Parenting

The Reward of Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Moms and Dads, Please Protect Your Daughters

Once again, there it was on Instagram for the whole world to see. A scantily clad young lady in a provocative pose. I knew that girl once, back when she was a little girl. I see so many kind and loving Christian girls that have never been taught the harm they are doing to both themselves and to the young men around them. Not only through dressing so immodestly but also by broadcasting it to the whole world via social media.

You see, as a woman when you dress immodestly and then pose in a seductive way, you receive attention. Men look at you appreciatively and often give much desired attention. And women will comment about how beautiful you are. These things naturally make you feel good.

But is this how a Christian woman should dress?

Let’s think about what scripture teaches us about the Christian life, as a whole, for a moment. We know that we are to deny self (Luke 9:23). We know that our priority becomes glorifying God. He must increase and I must decrease (John 3:30).

If this is true (and we know that it is), then anything that draws attention to ourselves in an unhealthy, sexual way is a very bad idea. This would be the complete antithesis of godliness.

But let’s take it a step further. Men are designed in such a way that immodest dress excites them sexually. Most men are aroused by seeing a woman’s body. The more of that body they see, the more tempting it is for them to think thoughts that the Bible teaches them are wrong to think about any woman other than their wives.

As women, do we want to tempt men in such an unloving way? And yet, over and over, I see this happening by young women who call themselves “Christian” and come from “good Christian homes”.

I confess that I am completely and absolutely befuddled by this.

You may notice that the title of this post addresses parents. That is because I believe it is the parents who have dropped the ball in this area for our daughters.

They can’t know how men think unless you–dad– tell them.

They can’t understand that modest dress not only keeps them from becoming a sexual object to a world obsessed with sex, but also helps them to protect the men around them–particularly the godly ones who are trying so hard to do what is right–unless you tell them.

They can’t buy bikinis or revealing shirts or super tight pants that leave nothing to the imagination unless you buy these things for them (or allow them to buy it).

YOU are accountable to God for how your daughter dresses.

Why are we not, as parents, discussing these things with our daughters? Why are we letting them walk around and post photos that draw the wrong kind of attention? Why are we not teaching them to be modest?

Many of these girls are wonderful, thoughtful, kind girls. I can only surmise either one of two things–

They truly are naive because these things just aren’t talked about in the home

OR

Mom and Dad may have tried to set down some rules and have some hard conversations during the preteen years but then didn’t have the courage to keep at it. Worn down like a rock in the river, they caved to the constant begging of the daughter to dress like her friends. (And I get this. I truly do. It was a very real and regular battle in our home and it was exhausting.)

But whichever it is, it is a real tragedy. A hundred years ago you wouldn’t have even seen prostitutes dressed as scantily in public as many Christian girls these days.

This has been on my heart for a very long time. This seems to be one of those acceptable sins that no one wants to talk about. To even mention this is to be viewed as judgmental and harsh and ridiculous. I do realize this. In fact, most Christians don’t even want to call immodesty a sin.

But let’s remember: Anything that is done out of a desire to glorify self rather than God is a sin. Any action that causes a Christian brother to stumble is sin. It is time we call it what it is.

If you are a personal friend of mine and you have a daughter who dresses this way, please know that I am not judging you. I am only begging you– please, oh please–begin today to protect your daughters. Have the hard conversations with them. Point them to the Word and teach them what it says about how a godly woman should dress. And then set a good example yourself.

This is an extremely touchy and difficult subject. Modern fashions often are revealing. Sometimes this means not being as in style as we’d like to be. Wearing swim shorts and a modest swim top will make you feel odd among a beach full of bikini-clad young women. I get it.

But I can also tell you that it is possible. We had three daughters–each one very different in personality. And we had some real battles in this area of modesty. But they now range in age from 22 to 30 and each one of them is committed to modesty. Did we have some really difficult times? YES! Did we mess up sometimes in what we allowed? YES! Did we cave to peer pressure on occasion? We sure did!

But we never gave up in this quest to teach them to dress in a way that honored the Lord. And God was so faithful to us, through all of our flubs and mistakes and mess-ups. We kept at it, learning from our mistakes and continuing to make an effort to honor the Lord in this area of dress. And these three girls will tell you now that they are glad. Just as I would tell my parents the same thing. My husband and I have been blessed to have good examples in this area of parenting and we can take no credit for doing anything special. Many of you are breaking the chains of habits of many generations before you when it comes to these things. I so admire you for trying to make changes in your family that honor the Lord. This is not easy. But it is possible.

None of us are going to be perfect in this area of modesty, of course. (Won’t that be a wonderful day? When we are sinless and never have to worry about these things again?) The important thing is that we realize that modesty matters to the Lord.

I want to encourage you parents to be courageous and to lovingly talk about these things with your daughters. I want to encourage you moms to dress in such a way that doesn’t draw sexual attention to yourselves. It is so very important that we protect ourselves and our daughters from this sex-obsessed world instead of joining it.

For it is the Lord (and not our peer group or our friends or our children) whom we desire to please most of all. And this changes everything.

 

PLEASE NOTE: A reader of this post has accused me of laying the blame for sexual sin on the shoulders of the girls with this post by not addressing the boys, as well. To be honest, I am not sure how one could come away with that, as I certainly didn’t say it. But I wanted to take a moment to respond to this accusation.

I know of no Christian who would encourage their boys to sexually lust after girls. This is pretty universally viewed as a sin within the church and, therefore, Christians tend to teach their boys the importance of a pure mind. On the other hand, there are many Christians who disdain the idea of modesty and, in fact, think it is old-fashioned and unnecessary. And that is specifically why I chose to write about it.

 

How Do We Keep from Losing Our Kids?

I’ll never forget that moment I realized he was gone. Mom thought he was with Dad. Dad thought he was with Mom. And then there was that awful moment when we realized that no one knew where their two-year-old was.

In a panic, most of us started running towards the beach where we had last seen him. Our grandson isn’t a wanderer so we knew he hadn’t gone off on purpose and that definitely helped calm us a bit.

