peace

Leaning Into God’s Will

The encouraging posts about God’s love and care for us are in abundance these days. You will find them on blogs, social media, and in many articles. We so desperately want to be reminded that He will see us through whatever lies ahead. And it is so important to be reminded of this. I share this message often myself here on the blog and over at the Growing4Life Facebook page.

But there is something else that we really need to remember.

Many years ago, I read a book called Green Leaf in Drought. I was so impacted by it that you will find it on my Favorite Books page here on the blog. I hadn’t read it for years, so I decided to pick it up again. It seemed like it might be even more relevant the second time around, given the concerns and fears we’ve experienced over the past year.

Yesterday, I finished it. It’s a short little book and I highly recommend it (I’ll add a link below for anyone interested). When communism started to fully infiltrate China, most of the missionaries left immediately. However, a few were unable to leave. This book is about a family that was held there for almost three years before they were released by the government to come home.

The lessons that they learned are important lessons for us all. I am not going to say a whole lot about their story so I don’t give too much away for those who want to read it. But I do want to share one important lesson they learned that is critical for us all. Perhaps especially right now.

When they were about a year and a half into their coerced stay in China, things were really bad. They were almost starving, fuel was hard to come by, and people were punished if they talked to the “Imperialists” (as they were known) which led to extreme loneliness. And then, on top of it all, imagine being a missionary and being told by the foreign government that you are not allowed to talk to anyone or to leave your house? Their whole purpose for being there could not be carried out and they were left in the nondescript corner of a foreign country with few resources and even fewer friends.

At one point the wife, in a state of fretting and restlessness, waited impatiently for the Lord to rescue them. She was frustrated with the Lord’s timing and, though she was submitted to His Will, she was none too happy about what that “will” was. One day, as she spent time with the Lord in His Word and in prayer, something dawned on her. What would happen if she would gladly and joyfully yield to God’s Will for her life instead of begrudgingly agreeing to it? What if she were to act more like a daughter carrying out a loving mission for her Father than a slave that was forced to do the master’s will? She resigned herself to lean into God’s Will and thus began a change of heart.

As she took this step of joyful submission, the peace and joy that had been missing from her Christian life came flooding in. She recognized that living a joyful life dedicated to the Lord in spite of their trials would be a light that the Chinese Christians could see, even if they never said a word. These conclusions were drawn in the midst of horrible circumstances that neither you or I could even imagine and will hopefully never have to endure. A few months later, God helped her husband understand the very same thing.

As they purposed in their hearts to have a good attitude, Satan did his best to discourage them and they were hit with even harder trials than before. But the peace never left them. The peace and joy they experienced was completely unrelated to their circumstances, just as we are promised in scripture.

I believe this is more than a little relevant for us today.

Or shall I say I find it relevant for me?

You see, I find my heart filled with sorrow and even anger when I think of the world we are living in currently. I feel like I am on the set of a movie that just won’t end. The masks, the social distancing, the vaccine, the economy, the dying small businesses, the election, the unbelievable compromise of Christians we trusted, and then there are the strong opinions about all of these things. The realization that whatever world my kids and grandkids grow up in (if the Lord tarries), it’s going to be quite a bit different than mine. The awful uncertainty of what lies ahead, always there like a dark shadow in the back of all of our minds, no matter where we live in this world. All of this makes my heart just ache and I can even grow angry if I am not careful. The world we lived in is no longer. And life as we have known it is over.

But this book convicted me. We—you, me, all of us—are here right now because God has ordained it. We are in His Will for our lives. We are going to be relatively ineffective as believers if we are focused on all that we don’t like about this new world instead of leaning into His will. We are going to be filled with dread, unhappiness, and fear if we are begrudgingly living in this new world. But if we joyfully submit to where God has us right now, we will show a lost world that God is true to His Word and we will be able to encourage and edify struggling fellow believers.

Do we want to be bright lights for Christ in this new world? If the answer is yes, than I am convinced we need to lean into God’s Will instead of resist it.

On a practical level, we will be faced with a variety of small tests and trials each day. How do we show this in the midst of family disagreements over the whimsical “laws” put in place by over-reaching governors? How do we show this in the midst of our disappointment in the way our churches, workplaces, or schools are handling things? How do we show this when someone asks us to wear a mask or move away from them? How do we show this when we hear more bad news? How do we show this when yet another discussion comes along regarding all that’s going on? How do we show this each and every hour of our lives?

