly, the person he confided in and talked with is no longer there.

And, yet, I have not heard one word of complaint. Oh, he doesn’t pretend that it’s all great. We know this wouldn’t be his preference, but he doesn’t complain. He has told me that he has submitted to God’s will in this and God is providing for Him. This does not mean it’s fun and pain-free. It means that it is bearable and that he experiences the peace promised by God in His Word.

I have to confess that this has gotten me really thinking about the importance of surrendering my will to God’s every single day of my life. Even in the small stuff. Maybe, most importantly, in the small stuff. Because it is this surrender that prepares us for the large stuff.

What are some of these things we must surrender to the Lord?

We face so many different and varied troubles. I think of so many of you that have shared with me your burden of an unsaved spouse or child. How tempting it must be to grow discouraged and angry that God isn’t answering your prayers on your timeline (option 1) or to play the “Holy Spirit” and try to manipulate them into salvation yourself (option 2).

Or you may be facing your own uncertain medical diagnosis and it’s thrown you for a complete loop. Or financial difficulty. Or a job you hate. Or a wayward child. Or a much-beloved church that is leaving its solid foundation. Or a move across the country that took you away from all that is familiar. Or a… the list could go on and on and on.

Big burdens and little burdens. Life is full of them. Everywhere we turn, they are there, revealing themselves as tests.

Will we allow them to make us angry, bitter, sad, or depressed? Will they tempt us into sulking and complaining? Or will we harken back to the promises of God?

As I have watched Dean lean into this trial rather than grow angry or fall into a pit of despair, I have to admit that I have been so encouraged. Dean is no saint (I should know–I grew up with him!) and he doesn’t claim to be one. He gives all praise and glory to God for seeing him through this trial. We are so thankful for this rich reminder that God does keep His promises to those that trust Him and surrender their will to His.

This doesn’t mean we will always get our way. Of course, we won’t. We can’t. But what it does mean is that God walks with us through these things and provides the grace we need to bear them (2 Corinthians 12:9). And that, if we love God, then every single trial we face, both big and small, will yield good things for God’s Kingdom (Romans 8:28).

But this can only happen by surrendering our lives daily to God. There is only one path to true peace and that is submitting our will to God’s. This is no easy task. To say the least. But it is the one thing that will bring the peace and joy that God has promised us in His Word.

 

Please Note: This post is for believers–those who have acknowledged their sin, repented of them, and have trusted in Jesus alone for salvation. If you have not done this, then there is really no way for you to experience eternal peace, as salvation is the only true way to be reconciled and at peace with God. If you have any questions about this, please feel free to email me at leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net.

 

How Does a True Christian Act?

If you live in the United States almost everybody is a Christian. It’s the religion they identify with and, oftentimes, it has been passed on from generation to generation. If one goes to a church that uses Christian names like “God” and “Jesus” and other terms from the Bible, there is an assumption that one is a Christian–even if there has never been repentance from sin or personal trust and belief in Jesus as Savior. (Actually I guess there are even many people who consider themselves Christians that rarely, if ever, even step inside a church.)

Of course, we know from the Bible that a genuine Christian has repented of their sins and trusted in Christ alone for salvation. When this happens, we are made into a new creation. Isn’t that a glorious thought? The old things are passed away and all things become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

So what does this new creation actually look like? How does this person act? What signs show that they are a new creation and not just a false convert?

Romans 12 gives us just such a description. It’s a great litmus test for us, giving us specific things to look for as we examine our lives and test ourselves to see whether or not we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Many of us are very familiar with the first two verses of Romans 12–

I beseech[a] you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your [b]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.

Paul then takes a few verses to talk about spiritual gifts and the Body of Christ and how it should function. But when we arrive at verse 9, we find out exactly what a genuine Christian should look like on a day-to-day basis.

Before we spend some time looking at Romans 12, let’s remember one extremely important thing. The Christian life is not–and never will be–about perfection. None of us will ever be the “perfect Christian”.  Our focus must not be on being perfect but on testing our heart’s desire and our direction. What direction are we going? Are we growing in these things each year? Do we look more like Christ as we mature in the faith? What is our attitude about these things?

All of us will struggle with some more than others. And that’s okay, too. If we know there is a battle, then we know the Holy Spirit is hard at work, convicting us and showing us how we can grow.

So let’s take a look at the description of someone who is a new creation that we find in the second half of Romans 12, starting with verse 9–

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.

A genuine Christian will–

1. Love without hypocrisy

Hypocrisy: the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.

We should love without pretense. A genuine love that stems from our hearts.