When we got to the edge of the beach, we looked all around and finally spotted him a ways down to the left, standing in a tidal pool. My youngest daughter took after him (I didn’t even know she could run that fast!) and heard him calling for his daddy as she approached. She picked him up, hugged him, and then brought him back to his worried parents. We all breathed big sighs of relief and thanked the Lord. I contemplated the rest of that evening and often over the next few days just how tragic that could have ended and thanked the Lord again and again.

We realized later that his mommy had told him to follow his daddy without his daddy realizing it. And, instead of following him, he had just continued on down the beach finally stopping when he reached the tide pool. I also found out later that there was a couple who was keeping an eye on him from a distance, just as many of us would have done in that situation. Somehow that was very comforting. There are still a lot of good and decent people around.

My dad mentioned to me the other day that there is a spiritual parallel to this story. As I thought about that, I realized that is definitely true. The only difference is that most spiritually lost kids are never searched for. They are left to struggle in the tide pool all alone or even drown in the ocean that is the world. Many times, no one even knows they are missing until it’s far too late.

One of my greatest sorrows in this life has been watching adorable little children grow up into worldly adults who have no care for God. I’ve seen them in the church nursery, in homeschool co-ops, and in Christian schools. I’ve watched them turn away from the beliefs of their parents completely or pretend to follow by going to church and putting on a show of godliness–all while living a worldly, ungodly life when they think no one is watching.

So what happens to these kids? Why do they choose to follow the world instead of God?

I’d like to suggest that it happens one step at a time. And that, as parents, we can never, ever stop looking out for their spiritual well-being. Unlike our grandson who was simply confused, our kids have a spiritual enemy that is actively seeking to lure them away from their Christian family–and from God.

As we reflect on this, there are some important considerations to think on as we raise our children (or support and encourage those who do)–

1. Set the spiritual health of your children as your ultimate priority. As I reflect on those who have lost their children to the world, I almost always see one thing in common–something took first place in their family that wasn’t God. Whether it was sports, academics, the arts, or a number of other things, it became the primary priority in the family. Sometimes it was just a passion for the child to be popular in school. As loving and serving God fell down on the list of priorities, so did the chances that the child would follow hard after God. After all, why would they believe it is important, if they were never taught or shown that it is important?

I am absolutely amazed at the grace of God on a family that makes this priority in the face of ridicule and unpopularity. God often will draw these kids to Himself in spite of their parents many sinful habits and abundant mistakes. He is so so faithful to those who desire nothing more than that their children walk with God.

I recognize this especially because we have been receivers of this abundant grace. With all four of our kids walking with the Lord, we fully recognize that we are utterly and completely undeserving of this. We were not awesome parents and there are a thousand (or more!) things we’d change if we could go back and parent all over again. And, yet, God has been so gracious and kind to us.

Keep the right priority and then watch God work in spite of your sin and mistakes. It’s a pretty amazing thing to watch!

2. Recognize that we, the parents, are responsible for our child’s spiritual well-being. If there is a second thing I’ve seen in families that lose their kids it is that there is little communication regarding the stuff of life that really matters. Instead of taking responsibility to teach children about God and discussing many of the hard things of life in light of the scriptures (which truly are a treasure that hold life’s answers), churches and Christians schools are often given that role.

But it’s not the church’s job nor the Christian school’s to guard our child’s spiritual health. This is our job, as parents.

If you’ve never had this modeled in the home where you grew up, then this may be a really hard switch to make. Most families aren’t comfortable when you get into the realm of “hard”. This is why boys find out about sex in the locker rooms and girls learn about it in trashy novels. It is why “Christian” kids fall away from their faith at a rate that is beyond alarming. It is why they have no answers for the Creation debate or any other hot topic that is taking the world by storm. They have no answers because they’ve been given no answers.

Instead they are being entertained and coddled.

Oh, this is such a tragedy. Our job as parents is not to entertain and coddle. Our job is NOT to make sure they never are troubled or ridiculed. We aren’t given the responsibility to make sure they never feel pain or frustration.

Our job is to teach them, from scripture, how to respond to these things. Our job is to nurture and train them in the things of the Lord. Our job is to talk about the hard stuff of life, always using the Bible as our guide. Using the Bible as our guide helps us parents, too, as we seek to understand what is and what is not important as we raise our children.

I like to tell the story of how I got into an argument with one of my girls over something that just really bothered me. I told her no and I was sticking to it. Finally, my husband looked at me and asked me if it really mattered? Was this something that was in scripture or was I standing firm on a preference? It hit me like a lightning bolt, for I surely was standing firm on something that I did not need to stand firm on. I relented and learned a hard lesson that day.

When we run everything through the grid of scripture, we can figure out what is and what is not important and it gives us the answers our kids need as they face the unfriendly, ridiculing world.  Of course, this can only be done by actually knowing and studying the Word first. And this takes work. But there is no more satisfying work in the world.

I might add here: Don’t be afraid of the hard questions. It’s okay to say you don’t know and then go hunt for the answer together!

3. Provide a secure, warm, loving home. As I have given some thought to this in my own life, I wondered why my brother and I were really never even tempted to stray? I remembered an incident in 7th grade during shop class. One of my friends had told me that she “guaranteed” that I would smoke a cigarette by the time I graduated high school. I laughed and firmly told her that would never happen, even more determined that it never would after our conversation. But, to be quite honest, it was never even a temptation. Why not? Why were drugs, drinking, and smoking never a temptation for me? Why was I willing to take the ridicule and derision of my classmates on many occasions? And even, often, of my public school teachers?

I think there is one reason– and it wasn’t that I was some spiritual paragon because I wasn’t! I believe it was because I felt so wonderfully safe and secure in the love of my parents at home. This gives a child strength to face hard things. No matter what happened at school, I knew my parents loved me (even if I messed up) and that they had my back (when I stood for the truth and ended up having consequences because of it).

When a child feels like they are on a family team that is seeking to do what’s right and will stick together no matter what, it takes much of the sting out of not being the most popular kid at school. I know this because I’ve lived this.

4. Stop worrying about popularity and if your child is going to hate you. How well I remember the time our daughter came downstairs in a short skirt. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Her dad took one look at it and told her to go and change. Our daughter was FURIOUS. She stomped back up the stairs, shouting at her father. My husband went to the bottom of the stairs and shouted back: “You are not going to wear me out! I love you and you are not going to wear me out!”