I am not sure of the “how” but I am sure of the necessity of this. You see, if we are dragging our feet and have a bad attitude, then this will show in all of our words and actions. (I am talking to myself here as much as to you!) But if we joyfully yield our will to God’s, then this, too, will show in all of our words and actions.

Look, we are all here. Stuck on a ride we can’t get off. Watching the prophecy of scripture come to life in a way we never thought we’d see. But I can say with 100% confidence that this is where God has placed us.

For such a time as this.

No amount of railing, wailing, or flailing is going to change it.

While I am not saying that we don’t work actively to help change what we are given an opportunity to change, it’s pretty fair to say that most of this is completely outside of our control.

But it’s not outside of God’s control and, in His vast knowledge and incomprehensible Sovereignty, He knows exactly where He’s placed us in the history of this world.

So let’s not just resign ourselves to live in this new world but let’s choose to joyfully live in this new world. Let’s show the world that God’s peace and joy is not based on circumstances.

And, on a bright note, living in this time of history may actually mean we are the generation that is raptured! How awesome would that be? It seems more and more likely each day.

So may we all ask God to help us be joyfully submissive as we walk this path we don’t really want to be on. He is sufficient and He will supply our needs. And, eventually, this will all be behind us as we face the prospect of a marvelous eternity together with Him in heaven.

 

 

—If you are interested in being encouraged further by reading the story of Arthur and Wilda Mathews as Isobel Kuhn writes it in Green Leaf in Drought, you can find it here. (This is not an affiliate link and I receive no compensation for you clicking on it. I am merely pointing you to where you can find the book.)

 

 

Changed Lives: Becky

About a year and a half ago, my dear friend, Becky, messaged me that she had been taken to the ER with stomach pain. By the time all the tests were run, she was given the news that she had stage 4 colon cancer. There was no cure. They would simply be working to prolong her life. As you can imagine–this rocked her world. This was not the only thing going on in her life and was simply added to another heavy, heavy burden that she was already bearing.

And, yet, every time I would stop for a visit to cheer her up…well, she’d end up cheering me up! Here she was–going through all of these things– and she was not only smiling (anyone can fake a smile) but she was full of that deep, abiding joy and amazing peace that is a true gift of God to those who have surrendered and submitted their lives to His holy will.

Becky could write a whole book about her life (in fact, I told her she should and that I’ll help her!). It is full of fascinating and interesting adventures. It is also full of the love and care of her Heavenly Father. She has spent a lifetime loving and serving God and He has been there for her time and time again. But a stage 4 cancer diagnosis will tend to test all you have said that you believe, and Becky was no different.

The last couple of times I was there to visit, I asked her how she could have so much joy amidst such dark times? I told her that if she’d ever want to write about it to encourage others, I’d love to post it here on the blog. Smiling, she’d be noncommital but did say she’d think about it.

And then one day, there it was in my email box. She couldn’t sleep the night before so she had written a bit about her cancer and her journey to joy.

I know you will appreciate this and that it will encourage you greatly as you seek to find joy in your own circumstances. Now here are Becky’s own words about her experience–

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It is easy to be happy and have joy when things in life are falling into place the way we want them to. But what happens when things go “wrong” in our perspective? Can we still have joy? What do we do with the verse in Philippians 4:4 that says, “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS; and again I say, Rejoice.” When I say joy, I am talking about the deep joy in our hearts that is there, no matter what comes our way.

So often we like to think that we can handle the turmoils of life when they come our way; but when it does happen, we find out otherwise. What happens when we are going through the major throes of life finding out we have cancer, a child has rejected what you have taught him/her and walked away from the faith, you are having major financial difficulty, or you have lost some one dear to your heart?

That time came for me when I had to do some intense soul searching a little over a year ago when I was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. The doctors said that there wasn’t much they could do except try to prolong my life some. This really threw us into shock, and all plans and goals came to a screeching halt. I did not ask God why but how. How was I going to get through this? How was I supposed to deal with this and have the right attitude? How could I glorify the Lord and not fail Him?

Then one day while pondering all this, I started asking myself, “Do I really believe God is Who He says He is”? I grew up in a Christian home singing the hymns of the faith, hearing the Word preached, memorizing Scripture, and hearing of other fellow believers’ experiences of God working in their lives and carrying them through life’s storms. But now that I was put into this position, what was going to be my anchor? Do I really believe God about His character, His promises?