2. Abhor what is evil.

Abhor: regard with disgust and hatred.

We should hate that which is evil. We should not be bringing it into our homes via our radios, phones, iPads, and TVs. We should not find ourselves entertained by books, movies, and music that glorifies evil. Instead we should abhor them. I speak specifically to this because I believe this is where many true Christians allow entrance of evil into their lives.

3. Cling to what is good.

Cling: hold on tightly to.

We must put a firm grip on the truth and pure doctrine. Don’t let go just because someone tells you to. Don’t compromise because it is easier. We must hold fast. (I Thessalonians 5:21)

10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;

Be kind to our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, giving preference to them. This same thought is echoed in Philippians 2:3-4.

Kindness is fairly trendy right now. It is cool to be kind. And that’s not a bad thing. But the kindness referred to here is the kindness we should show our Christian brothers and sisters and flows from a heart that is a reflection of our heavenly Father’s and His love for His children.

11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;

A true Christian is diligent and fervent as they serve the Lord. This means they are not lazy or apathetic. They serve the Lord with their whole heart, in whatever opportunity He has given them.

12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer;

The genuine believer knows that his hope goes beyond this temporal earth, and so his hope remains steady no matter what happens. He is patient in trials, all the while continuing steadfastly in prayer.

13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

True Christians meet the needs of their fellow believers. And they are given to hospitality.

Hospitality: the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.

Hospitality is not really all that popular anymore. Few people open up their homes to guests outside of family. And I have to admit, the modern life’s pace doesn’t lend itself well to hospitality. But is this a good enough reason to ignore this little phrase?

Perhaps having a hospitable heart is more about our attitude. Do we open up our homes freely when we are given the chance? Do we make people feel comfortable and welcomed, no matter where we meet them? Do we gladly share our resources and time as we are given the opportunity?

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Christians bless those who persecute them. We love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). This is humanly impossible. You do realize this, right? Only a true believer could bless the one that is hurting them. Do we love our enemies? Do we pray for them? Do we care for their souls? This is a great sign that we are a genuine Christian. If we struggle with this one, perhaps our first step should be to pray that God would help us to do this.

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Fellow Christians rejoice and weep with one another. Instead of jealousy and envy making us sulky at a Christian sister’s good fortune, we are genuinely glad for them. And when bad news hits, we weep with them. We surround our brother or sister with Christian love and care.

16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

True Christians are humble. Their opinions about themselves are not inflated and they are not boastful. They are no respecter of persons and they don’t care about someone’s popularity. They will talk freely with and offer their aid to anyone, no matter their age, sex, race, status, or reputation.

17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.

Christians do not take revenge on those that have hurt them. (Connects pretty closely to blessing those that persecute us, doesn’t it?) We are known for our regard of good things (true, right, holy) by anyone who happens to be watching us.

18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

It is not possible to always be at peace with all people. Some decide they hate you and, no matter what you do, you can’t change their minds. But this verse gives us comfort. If it is possible. God clearly recognizes that it isn’t always possible. But as much as it depends on us, we are to be at peace with all people. Have we done all we can to bring about peace with those around us? This should describe us, as believers.

19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Again, we are faced with our attitude about our enemies. Genuine believers are not to live with revenge burning in our hearts. We are to actually do the opposite and reach out to an enemy in need. We are to do this and let God take care of the rest. Only God could enable a heart and mind to love an enemy in this way. Only God.

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

And, finally, a genuine believer is not overcome by the evil of this world. Instead, we overcome the evil with good! We know that God is in control, no matter how evil this world gets and that He will triumph! Our job is to shine His light and go forth as witnesses in our homes, work places, on the sidelines and bleachers of athletic events, in our churches, and when we are shopping. Any time. All times.

____________________________________________

The Bible functions as a mirror (James 1:22-24) and Romans 12 is an especially painful place to look at my reflection. While I do see some of these in my life, I also see much need for growth. I hope that this glance at this chapter has encouraged and challenged you, like it has me.

May we cast aside our pride and may the Holy Spirit fill us with a desire to be more like Christ as we continue on in our life’s journey. I am so thankful that we have the Bible to cast light on our path and to show us which direction we should be headed. Let’s try to live out Romans 12 this week and every week. And in so doing, may we shine brightly for Christ in this dark world!