I will forever be grateful for my husband’s commitment to raising godly children and for his response in that moment. We thought for sure we were going to lose that daughter to the world and he wanted her to know that he was never giving up on her. Oh, that more kids would have dads like this.

We have got to stop worrying about if our kids will like us. We have got to put popularity at the bottom of the list or even move it off the list altogether. These things don’t matter in the long run. Remember–we have one goal and one goal only. If we are believers, we want our children to grow up to love and serve God. We must make all of our decisions–what our daughter is allowed to wear, what our kids are allowed to watch, where they go, who they hang out with–in light of this goal.

We should–no, we must–help our kids shrink their love for the world. We must help them see the dangers of the world rather than feed the world to them.

Sure, your teens will feel hatred towards you sometimes but they will forget. And, actually, will most likely thank you someday for your courage and willingness to do the hard thing.

A few years ago, I went over a few journals I had written as a teenager. I was so surprised to read of extreme anger that I had felt towards my father. I didn’t remember this at all. What I did remember was my parents willingness to guide and mold me in spite of the pressure to give in to the world. I remembered their willingness to say NO, our many discussions about hard questions, and their commitment to God. And I feel nothing but immense gratitude.

We have got to stop thinking about now and start thinking about the future.

5. It’s never too late. What if your child is now the teenager or young adult struggling in that “tidal pool”. Is it too late?

It is never too late! I remember a friend who struggled so as she watched her twenty-something son make bad choice after bad choice. But she stood firm and kept praying and eventually God brought that son to Himself.

No matter how old they are, keep pointing your kids to God’s Word in every conversation where you are given an opportunity and then pray, pray, pray. Never give up! God loves your kids more than you do.

_______________________________________________

There is much wrong in the parenting of today and I shudder when I think about the ramifications. Many children are never told the word “no”. Parents passionately want to make sure their kids never feel pain or experience frustration. Smartphones are used as babysitters and if they aren’t being used as babysitters, mom and dad sit there scrolling through apps, while their kids play alone. Discipline is avoided or never used at all. Oh, the outlook for the family is not good. The future is indeed grim when we consider the fruit of today’s parenting style: Self-centered, godless kids who care for nothing but their own gain.

But we have an opportunity to make a difference–even if it is in our own family. And this difference will ripple out through the span of time, as your children touch the lives of others and then their children and grandchildren do the same and on down through the generations.

We know that only God can draw a heart towards Him. We cannot control this through a list of do’s and don’ts. But there are things we can do to create a thirst for God that supersedes their thirst for this world. Losing our kids is not inevitable! God has give us instructions and encouragement in His Word, He provides so much grace, and He is incredibly faithful.  

So be strong and courageous. Raising kids is not easy! But there is no sweeter fruit than knowing that your kids are following the Lord. It is worth every hard moment and every bit of ridicule. God will walk with you each step of the way!

 

Special note to grandparents: As grandparents, we have a special role. We are no longer responsible for the spiritual health of our grandkids but we can be a blessing to our kids by embracing our support role. I cannot even begin to tell you the tremendous blessing that our children’s grandparents have been to my husband and myself. Both his parents and mine took their roles seriously and spent hours and hours playing and talking with our kids. They provided a safe place for our kids to have fun and just be kids. They are godly people and so we were assured they would be pointing them in the right direction as conversations took place. They continue to do this with their great-grandchildren, blessing their grandchildren who are now parents themselves. I hope to be just like them.

We grandparents have been given an opportunity to bless and to be blessed. This is much more important and way more satisfying than passionately doing our hobbies or fulfilling our own dreams. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with these things, may we not do them to the neglect of the most special opportunity we’ve been given.

 

Twelve Things I’d Change if I Could Live my Life Over

Oftentimes, we evaluate our lives as we approach the end of the year. We examine our life in regards to health, career, education. We consider our bank accounts and we reflect on our relationships. We ask: What could we do better next year?

The most important questions we can ever ask ourselves as we evaluate our past year are: Do I look more like Christ? and Did I learn any spiritual lessons? After all, these are the only things of lasting and eternal value.

Education, good jobs, making money, and beautiful homes are nice, but they aren’t the heart of a Christian’s life. Popularity, fame, and 100,000 Instagram or Facebook followers may be very gratifying but it’s not what really matters in life.

So now is a good time to ask: What are my top priorities for the new year?

As you consider this, I compiled a list of a few things that I’d love to go back and change if I could live my life over. Some are major and some are not-so-major. Other than the first two (which I consider, by far, the most important), they are not in any particular order. As I evaluate my life, these are the things I’d love to do differently. This list is not exhaustive and I know that there are some that are just not coming to mind right now.

If we have a priority to walk with God and to teach our families to walk with God in the upcoming year, then I hope this list encourages you and gives you some practical ideas of how to get started–

1. Be more faithful in reading and studying Bible; memorize passages. God’s Word is transforming. We need the Bible in order to know and love God. It is our guidebook, showing us how to live. It is our mirror, convicting us of sin. And yet, I hindered my walk for years by being satisfied with shallow devotionals instead of actually reading the Bible. And yes! Memorize! I just started this last year and I can’t even begin to tell you the difference this has made in my walk with the Lord. Oh, why didn’t I do this earlier….??

2. Be much more diligent to have my kids learn and study and memorize God’s Word. God’s Word was always the authority in our home, but, oh, how I wish I would have been so much more faithful in having my kids in the Word and memorizing it in a much more systematic way. This is the only thing that will carry them through the trials that come to us all and the only way they can stand under the persecution they can expect to receive as Christians.

3. Put my distractions aside and play more with my kids. The laundry, the dishes, the household work, the phone call, the tv show–they could have waited. Not that I never played with them. But, looking back now, I realize now just how fast the time goes and I wish I would have spent even more time with them.

I am so very glad I didn’t have the temptation of looking at my phone when I had kids. I feel rather bad for those of you who have smartphones and tablets at your fingertips, tempting you to check on them and then pulling you in at all moments of the day. I encourage you to put them in a room far away and focus on your kids! Trust me, you will regret it if you don’t.