Then and there is when I made up my mind that I do believe God, and Who He claims to be in His Word. That is when I found peace, His peace the passes all our understanding! And along with that came the deep seated joy! Satan wants to steal our joy and make us ineffectual as followers of Christ. If we start concentrating on the “What if’s”, it is easy to fall into depression or get angry. God, in His perfect will and wisdom, has a plan for each one of us, and it’s up to us to accept it with the right attitudes and allow Him to work in our lives and through us, to draw us to Him and show us Who He is and what He can do! In trying to be an encouragement, many say that God will not give us more than we can handle. However, many times He does give us more than we can handle so that we can get to know Him and experience that peace and joy from Him.

Since my diagnosis, my Heavenly Father has been by my side, holding my hand and helping me to learn of Him. My days are not always perfect. There are times when I have to ask God just to hold me in His arms as a child and show me He is there. I have been learning so much and, although I wouldn’t have chosen to go through these hardships, I am thankful for the opportunities. He is my steady anchor and the reason I can have joy no matter what He deems necessary to allow into my life. A favorite verse of mine that is a great picture of our help and safety in God’s character is in Proverbs 18:10 –

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe!”

 

 

Will I Come to God on His Terms or Mine?

People do many things in their efforts to be right with God. Mostly it boils down to being a “good person”, whether this be by good works or, even more specifically, is accomplished by a list of rules or rituals set up by someone long ago.

Then there are the thousands–perhaps millions– who declare that God doesn’t care if you are good or bad because He loves everyone and would never send anyone to hell.

Perhaps it is a bit presumptuous for us to tell God how things are?

And yet this has happened since the creation of man.

Cain thought he would tell God how things are (Genesis 4). We aren’t given many details, but we know that Abel brought an acceptable animal sacrifice while Cain brought an “offering of the fruit of the ground” (v. 3). Prideful Cain was, in essence, telling God what offering would be acceptable in His sight. When God didn’t agree with him, he grew so angry he went out to the field and killed his brother.

Instead of humbling himself before God and admitting that he was wrong, he murdered his own brother.

While few people let their pride go to such lengths, we are all born with it. It is pride that insists that we are innately good. It is pride that says I can determine on what terms I can be reconciled with God. It is pride that says I get to make the rules.

But guess what? God already made the rules. He had a plan of salvation for sinful man that he laid out long before we took a breath. That plan is in the Bible, which is God’s Word.

I have to just stop here for a brief moment and just remind you that there is much proof that the Bible is God’s Word. Both archeology and science show its reliability. The fulfilled prophecies (including Israel becoming a nation in 1948 against all odds) are truly miraculous. There are many reasons that we can know that God’s Word is true. I read Why Believe the Bible a few years ago which was so helpful. Answers in Genesis has a series of articles here. Men were even converted while trying to disprove the Bible (Part 1 of this series is here). And here is one more article on the Bible’s Proof. You can even find a whole sermon series by John MacArthur on this topic here.

But, may I remind you, when it comes right down to it, belief in the Bible and what it says is a matter of faith. We can have all of the proof in the world and still choose not to believe. Okay, back to our topic…

If the Bible is true (and it is!), then it is there that we will find out how we get right with God. He is God. He sets the terms and determines the way this is possible. He even determined if it was possible, because He could have chosen to let us die in our sins and go to hell without creating any way of salvation at all. We must understand that this is about marvelous grace and amazing love and abundant mercy.

Adam changed the future of the world with just a bite of fruit. Through him, we inherited our sinful nature (Romans 5:12). This is the first point of contention for so many. How dare you call me a sinner? I am a good person. Look at that guy over there and that woman over here. THEY are awful. I look amazing by comparison.

But the Bible says we are all sinners. We are born condemned sinners (See I John 1:8-10; Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:9-12). Until we can admit this, we are hopelessly lost. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6)

When God opens our eyes to this truth, then we will understand our need for a Savior. Until then, we think we can do things our way and on our own terms.

Thankfully, it doesn’t end there. The Bible goes on to tell us of how God sent His Son into the world to die for our sins.

I Corinthians 5:21 puts it like this: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

I John 4:10 says this: In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

In other words, Christ died in our place. Think of that for a moment. Jesus died for our sins and we can stand righteous before God through His blood shed for us. And only because of this. On our own, we have no merit whatsoever.

As we go on to study God’s amazing plan in His Word, we come to understand that accepting this free gift is something we must do. We aren’t automatically given this reconciliation just because were born as a human being on the earth.

No, instead we see that God has set it up that we must call on Him (Romans 10:13). We must believe (Romans 10:9). It is a conscious choice.