 

His Will, Not Mine

Shortly after three of our four kids left the house (which happened within a little over a year), I found myself fairly troubled. Perhaps I even experienced a case of slight depression. I was not where I wanted to be. And, in fact, what made it worse was that I didn’t even know where I wanted to be. Did I want to go back to being a mom of preschoolers or teen-agers? No, I certainly didn’t want to do that. But I also knew that I didn’t want to be at this place where I had no idea who I was or what I was supposed to be doing. I had left my comfort zone of full-time mommyhood behind me and had no idea what lay ahead. Compounding this were several other dynamics that, all combined, thrust me into a rather dark period of my life.

Many times, during my quiet time, I would complain and simply pity myself (ashamed to say it but true) because my life had gone by so quickly. I wasn’t ready for this new stage. I just wasn’t ready. I had been very content and comfortable in my mother role and I just wasn’t ready for it to be over. Tears would fall as I reflected on the past. The thought that kept repeating itself over and over in my mind was “This isn’t what I want. This isn’t where I want to be.”

Even as I had this thought, I recognized the utter selfishness of it. If I truly believed the Bible, then I knew that my life should never be centered on what I wanted. While in my head, I knew that I exist on this earth to know God and to make Him known, my emotions put up a giant struggle to be heard and obeyed. I knew there was a much bigger picture (and that what I wanted was fairly irrelevant in that picture)–and yet– even as a committed believer in Jesus Christ, I found myself in a tremendous battle with my emotions.

Thus I was thrust into God’s kiln to be tested and tried in a way I had not experienced before.

(Let me just say here that this is one of the things in my life that God has used to teach me submission to His will. I am aware that there are some women who long for the day when their kids leave the house–I just wasn’t one of them. I know this will seem utterly foolish to some of you and you won’t get it at all. God may be using or has already used something totally different in your life. Honestly, I never had any idea that my whole identity and a good chunk of my security was wrapped up in my role as a mom. But I also recognize that not all of you will relate to this. I do hope this post takes the reader beyond the details and focuses more on learning how to respond when something we want is refused or taken away.)

The last five years or so have been some of the most difficult of my life. I thought I knew who I was and then, suddenly, I realized I didn’t know who I was at all. God gave me the opportunity to live out all that I had talked and written about all through the years and I was failing. Miserably. I became slightly obsessed with figuring out who I was supposed to be now that my mother role was just about over. I faced a whole new wave of uncertainty when my baby left for college a few years later. (I still don’t really know exactly where God is taking me, by the way. Every time I think I am supposed to go one way, God shuts the door and pushes me another direction. What I am learning through all of this is that I need to simply submit and yield without fuss. He is teaching me to be content even when things don’t go at all as I had planned. It’s an excruciatingly slow process and I doubt I will ever be able to say that I have arrived in this area of my life.)

There were two especially bright spots during this time and I treasure them both greatly. First was the birth of my grandchildren. Kids just bring sunshine wherever they go. How can you not smile when they are around?

And, second, and much more importantly, was how aware I became of my need for Jesus. Up until this time, if I am being totally honest here, I thought I was a pretty good person. Yes, I needed a Savior but not as much as some people did. I am almost ashamed to write it and I never officially “thought” it, but as I look back, I can see this is what I believed.

But when I came face to face with my self-centeredness and spoiled-brat mentality, I recognized pretty quickly just how utterly sinful my heart is. My appreciation for Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has increased a hundred-fold in the past few years.

I am still on this journey of putting what I want on the back burner while focusing on what God wants. And He keeps giving me opportunities to yield to Him and His will. It’s not been easy but I do feel like I am moving the right direction.

Why am I sharing this now? I don’t really know except that it all came to mind when Eric and I had the opportunity to spend a few uninterrupted hours talking with my brother (Pastor Dean) a few weeks ago. As most of you know, he lost his wife in April after a year and a half battle with cancer. Even as I write this it still seems surreal. My sister-in-law of 20 years is now with the Lord. Still feels like it just can’t be. As we talked, he shared how he had given Grace to the Lord before he even met her. All he owns is God’s, and that included his much beloved wife. His commitment to Christ is truly a beacon of light in the ever-increasing self-focused, dream-following, mainstream church.

One of the things he said that sort of summed up what I have been struggling through is that he doesn’t ask what he wants but always tries to focus on what God wants. Of course, no one can do this perfectly but this should be our goal.

Sometimes our wants line up with God’s. And sometimes they don’t. This can happen in big things like the heart-breaking devastation of losing a wife and mother to cancer. God called Grace home, despite her family’s longing for her to stay here on this earth with them. Other times, it’s an unimportant, mundane thing where our will doesn’t line up with God’s–like a mom dealing with the empty nest. My time as full-time mom had passed far too quickly and was never going to return, despite my deep sadness and the disconcerting uncertainty that accompanied it. God uses both the big things and the little things to test and grow us.