4. Be more diligent to keep an eternal perspective in all things but especially when it pertained to raising my kids When we are in the midst of parenting, we are often concerned about two things–will my kid still like me if I do or don’t allow this? And will their friends still like them if we don’t allow this? But neither of those matter. It’s so much more important that our children love and serve the Lord than that they fit in with the in-crowd–this one fact changes so many decisions we make as parents! Sure, they may be mad at us or even scream at us, but standing firm pays off in the long run. For the most part we stood firm on God’s Word in our family and we were often ostracized because of it, but as I reflect on our parenting years, I do regret some of the decisions we made based on peer pressure. (Let me add here, that there is also the opposite–where we make far too many {unnecessary} rules that have nothing to do with scripture. Please don’t do that. It breeds rebellion. If you have a rule, make sure it has a scriptural principle behind it and that your kids know what that principle is.)

5. Be much more careful in what I set before my eyes and listen to with my ears; I was always fairly careful, but even things I would have considered “innocent” I can see now were promoting infidelity or bad language or lying. They were full of human wisdom or showing an ungodly model of a family (just how many sitcoms can make Dad look like a complete idiot?!?). I would work harder earlier in my life to eliminate all forms of entertainment that do not glorify God. I know some of you may think I am “over the top” but entertainment changes us. We are fooled into thinking it doesn’t matter but it most certainly does. I still have so far to go in this area, but I do feel like a different person since I have eliminated quite a bit of what is worldly entertainment from my life. But that’s a topic for another day…

6. Be kinder to my husband; I think I am especially cognizant of this because of losing my sister-in-law this past year. I’m sure my brother would only love to have her there, irritating him in whatever way she may have done so. It is always hardest to be kind and loving with the ones that we live with. I really want to be more intentional in nurturing my marriage this coming year.

7. Have far more grace for others; I didn’t have a lot of grace for others as a young person. I am so very thankful that God has brought situations and people into my life that have wrought a great change in this area. But I sure do wish I would have recognized way earlier in life that “but for the grace of God, go I”.

8. Let the minor offenses go; This is another change God has made in my life due to people and situations. I had to intentionally forgive and choose not to hold a grudge–many times without the other person even knowing that they hurt me. Eventually it became natural (at least much of the time), but it took me too long. Life is so much more enjoyable if we stop being so easily offended.

9. Speak the truth of God’s Word with lots of love and kindness. I never had too much trouble speaking the truth, but the love and kindness part would sometimes take a backseat. I hope that I have made progress in this, although I am sure I sometimes still fail. Those of us who passionately love and defend the truth can often struggle with the love side of things. Would I have done more for God’s Kingdom if I would have changed my tone or said things differently as a younger person? Only God knows. In this, I am so very thankful for God’s forgiveness and mercy.

10. Think of others more often. I was SO selfish as a young person. Looking back, I am dismayed and distraught seeing it. I still can tend to be that way and I have to literally fight against my flesh and do what is right. Sometimes I win that battle and sometimes I don’t. But I truly want to be a blessing by thoughtful words and kind deeds–rather than a burden through sarcasm, human opinions about things that are not scriptural, and selfish acts. This is certainly an area in progress and I sure do wish I was much further along in this one!

Along with this, I wish I would have shared the Gospel so much more freely, without worrying what people think! I am so self-centered that I am {still} often more concerned with what people think about me than I am with someone’s eternal destiny!

11. Recognize that my parents are people who have feelings and need support. I am so dismayed when I consider how selfish I was as a teen and twenty-something. When I was getting married, my grandma was in the hospital. And then she passed away two weeks before I had my first child. I was so wrapped up in my life that I was not there for my mom. Oh, how I regret this! If you are blessed to have parents, realize now that they are people, too. That their life is not solely comprised of you and your world. Oh, how I wish I would have understood this sooner.

12. Waste far less time worrying about what “could happen”. Worry and anxiety are a prison. They destroy the present and do nothing to change the future. And yet, how many of us find ourselves in that prison, held tightly by their chains? This is a battle in many of our lives but we must fight it instead of cave into it. We are, in essence, saying we do not trust in God. And therein lies the issue. Oh, how I wish I would have wasted far less time in this useless and faith-sapping activity.

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So there’s the list. Not that I have arrived. Some of these continue to be quite the challenge for me. One of them I thought I conquered and then, years later, it came back with a vengeance (#12, if you want to know!)

Most, if not all, of these things are changed by intentional choices with the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit. I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to this over the course of the past few months.

Some of the things above have changed over the course of my lifetime, simply from growing in Christ. It has sometimes been two steps forward and one step back, but, gradually, over time, they got so much better. Not perfect but better. But even these things came from changing a small habit or behavior. Making a conscientious choice to sit down with God’s Word in the morning or to mentally turn away from the negative thoughts when someone says something hurtful or to choose to offer grace when someone does something I just can’t understand. Although sometimes still a challenge, it is far more natural now to respond correctly. But it wasn’t always the case. I had to intentionally make a choice.

It is hard to improve anything without intentionally choosing to do so. Before you think I am all caught up in man’s wisdom and the “I can do anything I set my mind to”, I want to stop right here.

I am not saying that lasting change can be had without the Holy Spirit. What I am saying is that becoming more Christ-like isn’t just going to happen one day without any work from us at all.

Galatians 5:24-25 says this:

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.

We have to crucify our flesh. It’s an action on our part. In this verse and earlier in that chapter we can also see that we are to walk in the Spirit (v. 16) Again, it’s intentional action on our part.

Life is like a quickly fading flower. Those of you who are young will blink and find yourselves where I am. You, too, will look back over your life and wonder how in the world you ever got here so incredibly fast. Live intentionally now so that your “things I’d change” list is shorter than mine!

(For those of you who have lived as long or longer than I have–what would you change? Your comments on this may help a younger reader. We are all different and have different struggles, so I’d love for you to share your thoughts on this.)

 

 

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.

 

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 2)

If we are in the Word, we know that God hates when we love the world. We know that we are to remain unspotted from the world (James 1:27) and that to be friends with the world is to be God’s enemy (James 4:4). But what exactly does worldliness look like?

In the first part of this series we defined worldliness according to scripture and then we looked at a few areas where worldliness creeps in. In that post we talked about entertainment, networking, and language. Today, starting with #4, I’d like to continue to look at areas where we are so prone to worldly thinking–

4. HOW WE PARENT. Christian parenting has undergone extreme changes. Most have fallen for modern day philosophies of raising children in some way. Often, there is nary a difference between the behavior and attitudes of children from Christian homes when compared to the rest of society’s children.