These are God’s terms. There is no other way (John 14:6).

But, oh, how prideful man is.

Just as Cain demanded that God accept his sacrifice and grew angry when he didn’t, so man insists that he gets to determine his own way of salvation. Whether it be through a set of rules or a list of good works, he believes that he can do enough to reach God.

But the Bible tells us that we can never be good enough. That we can do nothing to be right with God. That we are in desperate need of His grace and mercy.

We must come to God on His terms.

But, oh, the peace that is ours when we do!

Trying to pridefully reach God on our own terms yields only doubt and turmoil and frustration.

But peace can be ours, if we will but turn to Christ alone for salvation.

I leave you with the lyrics of one of my favorite hymns–

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,
A sinner, condemned, unclean.

How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! How wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!

 

 

 

(If you are not sure you understand salvation or you desire to know more, please don’t hesitate to email me at Leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net. I would love to talk more about this with you.)

 

 

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.

 

Starting With What We Know

I have a jigsaw puzzle app on my iPad. I will often put a “digital” puzzle together while I am watching TV or listening to my audio Bible or a sermon. I am a chronic multi-tasker and need to keep my hands busy!

I normally choose puzzles that have plenty of differences, as the ones that have the same shades of color throughout can frustrate me. The most recent one I put together was a little bit of both. There were areas that were different and there were areas of sameness. When I first started to put it together a few weeks ago I decided to first work on all the pieces that looked the same. I wanted to get the hard stuff out of the way.

But, after a few days, I found this puzzle very frustrating and I left it in favor of easier ones. I was having such a hard time figuring out where all of those green pieces went.

A few weeks later, I decided to give it another try. As I stared at the puzzle and thought about how to best work it out, it came to me: Work with the obvious pieces first and then the rest will fall into place.

And you know what? That was exactly right. I filled in all the different areas and when it came time to place all of the green pieces it was so much easier.

But I first had to place what I knew before I could figure out what I didn’t know.

As I was thinking about that puzzle, it dawned on me that puzzles in life can be a little like this. We want to know all the answers. We want to know where all of those hard-to-define pieces are going to fit and how it’s all going to end. But, if we are a believer, we should first start with what we know.

And what do we know? What pieces can we put into all of our puzzles (i.e. trials, frustrations, storms, adversity) first?

Let’s talk about some of them–

Piece ONE— God loves us so much.

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. I John 3:1

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Piece TWO–God is working all things together in the way that is best for me. Even if it doesn’t seem that way at the time.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

Piece THREE— God desires me to be conformed to the image of His Son. In fact, we are predestined for this! This is more important than my happiness, my dreams, or having an easy life.

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Romans 8:29

Piece FOUR— Sorrows and troubles are part of our journey here on earth; We cannot avoid them.

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Piece FIVE— God is aware of the minutest details. He hasn’t abandoned us.

So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not [l]arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. Matthew 6:28-32

Piece SIX— Our first priority is to seek God and His Kingdom.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Matthew 6:33

Piece SEVEN–Puzzles and trials are testing me and perfecting me.

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

Piece EIGHT–Supernatural peace though Christ Jesus is possible–no matter what the circumstances.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Piece NINE–This life is temporary and the best is yet to come!

But as it is written:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” I Corinthians 2:9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance [b]incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been [c]grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not [d]seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. I Peter 1:3-9

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When we put these nine pieces in our puzzle first, the other pieces will slowly fall into place. Oh, it doesn’t mean it will be easy–but it will be easier than if we don’t do this.

Life has its ups and downs. And sometimes we face things that do not make sense; things that are horribly painful; things that are unexpected.

In the swirl of thoughts that goes on whenever we face a trial, we may forget to first contemplate these nine truths from scripture that apply to every situation–no matter how great or small.

I hope this is an encouragement to someone today. I don’t know what you are facing but God does.

 

 

Changed Lives: Jim and Carol

As I prepared today’s post, I realized that it has been almost a year since I last shared a “Changed Lives” testimony. This hasn’t been because I haven’t met anyone who has been changed by Jesus. In fact, I’ve met so many! It was just one of those things I kept putting off. But today is a great day to bring you a new testimony.