Perhaps you are facing something totally different. A move you don’t want to make. A lost job. A child that has turned away from the faith. Financial burdens. Family strife. Elderly parents with health issues. There is no end to the problems and struggles that we face on a daily basis. And, often, in these situations our wills don’t line up with God. Many times God seems to says no and the burdens seem to last forever. Or He says wait and we find ourselves stalled in a place we just don’t want to be.

Many times our “wants” are centered on relief from hurt and pain. Our “wants” are often focused on experiencing a carefree, easy, comfortable, and happy life that is free of burdens and problems. But there are also many wants that we have for others, like the salvation of a loved one or relief from pain, disease, or addiction for a family member or a friend. These are wants not centered on us but still leave us wondering when they go unanswered.

And, yet, so often it is when God says no or wait that we experience our greatest growth. These are also the times that we get to shine with real biblical faith before the dark world and the false church. It is easy to smile when things are going well. Having hope, peace, and joy in the hard times–well, that’s when we really stand out as believers. It is actually when we don’t get what we want that we have the potential to be the most effective for Christ!

In this false religion that goes by the name of Christianity, we find people obsessed with self and purpose and following dreams. It is so easy to fall prey to this same mindset if we aren’t extremely careful.

There is a little verse in John 3:30 that flies directly against self-centered Christianity–

He must increase, but I must decrease.

Read that again.

He must increase but I must decrease.

What I want doesn’t really matter in the scope of life. The critical question in regards to our lives is “What does God want”?

Luke 9:23 clarifies this thought even more–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

If we desire to come after Christ, we must deny ourselves. We must pick up our cross and follow Him. Does this sound like a self-centered faith to you?

One of the most effective tests to find out just how yielded we are is when God’s will doesn’t match ours.

Do we put up a fuss and complain (even if it just to God or to ourselves)? Do we desperately try to fix situations ourselves? Do we grow depressed or anxious? These are all signs that we are putting our own wants and desires ahead of God. They are showing us that we don’t really trust God and His sovereignty in all areas of life.

It is a hard lesson to learn. To say the least.

I remember talking with my sister-in-law a few months before her death. She told me that she was at peace. That she had fought her battle with God’s sovereignty ten years earlier when she had been diagnosed with cancer for the first time.

Oh, dear readers, until we can bow before God in all things, we will not experience His peace.

His will, not mine.

When we fully accept God’s will for our lives and trust that He knows best, we will find the peace and joy that is promised in the scriptures. No matter what disappointment and hurt and pains swirls around us. He will never leave us or forsake us. We will never, ever be alone.

Not getting what we want is not an indication that He doesn’t care. Instead, it’s a reminder of our sinful, demanding nature–like an ant shaking its fist at a human being is a little how we must look to the God of the universe when we demand and manipulate and sulk to get our own way.

His will, not mine.

May that be what carries us on through the difficult days and the unanswered prayers.

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 4)

If you are a regular reader, then you will know that this is the fourth installment of a series I am currently writing on worldliness. You will find the rest of the series at this page.

Thinking through this subject of worldliness is not a very popular thing to do. Those who call themselves Christians, as a general rule, are very comfortable in looking exactly like their worldly counterparts. In so doing, they blend in instead of looking different, they aren’t mocked and persecuted, and they get to do all of the fun things the world gets to do and still have fire insurance against hell. Who wouldn’t want that kind of Christianity? Oh, these folks might give a little more money away and display a bit more kindness, but when it comes to how most who call themselves Christians dress, entertain themselves, where they go, how they spend their money, how they react and respond–well, most tend to be little clones of the rest of the world and nary give it a thought.

Even for Christians who do desire to keep worldliness on our “radar”, it so easily and subtly slips in that we can get caught up in a worldly attitude or action before we even realize it. It is for those who truly desire to decrease worldliness in their lives that I write this series. Most out there who take on the name of Christian would never bother to read a series like this and this is why this blog will never be on any “top ten” list. Which is totally fine with me because I don’t aim to please man with what I write, anyway. Fame is definitely not my end game and it is God who I want to please. The “Christian” culture of today (I use quotes because it is not Christianity but some false religion going by that name) requires no sacrifice, no self-denial, no persecution. Of course, no true Christian could write to please this current culture without serious compromise. This is probably worth a post of its own but I’d better move on to the topic at hand before I digress too far off-course! I do hope that this series is a blessing to those who truly desire to live for Christ, even in this area of worldliness. Today’s topic especially hit home for me. This is topic #7 in the series–

7. RESPONDING TO CRITICISM. Ooohhh, this is a convicting topic. The world has seeped into this area of Christians’ lives so easily and so thoroughly. Most of us are probably completely unaware. I know this because of my own struggle to respond like Christ and also because of the way I hear Christians talking about others who have had the audacity to criticize them.