The World: Don’t ever punish your child or speak negatively to them. Always listen to the professionals because they know best. Resign yourself to never again enjoying a meal or any other event that includes your child. If you love your child you will satisfy their every whim and desire and occupy your child every moment of every day.

What the Bible Says: Let’s take all of these things the world says and look at them individually–

First, we know that the Bible tells us to discipline our children. We are told that discipline and correction keep our children from ending up foolish (Proverbs 22:15) or going astray (Proverbs 10:17). We also know that disciplining in a biblical manner not only protects our child but also shows our child how much we love them. No parent loves to punish their child. It takes true love to do something we so hate to do because we know it is in the best interest of our child. The one thing I will say here to any young parents who might happen to be reading this: If your child understands that mom and dad are the authority when they are two, there will be much more family peace and joy for future years. We cannot expect to let them be little tyrants at three, four, or five and then decide to discipline them when they are twelve. The concrete hardens with each passing year. Don’t miss the wonderful opportunity of  not only loving and snuggling our wonderful, forgiving little preschoolers but also establishing loving discipline and parental authority.

Second, we are to look at what the Bible says about parenting and not what worldly professionals tell us. We often say that the Bible is our guide for life but then proceed to ignore it when it comes to this most important of duties–raising the precious children God has given us. May I suggest that parents look up in the Word everything they can find about parenting. Look at examples of parenting in the Word. Find biblical books on parenting, instead of the modern day fodder calling itself Christian but greatly influenced by worldly psychology.

We can and should also look to godly families for our examples rather than to worldly blogs, books, and speakers. One of the things that I suggest to young parents is that they find a Christian family that has teen or adult children who are like they want their kids to be and then talk to them. Find out what they did. How they did it. It is only by following the Bible and godly examples that we can expect to raise kids who love the Lord. The world will always steer us in the wrong direction.

Third, true love is shown by discipline and boundaries and not by fulfilling every wish and desire. We can know this easily by the way God talks about chastening and disciplining us. Hebrews 12:7-11 puts it like this–

If[d] you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no [e]chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

These days, there actually are fathers who never chasten their children. But this is unnatural. Throughout all time, it was recognized that a parent that truly loves his children will not cater to them. They will chasten them and discipline them in order to yield the fruit of a moral or godly life. A parent who loves their child recognizes that some pain–both for themselves and for the child–must be endured now in order to yield fruit later.

How critical it is that we remember that never saying “no” will yield a tyrant; gratifying our child’s every whim will yield a self-centered, selfish adult; and failing to biblically discipline them will hinder their future in every possible way.

Parenting is a very challenging and critically important job. Let’s use the scriptures to determine how we parent rather than the worldly philosophies that will surely fail us.

 

5. OUR VIEW OF EDUCATION. This particular one is often a very, very touchy among believers as they decide how to educate their children and then choose how to navigate the criticisms of their choice. But I want to actually view education as a whole. It has become a bit of an idol to even Christians. If someone has a title behind their name or a bunch of letters after it, they are given immediate respect. I am not against this, as a rule. Many of these people have managed to stay true to God’s Word while increasing their education. They have learned how to remain free from compromise. But what I have found is that so many who are educated have compromised. Just because they are educated does not mean we should listen. We must first establish that they are committed 100% to the inerrancy and inspiration and correct interpretation of God’s Word. This should be our first and most important litmus test of anyone–including anyone with a degree or two or four or ten degrees.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I am in no way against education. But I think it is also extremely important to recognize that the majority of learning institutions in the world are not guiding us towards Christ but very emphatically leading us away from Him. They are not filling our heads with biblical knowledge but very decidedly filling it with human wisdom and vain philosophies. From elementary school through college there is a joined effort to brainwash us away from biblical Christianity, absolute values, and having a moral compass. If we choose to educate our children in public schools or to attend a university or seminary, we must be ever vigilant to counteract the unbiblical information that’s being heard with the Word of God. Vain philosophies and ungodly thinking has entered higher education, both Christian and secular, on a massive, unprecedented scale and we must be Bereans or be led astray.

The World: Education is the golden ticket to freedom and to having authority. If you are educated you have the right to be heard. Professionals are always correct in their assumptions–even if there is no scientific data behind it.

What the Bible Says: I Corinthians 1:18-31 sums this subject up pretty nicely–

For the [g]message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”

20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the [h]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. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a [i]stumbling block and to the [j]Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For [k]you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many [l]noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the [m]base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— 31 that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”

If we are going to choose to follow Christ and His Word, the world will call us foolish. They will mock, disdain, and ridicule us. As believers, we so often want our cake and to eat it, too. We want to please God and to also win the praise of man. But in so many ways, this is impossible and perhaps no place more so than in this area of education.

Education is a good thing and not wrong, in and of itself. But, just as with any other area of life, we must stay on guard if we want to avoid worldliness when it comes to this topic of education–

First, we must stay on guard against the human wisdom that is in complete opposition to godly wisdom.

Second, we must stay on guard against the pride that can start to invade and take up residence in our hearts when we start to have a few degrees behind our name.

Third, we must carefully evaluate anyone we choose to respect and listen to, rather then giving a free pass simply because of a degree.

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Well, I had planned to cover more than two areas today but to do so would make this post way too long. In fact, it’s probably too long already. I hope that this post has caused you to think and to be encouraged to search the scriptures for yourself.

If you call yourself a Christian, then the Bible should be your final authority in all aspects of life. The world so easily creeps in, doesn’t it? But we can’t let it. And we can only keep this from happening by faithfully running everything–whether it’s how we raise our kids or a choice about education or anything else–through the grid of God’s Word.

 

There’s More to Christianity Than Doing Good Works

“The reason Social Justice is attractive to the church is because it doesn’t invite criticism.” My brother (Pastor Dean) said these words as we talked on the phone yesterday. I immediately realized just how profound his words were.

Perhaps they are words each and every one of us should reflect upon.