Today I bring you Jim and Carol’s story. Let me tell you a bit about how this came to be. Jim is often at the door as I enter church each Sunday, ready to offer all a warm handshake and a cheery greeting. But a year or so ago, I noticed that Jim just kept getting thinner and thinner and he just didn’t look well. Eventually I found out that he was fighting a fierce battle with cancer and that it was taking its toll on him. And, yet, there Jim stood at the sanctuary door every Sunday, greeting everyone cheerfully. It was this consistent cheerfulness that led me to talk with them about Jim’s cancer journey. Little did I know that there was much more to the story! Spending an afternoon with them encouraged me greatly and I know that it will encourage you, too.

This is Jim and Carol’s story–

In early 1970’s, a young girl named Carol was set up on a date with a young man named Jim. Carol, a Christian girl, knew Jim wasn’t saved but she really enjoyed that first date and, as she got to know him better, she decided to start a relationship with him anyway. Things moved along and eventually they planned to be married. Carol just naively thought everything would turn out okay. And it did–eventually. (But it’s important to remember that it doesn’t for everyone. As Carol said during our time together: It’s best to obey the Bible and marry a Christian.)

After the wedding, things got pretty difficult. They had a daughter and then two sons. During these early years, when Jim wasn’t working long hours, his passion for baseball consumed his time. After baseball games, Jim would drink with his buddies and come home drunk. When Jim got drunk he didn’t get silly like “you see on the movies” as Carol put it. Instead, Jim would come home and verbally attack his wife. The family dreaded these times.

This naturally burdened Carol’s heart greatly. She had already been praying for Jim’s salvation for years and she continued to do so during this time.

Ten or so years into their marriage, Jim started to soften and mature a bit and things got better for the family, although he remained hardened to the things of the Lord. While he never kept Carol from taking the children to church or talking with them about the Lord, he just wasn’t interested. He admits now that he wasn’t ready to surrender the “fun stuff” of life to live a legalistic, moral life that looked no fun at all. He viewed believers as living in a prison of “perfect” and he didn’t want any part of that.

Jim describes this time as having a thick wall standing between him and the Lord. The Lord was on one side and he was on the other. To remove that wall would mean giving up the world he so loved and enjoyed. And he just wasn’t ready to do that.

When they were married for almost fifteen years, an elder and his wife from their church stopped by for an unexpected visit one New Year’s Eve. As Carol opened the door to the couple her heart sank. She knew her husband’s thoughts about “stuffy Christians” trying to convert him. She hid her thoughts and welcomed them in with a smile.

That evening was the beginning of a long journey that would bring Jim to his knees in repentance before the Lord. As the couples visited together that night, the elder never brought up anything about God. Instead, he talked with Jim about hunting and other things that men talk about. God knew that Jim needed to meet someone who was willing to be his friend, despite his rebellious heart towards the things of God. He found that friendship in this elder.

At this point, Jim started going to church, playing on the church softball team, and hanging around with the church folk. During this time, he was not saved but he was watching. He found out that Christians were not perfect, after all, but have struggles and flaws just like everyone else. They just handled them differently. This gave him pause for thought and the wall between him and the Lord started to crumble just a bit.

A few years after he started attending church, Jim found an odd swelling around his eye. The doctor told him it was an insect bite and sent them home. But when it didn’t go away, it led Jim and Carol to seek further answers. It was biopsied but, even after this step, the specialist had no idea what it was. They finally ended up at a dermatologist who sent him to a plastic surgeon. This surgeon recommended that the biopsy be couriered immediately for results rather than being handled in the typical fashion. When no courier was available, Jim and Carol took the biopsy themselves to the local facility that would test it.

It was this second biopsy that finally yielded the diagnosis that no one ever wants to hear: Cancer. Jim had a form of lymphoma on his face.

With this diagnosis, Jim came face to face with his mortality as a forty-something husband and father. With two kids in college and one in high school, this was certainly not what he had wanted to hear. Frightened of the unknown, he started praying to the God whom he had never been interested in. And the wall between him and God started to crumble a bit more. Meanwhile, Carol, who was praying as well, was filled with that inexplicable peace that God gives His own. While she certainly had moments of fear, she trusted God to take care of Jim.

It was during this unsettling time that Jim and Carol went to a Sight and Sound production called “Behold the Lamb”. (For those that may not know, Sight and Sound is a Christian theater that puts on dramatic productions of stories from the Bible that rival Broadway in their professionalism.) While at this production, Jim was struck by the reality of his sin and the hope we have in Christ. While he wasn’t saved there, he would say this was when the wall between him and God started to finally give way.