The World: If someone dares criticize you, the world tells you to defend yourself. And to get angry and perhaps even hold a grudge. The world encourages antagonism, avoidance, hatred,  rejection, and scorn towards anyone who dares to speak any word that you might perceive as criticism against you. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if it’s not true criticism but are words born out of love and concern–if the person hearing the words even feels criticized, the world tells us that the person speaking those words is the enemy!

What the Bible Says: We are given a completely different response to criticism in the pages of scripture–

We are to forgive.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15

There is no exception clause to this and so we can assume that this also means we must forgive someone who speaks words we don’t want to hear. But it goes even a step further–

We are to examine and test ourselves.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. 2 Corinthians 13:5

If we truly desire to grow in Christ, then we must be willing to hear what others have to say and give it some consideration. Does what the person say have merit? Is this an area in which I need to change? If it is then we should do something about it. And if we carefully evaluate it and we believe all is well, then we can–and must–let it roll out of our minds without a trace of bitterness.

I fear I must mention this here: Most of us have people in our lives who criticize us constantly. Nothing we do is right. A lot of times the criticism is about things that have no moral component or biblical issue. This can be very difficult. Many of you have critical parents or in-laws, adult kids, friends, co-workers, bosses. How do we deal with this as believers? I can tell you two things I have learned–First, consider their words and then let it roll. If it is something that won’t help your relationship or to do your job better, or it isn’t a biblical issue, then just let it roll. Second, remember how this continually critical person makes you feel and be sure you don’t do the same thing!

We are to be kind and long-suffering in all circumstances.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; I Corinthians 13:4

Even if we feel deeply hurt and offended by words spoken to us, it does not give us the right to lash out in anger. Again, there is no exception clause given in I Corinthians 13. As Christians, we are to be long-suffering and kind–no matter what the circumstances.

Pride is the reason we so easily fail in this area of responding to criticism. So few of us have the humility it takes to respond immediately to any kind of criticism in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. This week, my pastor said something that really brings this down to the nitty-gritty. When someone criticizes you, what is your immediate response?

Self-Defense or Self-Assessment?

Ouch.

I know how often I lash out in self-defense. How dare they think that about me? How could they make this assumption or that accusation? Pride rears its ugly head and off we go, almost before we realize what we are doing.

For most of us Christians, we do a turnabout face fairly quickly as we recognize the sinfulness of this response. But it is SO hard to get that first response right. Can I get an Amen?

This is especially true when the criticism or accusation is false. When someone outright lies about you or accuses you of something you did not do, our self-righteousness rears its ugly head and we feel quite justified in speaking our defense. Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with speaking the truth in response. I am referring here to the attitude with which we tend to do so. We may be angry at the person or allow it to determine our mood. We may have feelings of hatred or even revenge. We may struggle to forgive that person. We may hold a grudge or feel bitter towards them. What does the Bible say about this?

Well, pretty much the same thing we’ve already covered–

Forgive, examine yourself, and be kind and long-suffering.

And then there are three more things that would be particularly applicable in the case of unfounded criticism–

Turn the Other Cheek.

But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. Matthew 5:39

Let the Lord Deal With It.

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19

Love Your Enemies.

But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, Luke 6:27

We are to turn the other cheek, let the Lord take care of any repayment, and love our enemies. We are not to get into a shouting match or any type of battle with someone who treats us unfairly or unkindly. We are to turn the other cheek. We are to avoid fighting. We are to leave revenge with our King and never take it into our own hands. God knows every detail of what has transpired and we can trust Him to deal with it in His time and in His way. We are to love. Our duty is to forgive and to love. Can you imagine? Only a true believer can love their enemy for it is truly impossible to do this without Christ. In our obedient choice to love our enemies, we will set ourselves drastically apart from how the rest of the world responds.

So let’s go into the world today and respond to criticism–whether it’s constructive or unfounded– in a way that is befitting those who represent Christ!

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the Bible Says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Problems will rarely be solved instantly–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Sad, Sad Ending

Every year I like to offer a Bible Reading Challenge. More than anything else, my goal as a blogger is to draw my readers to the Word of God so that they are reading and studying it for themselves. It’s amazing how that clears up so many of the questions and issues that plague the church today.