There are many good things the church does that all people love. It matters not if they are Christian or not Christian. Nothing matters as we work hard with our fellow man to make the world a better place. This includes things like–

Feeding the hungry ♥ Adopting orphans ♥ Caring for the homeless ♥ Providing fresh water for third world villages ♥ Providing food, clothing, and shelter to needy families ♥ Giving money to charities

Who in their right mind is going to oppose such things?

And, just to be clear, I am not opposed to these things. And neither should any of us be. The Bible is clear: We are told to care for orphans (James 1:27); we are to help our fellow man– and particularly our Christians brothers and sisters– who are in need (Ephesians 4:28; Hebrews 6:10). These are good things to do.

But these aren’t the only things Christians are to be doing. Doing good for others is just a part of what it means to live a godly, righteous life.

There’s so much more. But the “more” doesn’t often draw the praise of man.

As soon as we go out into the world and preach the Gospel–the clear, unadulterated Gospel as the scripture teaches it–we immediately invite the antagonism, the scorn, and the hatred of the world.

And as soon as we try to teach and live out the Christian life that is clearly mandated in scripture among the murky and muddy waters that is the mainstream church we invite the antagonism, the scorn, and the hatred of that church.

When we bring a message the world doesn’t want to hear, such as you cannot be reconciled to God without believing in Jesus Christ (John 14:6), we will be criticized, mocked, and labeled. We may even be persecuted. By both the world and those claiming to belong to the church.

When we bring a message the mainstream church doesn’t want to hear, such as encouraging believers to practice discernment (Hebrews 5:14), be separate from the world (James 1:27), and strive for holiness (I Peter 1:15-16), criticism and animosity will often rain down upon our head from within the church doors.

This is why so many of us choose to do the Christian things that invite the praise and laud of people. And it’s also why we avoid doing the Christian things that invite criticism.

How much do you care what people think about you? Does this change what you stand for or stand against?

I have to be honest and let you know right up front that this has been–by far–my biggest battle in this ministry.

It is natural for people to want to be liked and I am no exception. I don’t want to be labeled divisive, negative, unloving, arrogant, and whatever other words I have been called.

And yet, over and over again, God continues to remind me that my job is to please Him, first and foremost. As believers, our priority is to do all to the glory and pleasure of our Lord, irrespective of the opinions of man.

The opinions of those around us are, in essence, irrelevant.

Now reflect on that truth for just a few seconds. Why do we do what we do? How do we feel if we do something good and it goes unnoticed? How do we respond when we are faced with a choice to speak out against something we know God hates or a false teacher that is leading someone we love astray? Do we have the courage to share the Gospel unapologetically with the lost all around us? Are we truly living like no one’s opinion matters but God’s?

Inside each of us, a battle rages between the flesh and our new man. And the flesh wants to be pleasing to our fellow man. It is just how we are. But when we are saved, we have a new purpose. We seek first God and His Kingdom (Matthew 6:33). We are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). Everything is changed.

In theory, that is.

In real life, it doesn’t just happen. It is a daily struggle.

However, as new creatures, we must fight this fight. For if we let the flesh win, it is not without deadly consequences. Think of how many children in Christian homes have grown up and gone out to live ungodly lives in the world because parents didn’t want to be unpopular? Think of how many inroads Satan has made into the lives of believers because they want to be cool to their friends? How many have followed false teachers because their Christian friends are afraid to speak up? Think of the light that has gone out in the church because of the desire to win the praise of the world?

If we aren’t willing to be different than the world and if we are driven by a passion to please the world (or the compromised, mainstream church), we will be rendered ineffective for the cause of Christ.

Sure, we can do all sorts of nice things for others and make this temporal world a better place to live in, but if we aren’t sharing the Gospel and pointing people to biblical Christian living, what eternal good are we even accomplishing?

Are we more likely to do the things that draw the praise of man? Do we shy away from the righteous and good things that draw criticism?

Pastor Dean’s words really made me think. And, once again, I was reminded: My priority is to please God.

Am I living to please God or are my daily life choices based on pleasing those around me? It is an important question that we should probably all give some thought to.

 

The Issues Behind the Issues

We have become a people that responds to issues. Whether it’s our own emotional health (anxiety and depression) or our kids well-being (ADHD, anger issues, rebellion), our situations at work and church (relationship problems), or our marriages (struggles and strife) we work hard to find an escape hatch very quickly. We want to be free of the hassle, inconvenience, grief, and pain that these things bring. And so we quickly medicate, change jobs or churches, or leave our spouse.

Before I continue on, let me be clear about something. I am not judging you individually. I know that some people legitimately need medication, that sometimes we must change jobs or churches, and that there are even times that warrant leaving our spouse. So please know that this is not about any individual but rather about a trend I have been noticing.

It is easier to take the escape hatch than to wade through the unpleasant waters to fix the issue. It is easier to just fix something temporarily than to take the time to fix it for the long haul. Tape is easier to apply than digging and drilling and nailing.

So I do get it.

But there are almost always deeper, spiritual issues behind the issues we can see.

A hyperactive child may be crying out for discipline. Refusing to discipline in a biblical way leads to undisciplined, uncontrollable children.

An angry child may be frustrated by the lack of control he feels because mom and dad are always fighting or perhaps because something happened that they just don’t want to tell you. Instead of parenting to the issue, it is critical that we get to the bottom of things.

An anxious woman has an issue with trusting God and submitting to His will for her life.

An angry man may be struggling with his loss of control over his circumstances.

A struggling relationship at church or work is driven by envy or jealousy.

And sometimes there is no big underlying issue but it’s just a certain stage in our lives or our children’s lives that we must walk through.

And on and on and on the list goes.

But as a culture we have been conditioned to simply fix problems without digging deeper. When we do dig deeper it is through the use of a humanistic psychologist and not through God and studying His Word or even by using a biblical counselor. (This is a tricky area because even a lot of “Christian” psychologists and counselors use a lot of human wisdom that is in complete opposition to what God’s Word teaches. See here for more information.)

And there is nothing wrong with getting the right outside help. Sometimes our pastor or a good biblical counselor or even a friend can help us see things we can’t see. But may I suggest that we first pray and ask the Lord to guide and direct us and start digging into His Word to see if there is something we are missing?