About this time, Jim and Carol’s pastor moved away and they had to find a new church. This search led them back to Carol’s childhood church, where Jim developed a friendship with their new pastor. One day, Jim asked the pastor about salvation and told him he was ready to surrender his life to Christ.

Carol had prayed for twenty-five years for this day! Oh, what rejoicing was in her heart as she listened around the corner to her husband as he prayed and surrendered his life to Christ.

Through this time, Jim finished his prescribed chemo treatments and after it all was over, the oncologist pronounced him cancer-free! He even used the word “miracle”. Jim looked at him and told him that it was prayer that healed him. God had heard the prayers of many friends and family poured out for Jim and had shown mercy.

After this eventful time in their lives, things really changed. Jim stopped drinking completely upon his cancer diagnosis. He developed a passion for church and especially for the men’s ministry that began while he was there. And he began to take his role as husband and father more seriously.

Fast forward twenty years.

The kids grew up and two of them moved away. Jim and Carol decided to move near their two sons and so they started a new adventure a few hours south of what they had both always called “home”. They found a good church and became a part of the family there. Jim continued to take a yearly trip a few hours away to see his oncologist. He and Carol started talking about the possibility of stopping those visits since he had been cancer-free for so long.

And then one day, Jim got an ulcer in his mouth that wouldn’t go away. Again, there were visits to doctors and uncertain times as they tried to figure out why it wouldn’t heal. He also felt a lump around his nose and his face felt a bit numb. While Carol didn’t really think about it being cancer again, Jim admits that he was wondering if the dreaded cancer had returned.

Jim got a biopsy of the area right before Christmas in 2016 and found out that he did indeed have cancer again—this time it was a completely different type of lymphoma than the first time. It filled his sinus cavity on the left side of his face and was even in his tonsils. It had started eating away at his jaw and his nose.

A plan was put in place to save Jim’s life. It included a bone graft to preserve his jaw along with three rounds of the strongest chemo available, as well as 17 rounds of radiation. The chemo was so powerful that they had to test Jim’s heart to make sure that it would be strong enough to handle it.

Jim’s heart tests went well and so they proceeded with the chemo. He got through two rounds with flying colors. Other than the loss of hair, he really didn’t have any side effects. No nausea, no fatigue. Things looked pretty good. Jim kept smiling and started to pat himself a bit on the back. He was getting through this with God and he was doing pretty good.

And then, right before the third round of chemo, Jim found a watery lump the size of a water balloon on his shoulder at the place where his chemo port was. Thus began a dreaded time of anxious waiting as they worked to find an appointment for an emergency MRI. The soonest they could get in was the next morning. After the MRI, they headed home to wait some more. Around four o’clock that day, they discussed their fear of heading into the weekend without any answers and then walked into separate rooms. Unbeknownst to each other, they both started praying that the doctor would call. A few minutes later, the phone rang. The doctor told them to get to the emergency room immediately. Jim had a large blood clot in his shoulder.

Jim tells of this time as being very humbling. Things were going pretty well, all things considered, and this stopped him in his tracks and forced him to rely on the Lord like never before. After a night’s stay in the hospital in which his chemo port was removed, he was given a three months’ prescription of a blood thinner medication and sent home to get better.

The third round of chemo was out of the question and so they decided to increase the amount of radiation from 17 treatments to 25.

Unfortunately, the radiation could not continue until Jim’s body was strong enough to take it. It was during this time that Jim reached what he describes as his lowest point. He was so disappointed and the waiting was awful. He had to surrender his will to God’s at this point and it was not an easy thing to do.

Finally, Jim was strong enough to start the radiation treatments. But these treatments were not like the chemo. They wreaked havoc on Jim’s body, giving him mouth sores that made it hard to talk and eat, a terribly sore throat, a loss of appetite, and a fatigue so awful it would keep him on the sofa for the whole day. The side effects he had expected with chemo showed up with a vengeance during the radiation treatments.

But through most of this second cancer journey, Jim shares that he has had peace. While he had that difficult moment as he waited for the radiation treatments to start up, he recalled that his battle with surrendering to God’s sovereignty was strongest during his first bout with lymphoma.

It is this peace that gives Jim a vibrancy and cheery spirit despite his circumstances. The radiation treatments are now finished, but the side effects live on in Jim’s body. The radiation killed his salivary glands and so he has a very dry mouth. He has lost the ability to taste and he has no feeling on the one side of his face. He has difficulty swallowing. Every day Jim is reminded of his battle with cancer as he faces these challenges that will be with him for the rest of his life.