During the G4L 2015 Bible Reading Challenge I spent about once a week writing about what we were reading during our chronological read-through of the Bible. So as we set about on the same challenge this year, I didn’t feel the need to do that again.

However…

Today, I read I Kings, chapter 11 and I felt compelled to write. I am pretty sure this chapter is one of the saddest chapters in the Bible. Solomon–the author of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes–the king known for his great wisdom–the architect of the temple–the man who had untold stores of riches and wealth–the man who asked God for wisdom–yeah, that guy…

Well, what a disappointment.

On Monday, I started a series about worldliness. And, while this is not Part 2 of that series, I believe it fits in very well with the topic of worldliness.

You see, in I Kings 11, we read of Solomon’s very sad and worldly ending. He turned from the Lord and the Lord removed His blessing and declared that Solomon’s Kingdom–all but one tribe–would be torn from his family’s hands. This is when Israel’s split kingdoms begin. All because the wisest man on earth imbibed the world.

It seems he was mostly tempted by women. It says in verse 1–

But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites—

And these women that were brought into his harem were the cause of his downfall–

For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not [a]loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David.

If I Kings 11 is one of the saddest chapters in the Bible, perhaps this is the saddest verse.

This can teach us some very valuable lessons, as we strive to be conformed to Christ and not to this world.

First, we can never, ever let our guard down.

This is something we can tend to do.  When we are younger, we are easily distracted and before we know it, sin has crept in and taken up residence in our hearts. When we are older, we can get lazy. We are tired of the battle and we just decide to take off a piece of spiritual armor or two for “just a bit” and that’s when our enemy attacks. He is always, always looking for that chink in the armor.

As Paul contemplates his own departure from this earth, he writes to Timothy:  

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

Paul continued to fight and to run. He didn’t let himself get distracted or caught up in the things of this world. Oh, he wasn’t perfect but, while he lived in and among the world, he kept his focus on the Lord. And, even as he grew older, he stayed strong–so much so that he could say these words above.

Oh, that we may be like Paul and not like Solomon as we approach the end of our days!

Second, we must know our weaknesses and temptations and turn from them.

We all know our weaknesses. We just do. We know the sin that so easily ensnares us. But God has made us a very important promise in I Corinthians 10:13–

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Solomon could have escaped such a sad end to his life. But Solomon loved his wives more than he loved His God. What a tragic legacy.

When we love God more than our sin, He is faithful and will make a way for us to escape the temptation. But when we embrace our sin and rebel against God, we are left to the consequences and the tragedy of that sin.

Which kind of person are we? Do we choose to hate our sin or to love our sin? These are important questions.

May we live out the encouragement we are given in Hebrew 12:1–

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

May we yield all to God and turn from our sin without exception. And, in doing so, may we avoid the dismal ending that Solomon experienced–simply because he wouldn’t give up his sin.

Third, It’s never too late to change direction.

Okay, so, sadly, there is no indication of Solomon’s repentance and turn from sin. But we must remember that as long as we have breath, we have a choice. We have a choice to turn from that sin that so easily besets us or we have a choice to embrace it. No matter what sin–anxiety and fear, gluttony, sexual sin, wicked entertainment, anger (just to name a few)–we have a choice.

This is good news! It means it is never to late to change our direction! God is faithful and He will help us. His Holy Spirit will guide and direct us as we seek to go a different direction.

Fourth, our sins, past and present, do not have to define our lives.

When Solomon’s life comes to mind, most of us do not think about how it ended. Instead, we think of his wisdom, his role as author of two books of the Bible or builder of the Temple, or perhaps his great wealth. He is not defined or remembered by his great and tragic disloyalty to God.

So we, too, do not need to be defined by our sins. God’s marvelous grace is boundless and free for His children. If we are caught up in the prison of our past it is because we have chosen to walk into the cell and lock it behind us.

We do not need to be defined by past sins and, in fact, Paul starts off with this wonderful verse in Galatians 5–

Stand[a] fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

So we must move on. If we have repented and confessed, we have been forgiven and are free to move on.

_____________________________

God used Solomon to teach us so much in the scriptures. As I have been reading Proverbs and Ecclesiastes so much of the wisdom there is so helpful and profound. But we can learn from his tragic ending, as well.

May our children and grandchildren never sit around bemoaning the terrible ending that we had. May there be no disloyalty to God and no compromise with sin. May God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit guard us through to the end.

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we edifying someone by using foul language? No.

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

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

And one more–

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

This is Not the End

The past week and a half have passed by in a fog and much sorrow. My dear sister-in-law, Grace, succumbed to the cancer that had cast a shadow of death over her life for the past year and a half. She was the wife of my brother, who many of you know as Pastor Dean, and the mother of their daughter, Katherine.