I know that as I have struggled with terrible bouts of anxiety and depression these past few years that it has been a sin issue for me. Yes, I have had a tremendous amount of change in my life over the past 5-7 years, some that I saw coming and some that I did not. And, yes, I have hormones that are wreaking havoc in my body. And, yes, owning a business and having a ministry that is not the most popular can be extremely stressful. But at the end of the day, it was a sin issue. I was not trusting God, I was self-centered and self-absorbed, and I was not in submission to God’s Will for my life. Plain and simple.

I thank the Lord that He showed this to me. It was extremely painful (another reason we avoid digging beyond the issue) and it’s not over yet. I still have days of great struggle and pain. I share this to hopefully encourage you because I know that I am not alone in this. Others have shared with me their struggles in this area.

But mostly I share this because I think it is so important that we do a little digging and wading through the gunk before we find that escape hatch. I believe that we must give some effort and prayer before we head to the pharmacy or walk away from a situation. Perhaps this is just the thing that God is using to teach us and/or our children an important lesson. Perhaps by lessening the pain, we are actually missing out on learning something very important. In our urgency to diminish the pain and grief and hassles, we may be missing out on something very glorious.

And so today I want to encourage you to spend some time in prayer and God’s Word and to be patient as you work through issues in your life and the lives of your children before heading for that escape hatch. God is so faithful and He will meet your needs–sometimes in ways you could never even have imagined! But when we are so quick to fix our own problems, we miss out on seeing His provision.

And sometimes…

We can’t fix the issue. And God doesn’t fix the issue. That doesn’t settle very well with our 21st century selves. We believe we should be able to fix everything. But sometimes God allows a situation in our lives that remains unresolved. Just like Paul’s thorn in his flesh, we plead for it to be removed and God says no. But we know from 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, that we can rest in God’s sovereignty even when this is the case. God has a reason and we can trust Him (Romans 8:28-30).

Life is not fun and we are burdened with all kinds of heartaches and frustrations living in this fallen world. But God is faithful and will meet our needs. But we are so often caught up in fixing and solving our own problems that we leave little opportunity for God to work in the way that only He can.

So let’s take some time to figure out the issues behind the issues, praying and asking the Lord for guidance as we study the Word to find out what He has to say on the matter. And let’s do this first rather than as a last resort.

 

 

Thirty Years In

We dropped our youngest daughter off at college last week. Thirty-four years ago, I was the one being dropped off at college. I remember my dad loading everything in our red and white van and then our whole family, along with a favorite aunt and uncle, climbing into that van and heading west.

As a freshman, I was both nervous and excited. Mostly, if I am honest, I was excited about meeting some new guys and possibly (hopefully) meeting “Mr. Right”. In that era, girls were teased about going to school for their M.R.S. degree. While that wasn’t why I was there, I have to admit that I was harboring a hope that I would find my husband.

A week or two in, I spotted the guy while I was working in the cafeteria. I found out later that he was a sophomore majoring in Business Admin. He must’ve thought I was cute (so he tells me now) because he’d always be sure to pick my line and chat with me whenever he was in the cafeteria. But he had a girlfriend and another guy was showing interest in me and so that seemed to be where it would all end.

But it did not end there. I won’t go into all of the ups and downs of our next three years, but let’s just say I knew he was Mr. Right long before he knew I was Mrs. Right!

At the end of my junior year, we sat down and had a long talk. We decided to give it one final try. He would be graduating so this was it. We started to hang out together and he asked me to the Junior/Senior Banquet (the picture above is from that night). Ironically (and perhaps providentially), his family had recently moved a half hour away from my hometown and so he suggested we try dating over the summer to see how it would go.

Well, it went. Really well. And neither of us ever looked back. (Well, I might have taken a slight glance back after we were engaged. You know how you can do that sometimes when you finally get what you want? I found myself asking: Did I actually want this?? Is this really the guy I want to spend the rest of my life with? Happily after a day or two of doubts, I realized I most certainly did.)

So why am I telling you all of this? Well, today, August 20, 2018 is our 30th wedding anniversary!

Those two immature and naive kids got married and started a life together. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing. At one point, in our seventh year, we struggled so. We still don’t really know why. We had three kids and a young business. Life was crazy busy. And we just couldn’t get along. But we clung to our commitment to each other through that rocky sea and held on tight. And, soon enough, we were through it and on to calmer and sunnier seas.

We’ve had periods like that throughout our marriage. If you are married, I am sure you know what I am talking about.

So what makes certain people stay committed and others walk away? Why the raised eyebrows of surprise, the congratulations, and the “wows” when we say we have been married for thirty (or twenty or fifteen) years?

Because marriages that last are getting rarer and rarer these days. Many men and women don’t take their marriage vows seriously anymore and it has caused no end of hurt and pain. Especially when it is only one who decides to disregard those vows and their heartbroken spouse is left to pick up the pieces and try to make the best of it.

I am thankful for the godly examples of marriage we have around us. We are the rare family that has both sides still intact. Our fathers have been loving our mothers for over fifty years now. Our mothers have been loving our fathers. They have set an incredible example of love and commitment.

This year it has been especially evident as we have seen my father-in-law care for my mother-in-law through a difficult season of her health. He has been so dedicated to her and his love for her is so incredibly inspiring. (She actually has a pretty serious back surgery scheduled for this morning at 9am, so if you are reading this on the day that I have posted it, a prayer for her would be much appreciated!)

We hope we can only set the same example as our parents for our kids and grandkids. And that our kids can then do the same for their kids and grandkids. We pray for this.

But, of course, sometimes it doesn’t work out like that, does it? I know that many of you already have kids with broken marriages and grandchildren with divorced parents. Perhaps you yourself are divorced. What then?

Well, the best news of all is that God is a God of mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Sure, divorce isn’t His best plan for anyone. But that doesn’t mean He loves you any less or that you have forfeited all of His blessing in your life. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin.

I don’t want to make light of it. We know that God hates divorce. But we also know from scripture (Matthew 5; 19; I Corinthians 7) that it does happen. And, so, at that point, we must pick up the pieces, deal with the consequences, and make the best of it, trusting God to see us through. Supporting and loving our children as they face the challenges and heartache that divorce brings.

So what is my point?

I guess there are two–

First, if you are in a marriage where you are going through a tough patch, keep on keeping on. Do what you can to make it work. It might not be possible because you are only one person of the two involved. You can’t change that other person. But do what you can.