At this point, as I sat there talking with Jim and Carol in their living room, they both shared how much they have to be thankful for. They mentioned the prayers and support of fellow believers. They are grateful for Jim’s salvation that has unified them in Christ. They are so grateful God didn’t take Jim during that first battle with cancer. They are thankful for their church. And they are so blessed to celebrate their 45th anniversary this year. Jim & Carol’s three children grew up and started their own families and blessed them with five grandchildren.

Those who know Jim know his passion to share the Gospel. He loves the Lord and he loves people. You know this almost the instant you meet him. And it was through this second round of cancer that God has opened many doors for Jim to share the Gospel. I have no doubt that Jim has planted a multitude of seeds in his neighborhood, his doctors’ offices, and the hospital where he stayed. Jim wants to use this journey to point people to Jesus. This is why he was willing to share his story with you all. He also wanted to be sure that I shared his dedication to prayer during this journey. As he has prayed through his illness, his desire has always been, first and foremost, that God’s will be done. Jim continues to be dedicated to prayer and prays regularly for others.

I also want to acknowledge Carol’s steady and loving support during all of this. I could see that she provides a quiet strength and stability that is the perfect complement to Jim’s passion and zeal.

As I walked out of that home late that afternoon, I walked away blessed. Here was a couple who loves the Lord deeply. God has used cancer to not only bring Jim to saving faith, to plant seeds for the Gospel, and to spiritually grow Jim and Carol, but also to uplift and encourage other believers as they face their own battles and trials.

The questions, the waiting, the fear, and the anxiety that naturally spring from our trials can take a hold and leave us helpless and terrified. It is my hope that through Jim and Carol’s testimony you are encouraged today to trust in God’s sovereignty and to use whatever trial you are facing, whether big or small, as an opportunity to give God the glory and to plant seeds for the Gospel.

Shopping for Furniture

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She was standing there when we entered the store. She quickly moved towards us, asking if she could help us. We courteously told her what we were looking for and that we wanted to look around. As we browsed the left side of the store, she hovered behind us, throwing in little tidbits of unwanted information. As we moved to the right side of the store she faithfully followed us, until we were seated on a sofa set, discussing a different sofa set from the other side of the store. At this point, she stood {too} close by and inserted some piece of information completely irrelevant to our discussion.

I can only assume that, thinking we looked like serious shoppers, she wanted the commission of the sale.

As we walked around and then finally decided not to purchase anything, she made us feel a bit guilty for not buying something. As we prepared to leave she asked if she could give us her card. My husband said sure and, as she dug around in the little purse she had at her side for it, she asked us to find her again should we return, explaining that she only works on weekends.

When we left the store we felt so relieved. I know that she may have circumstances we know nothing about, but someone should tell her that she is not doing herself any favors trying to sell furniture in that manner. It was positively stifling!

She was driven wholly by her desire for a sale.

We then drove across town to a different furniture store. As we entered the store, we were greeted by a friendly man who filled us in on the sale they were having and then told us to find him if we had any questions. As we wandered through the store, we didn’t see him anywhere, although when we did have some questions, he was close by. Soon, I found my husband with him, setting up our room on a big computer screen, placing and moving pieces around to see if the furniture we wanted would fit. He was kind but not overly kind. He was interested in us personally but not overly interested. He offered suggestions that made sense. The experience was in direct contrast to the lady at the first store.

A little later I found out that they don’t work on commission at this store. He didn’t care if we bought anything.

What a difference!

Now–before I move on–let me say that I have worked with salespeople who work on commission that are not quite so obnoxious and desperate. But commission sales are a tricky business, as it is hard to trust someone that is going to benefit from what they are selling you. And, in this day and age where there is such little regard for truth, it is hard to really know if the salesperson is telling the truth. It was a relief to go into a furniture store that wasn’t working on commission. The difference was like night and day.

My mind was turning about this all weekend long. What spiritual lesson is there to learn from this experience?

I believe it is this–

Many “Christians” follow Christ for the rewards they can get. They want a happy life. They want to have peace. They want personal purpose and fulfilled dreams. And compliant kids. And good health. And financial security. Their entire motivation for following Christ is based on what they will get from Him. Like the saleslady, who was driven by her own selfish agenda with little care for the customer, so they, too, are driven by their “commission” (what they will get from God) with little care for really knowing God.

And when they don’t get what they expected, they become disenamored with God. These people respond one of two ways when this happens. They either walk away from God or, if they are true believers, these times become what God uses to grow them and help them realize that the Bible never promises a perfect life.