Grace was a wonderful woman. She lived well and she died well. Our world will never be the same.

So many thoughts have been rolling around in my head throughout this entire time. I wanted to share here some of the important things I have learned through the death of someone I loved very much. Some of these will be things you have learned, too, as you have had to live through a similar situation. And other things will be unique to Grace. She was a very special person and I am so honored to have known her.

First, it is important to die well. We talk so much about living well, but Grace showed me how important it is to die well. The peace and contentment she had in life, she continued to experience as she faced death. Last weekend, we had the opportunity to visit her in the hospital to say our final good-bye on this earth. The peace she radiated as she faced her final days was supernatural. The peace Dean and Katherine exhibited was also supernatural. Grace’s body was failing and the hope for any kind of miracle was pretty much over. And, yet, they were still at peace. It was one of the most inspiring things I have ever witnessed. God, just has He promises, gave grace and peace in an unimaginable trial. They weren’t demanding that God give them their desires or their way through this whole process. They trusted that God knows best and they had yielded their lives to Him. How were they able to do this? Keep reading…

Second, tell people what you appreciate about them now. Don’t wait until they die. We stood beside my brother as hundreds of people came to offer their condolences. I was blessed as I listened to the many kind and encouraging words people had to say about Grace. And I wondered if Grace ever realized what a difference she had made in the lives of so many? For some reason, we have such a hard time saying the good things to people. Or even about people. But perhaps we should say them now to those we love and appreciate. A quick text, a phone call, an email, or a handwritten note are quick and painless ways to let someone know that we appreciate them now–while they are alive. I do wish I would have told Grace what I appreciated about her. What we appreciate about each other is so rarely the the topic of conversation. But it really should be so much more often.

Third, the world will continue on. As we walked out of the service celebrating her life, I saw groups of people chatting and even laughing. I didn’t fault them for I’ve done the same thing. Many of their lives will continue on as normal despite the passing of Grace. And I was so struck by the fact that life goes on. We tend to get a little wrapped up in ourselves and think that a family or a business or a sports team or a school (or whatever) can’t survive without us. And, yet, life continues on. After we die, life must go on. It was a humbling and thought-provoking realization. While we will miss Grace terribly and life will never, ever be the same again for those of us who knew her, life does–and has to–continue on. It feels so very wrong to go on without her and yet this is life.

Fourth, consider regret. In February, we realized that Grace would probably not live through the year. We made plans as a family to spend a weekend with them in June. But some of us weren’t sure we should wait that long. Cancer can go south very quickly. As we talked about taking a spontaneous trip the following weekend, I came to a realization: We would not regret going if she was still alive in June. We’d just have an extra weekend with her and that would be a good thing. But we might greatly regret not going. OH, how very thankful I am that we realized this and made that trip in February. It was a wonderful, wonderful weekend as a family. All of us were able to go except for a few. There is something about the shadow of death hanging over a Christian family that makes the fellowship so much richer and sweeter. That time spent together was incredibly precious.

Regret is a terrible thing. And, in some ways, perhaps we should try to live life in light of this. In both our words and our actions, may we leave little room for regret should death take someone. May we be gracious and unselfish with all people we come in contact with. May we make decisions based on eternity rather than on what is expedient. May we choose the right thing instead of the easy thing. May we do all of this so that we are able to live free of regret.

But, I don’t want to just end this section there. Sometimes we do or don’t do things we regret. We mourn deeply. And yet we must remember that the Lord forgives. May we learn from these things so that the experience is not without growth.  May good changes sprout out of the regret we have experienced so that it is not in vain.

Fifth, express love more often. So often–with family especially–we are a little lax on expressing our love for each other. We are fairly kind and courteous in public and to those that don’t know us that well, but when we get home we leave our shoes and our manners at the door. And yet there is no guarantee that any of us has another day. If you knew this was the last day you would have with your spouse or your child or your elderly parent or that family member that rubs you the wrong way, what would you change? Let’s change it now. Today.

Sixth, don’t get so worked up. Oh, how stressed we get over the littlest things. As Grace lay in the hospital dying it was hard to care about anything else. It was hard to think about anything else. And yet our business had to go on. I had to continue spending hours and hours at a computer learning a new software program. But it did change my perspective. The frustrations and irritations just didn’t seem as big of a deal. In fact, during this time, we also had a terrible stomach flu going through our family. Normally, this would upset me terribly, but in light of what was going on, it melted into unimportance. I wish I could keep this perspective always. I want to. I want to remember what is important and what isn’t. But, oh, how hard this is!