Second, if you find yourself in a situation where divorce is part of your life story– in whatever capacity– then know that God loves you and can heal your broken heart. Some of you may have great regrets about how you handled that first marriage or perhaps that you didn’t warn your child of red flags you saw in their future mate during the dating period. You just wish you could go back and change things. But it’s too late. Others of you just long for your spouse to turn away from sin and back to you and to the Lord. But you can’t change your spouse’s heart and desires and the whole thing seems hopeless. There are so many things outside of our control and we can’t put the sand back in the hourglass. And so we must move on, trusting in God to turn something ugly into something beautiful. One day at a time, one step at a time. Even when we can’t understand how He possibly could.

And here’s the thing– married, not married, divorced, remarried, single–we all have sins, temptations, trials, and problems. Some of the greatest trials and sins are unseen from the public eye. Even the happiest-looking marriages and families are not free from the effects of a fallen world.

How did I end up here when I started out talking about my anniversary? I am not sure. I feel such grief for several I know who are going through really hard times in their marriages right now. My heart aches for them and I so want them to know that they are loved and supported as they travel a road they never thought they’d take. One they hate with all of their hearts.

I am thankful for my marriage. And for my husband. If we have a spouse that loves us, we can be grateful. But let us remember our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling in their marriages today. Let’s uphold them in prayer and give them lots of love. Because that’s what we should do in the Body of Christ.

 

 

 

 

A Real Rarity

The other day I was listening to a podcast where two men were discussing the rarity of people who are really willing to listen to an opposing viewpoint anymore. The context was in discussing discernment and how–even with solid biblical evidence–few people will really listen to someone who simply wants to share with them their concerns. Instead, they regularly encounter a defensive, arrogant spirit and often endure personal attacks. Simply from speaking up against a false teacher.

They went on to say how this is very different than in years gone by, where two people could have an intelligent and thoughtful conversation about Bible teachers, authors, pastors, (and I will add: Anything else).

Why is this? Why this crazily defensive and hostile attitude towards someone who disagrees with us? What has been fomenting this strange relationship phenomenon over the last few decades?

But why isn’t really the question I want to deal with today. I am more interested in what this change in how we accept and give confrontation has cost us as Christians–and what we can do about it personally.

You see, when we aren’t willing to listen to and to think on a viewpoint or opinion that is in opposition to ours we set ourselves up for failure. How in the world can we grow in holiness and keep ourselves pure and separated from the world if we think we know everything? Do we honestly believe we know all there is to know about God and His Word? We don’t have to agree with someone but we can always listen and consider what they are saying in light of God’s Word. Instead it is most common–even for Christians– to get angry, to attack and malign, and to hold grudges.

This plays itself out in a myriad of ways–

–When someone comes to us with a concern about a favorite teacher or author. How do we respond?

–When our spouse confronts us about a sin in our lives. How do we respond?

–When our child seems confused about something we said or did and asks us about it. How do we respond?

–When someone at church doesn’t like our decision about a ministry we lead. How do we respond?

–When a parent, sibling, or friend lovingly questions our entertainment choice, our child-rearing, or some other aspect of our lives. How do we respond?

At the heart of this all is arrogance. Plain and simple. “Who are you to tell me…anything?”

So this leads us to two important points that we need to consider today.

First, what kind of “hearer” are we? Are we willing to reflect on the words someone speaks to us? Or do we immediately go on the defensive? Do we allow our relationships to change or be destroyed because we don’t like what someone has said to us? Do we lash out in attack? Do we hold grudges?

This is of the devil, my friends. Even if what someone is saying to us has zero biblical merit, we should choose to listen and consider. And then, if necessary, we must forgive. Satan would like nothing more than to break down the friendships and families of Christians. And this is a very effective way.

We can cut him off at the pass by responding to unpleasant words with humility and love.

Proverbs is full of counsel about the fool. And one of the main things about a fool is that he does not listen to wise counsel–

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise. (Proverbs 12:15)

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, For he will despise the wisdom of your words. (Proverbs 23:9)

And then Proverbs 26:12 shows us that there is more hope for a fool than for someone who is wise in their own eyes!–

Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.

Do we think we know all the answers? Then there is more hope for a fool than for us!

And, second, this new dynamic should make us consider very carefully what is worth a confrontation. How many people do you know that, with a critical spirit, sarcastically attack people about the most inane and insignificant things? If this is us, then we will not be listened to when it really matters. It is extremely important that we confront lovingly on biblical matters and then let the other stuff roll. After all, does it really matter if they chose to go here instead of there? Does it really matter if they did their preferred “this” instead of our preferred “that”? Is it a biblical matter? Does their choice have eternal ramifications? Asking these questions can help us determine if it is worth a confrontation. Instead, we sometimes get this all mixed up and we confront (or make sarcastic remarks) on the trivial and never touch the stuff that has eternal ramifications. This is another subtle trick of Satan’s.

And, third, we should consider our own attitude about confrontation. It takes courage and a lot of love to confront someone in a biblical way. It is so much easier to just sit by and let it go. True love speaks the truth. Self-interest often leads to either ignoring it or saying sarcastic, back-handed remarks that hurt instead of heal.

Just recently, I was part of something like this and that experience has given me a real-life example of how all of this should work –in the right way. I will be purposely vague. I felt compelled to talk with someone about something. I hesitated for a very long time because of the possible ramifications. I have lost friends over things like this. I knew the risk and I basically told God I didn’t want to take it. But I knew that I was not doing the right thing. So I prayed and told God that if He would open up an opportunity, I would take it. Otherwise, I would stay quiet. Of course, the perfect opportunity presented itself a few days later. And, so, I, faltering and lovingly, shared my concern. And, wonderfully, the other person heard me without getting upset. They took what I told them and they acted upon it. This is how this should work between Christians (Proverbs 27:17). I was beyond thankful. And I wondered: Am I as mature and wise as this person when someone confronts me?

This is a question we should all ask: Do I hear? Or am I like the fool?

And the second question: Do I confront lovingly and only on the things that really matter?

Let’s be one of those real rarities: A Christian who is willing to thoughtfully consider what someone has to say to us and to also be one that has enough love and courage to confront when it’s biblically necessary.

 

 

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