Seventh, fill yourself with God’s Word and eradicate worldliness if you want to experience God’s peace. This may be the most important thing I have learned. Dean, Grace, and Katherine experienced a peace I have never seen before when someone faces death. As I pondered this, I realized two things: First, I do not know of a family that loves the Word of God more than they do. They know it, they study it, and they live it. Second, they have eradicated most of the world from their lives. They do not watch tv. They do not listen to the world’s music. They hold onto the things of this world with an open hand and acknowledge that all they have and are is God’s. They are simply unconcerned with things of this world. Oh, that doesn’t mean they don’t know what’s going on. And that doesn’t mean they do this perfectly. But I recognize in them a real difference compared to myself and most anyone else I know. Worldliness has very little influence in their lives. And I could see that this made a huge difference in enabling Grace to die well. She wasn’t hanging on to the things of this world because she had Jesus and the real hope of a future with Him. The third verse of the hymn “Give Me Jesus” reminds me of what I saw as I watched them:

Take the world, but give me Jesus,
Let me view His constant smile;
Then throughout my pilgrim journey
Light will cheer me all the while.

Eighth, make a difference for the cause of Christ. As I heard hundreds of testimonies of people whose lives grew deeper roots of faith through the Word, who were drawn to Christ, and who were encouraged in Christ through Grace’s life, I couldn’t help but wonder: Will I have such an amazing legacy? Her legacy was incredible. She made a real difference for Jesus Christ. I believe she will continue to do so through her death. As believers, this should be our goal.

What are we doing to draw people to Christ? What are we doing to help people grow deeper roots of faith based on the Word of God? How are we encouraging people in a meaningful way based on the Word and not on some humanistic, psychological, self-help way? These are important questions to consider as we ponder our own legacies.

Ninth, memorize hymns. Last Sunday we spent a half hour or more singing hymns in Grace’s hospital room. Dean and Katherine, my parents, and two of her siblings were with us. It was a blessed, blessed time. Every now and again Grace’s voice, now so weak and faltering, would be heard strong and clear as she sang a phrase or two. And then she would sit and listen again.  It was during this time, that I recognized anew how precious the hymns of the faith are. Most of the modern day worship songs would have been useless and annoying at a time like that. Most of our churches feed on second-rate hamburger when they could be eating steak. I sorrow greatly over this change in modern-day churches and am so very thankful for our music pastor at our church who continues to lead our congregation in the hymns of the faith. This experience has led me to desire to listen to them at home much more often and to memorize them, as well. For some day I, too, may be in a hospital room unable to do anything but think.

Tenth, notice the little things. Grace was a tremendous encourager. She would notice if someone was struggling and would reach out. Even in February, she kept asking me about my knee (it’s been giving me a lot of problems). She had an unusual compassion for others. Pastor Dean told the story of the one day she came home from a chemo treatment and wanted to go shovel a neighbor lady’s driveway. This is who she was. I don’t really think I will ever be like that, but I do want to be someone who isn’t so wrapped up in myself that I am not seeing the needs around me. I want to be someone who doesn’t miss the opportunities God gives me to encourage and build up others.

Eleventh, check your priorities. Oh, how caught up we get in the temporal things of this life. They distract us. They keep us from spending time with the Lord in the Word and in prayer. They keep us from thinking about important things. They keep us from sharing the Gospel. And, maybe most sadly, they keep us from focusing on what is really important as we raise our own children or as we support those around us raising their children–the next generation. Oh, how tragic this is. How critical that we remember what is really important in light of the Bible and in light of eternity.

Twelfth, this is not the end! I was so struck by the difference in the tears of those who knew the Lord compared to the hopeless sobbing of those who didn’t. It was a striking difference. It brought I Thessalonians 4:13 to mind–

 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.

I saw this so clearly.

As believers, we know we will see Grace again. God told us so in His Word and we know that it is true. We have a real hope that this world does not have. Oh, the lost may comfort themselves with meaningless phrases of a “better place” but they are basing it on nothing. They are empty words from which to derive worthless comfort. But we know–we know— that we will see our fellow believers again! What a blessed hope and promise! And so we sorrow but we do not sorrow without hope!

And so life will continue on without Grace. It still feels surreal and it is hard to imagine life without her. But may her life and her death encourage us to be more like Jesus. May it remind us to focus on what really matters. May her legacy drive us to scripture and away from the world. May it build us up in the faith and confirm all that we know to be true from the Word. And may it remind us of just how short time really is here on earth.

 

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