Contrast that to the guy who just worked because it was the right thing to do. There was nothing in it for him at all. Oh, I rather suspect that the company may reward their best salesmen at a yearly banquet or evaluation, but his work day-to-day was done because of his work ethic and loyalty to the company that has provided him his livelihood for over a decade.

As believers, we need to be more like this guy. Knowing our rewards come later, we should love and obey Christ because it is the right thing to do. We need to follow Christ through the good times and the bad times, without expecting rewards here on earth. And without expecting that everything will go as we planned.

This can be hard to do in a “Christian” culture where preachers and teachers, using the name of Christ to peddle their false doctrine, are literally telling their followers that you can “speak your destiny” or that you will become rich, healthy, and have your dreams come true if you follow Christ. This is not only something that we never find in scripture, it is also a lie that Satan uses to lead people into a wrong and disillusioned view of God.

In fact, we read quite the opposite in several places–

John 15:18 assures us that the world will hate us. We can deduct from this that life will not always be easy and that we won’t be all that popular if we sincerely follow Christ.

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Paul shares his own trials and how he has learned to be content in Philippians 4:11-13. This passage makes it clear that there will be times of great trial and struggles but that Jesus Christ is enough.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

And James in James 1:2-4 tells us not only that we should expect trials but that we are supposed to be joyful during them, knowing that they are producing faith and steadfastness in us.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

So I hope our trip to the furniture stores has encouraged at least one of you to reconsider why it is that you follow Jesus. While we do know that we have eternal rewards coming (Matthew 6:19-20) and while Jesus does give us peace (Philippians 4:7), it is not the peace as the world defines it (John 14:27), where life becomes perfect.

And, finally, as an aside, I have noticed that the times when life isn’t so perfect are what lead me into growing as a believer and in removing my affections from here on earth. God accomplishes great things in our lives when our circumstances are less than perfect. Why do we strive so for temporal rewards? (That was rhetorical–as, of course, we all prefer easy, carefree, painless times. And we should be filled with gratitude when we are blessed with them! Don’t forget to say thank you to God during those happy times!)

Life is full of ups and downs for most of us. Let’s be sure that how we follow Jesus is not based on what we are experiencing in this life but is instead based on His Word. Let’s never be fickle followers that turn away when things get rough but instead let’s turn towards God with a heart that is willing and eager to learn what He has to teach us through the hard times. (And, yes, I do know that this is much easier to write than to actually live out!)

 

The Secret to True Peace

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Some of you are old enough to remember the hippies of the sixties and their use of the word “peace”. It was kind of a buzz word of that era. I think this was probably in reaction to the Vietnam War. I was just a baby during that time so my personal memories are very limited.

I have been thinking a bit about this word peace for a few weeks now. Mostly because I have not really had it. These past few years have brought so many changes so fast–and there are more to come–that I have had a hard time settling into a normal. I have a hard time being at peace when things are not normal. I like routine. I didn’t realize how important routine was to me. But now that life is changing so much so quickly, I can see how I have relied on my circumstances remaining pretty status quo. Most of my change is just normal life change. It’s just–for me–it is all happening at once instead of gradually. My head feels like it is spinning.

I have handled all of this in a variety of ways–crying, denial, just pushing through, fighting back, being irritable with others–but through it all I have not felt peaceful.

And then the other day I heard a sermon by the husband of a dear friend of mine. He had lots of good things to say in that sermon, but the one thing that really resonated with me was the part about peace. You see, I think most of us believe peace is a calm and carefree life without trials. It means a world without war and disease. In fact, many people in the world are working feverishly to bring peace to the world.

But the Bible makes it clear that we will never experience peace in this world until Jesus returns. Even Jesus Himself assured us that He did not come to bring peace–

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34).

This means we shouldn’t expect earthly peace. And it is also clear in God’s Word that we should not expect peace in our circumstances since we read this in John–

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will[a] have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

In fact, in James we read that we are to actually count it all joy when we have trials–

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

And in Romans we read–

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have[a] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

So from these verses we can see that our peace is not dependent upon a carefree life or a world without war.

So how do we have peace? John 16:33 tells us that our peace will come from our relationship with Christ. Our peace will be inward because we are reconciled to God through Christ. It is not about external circumstances.

In Isaiah 26:3 we find instructions on how to be in perfect peace–

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.

We must keep our mind stayed on God. We must be willing to put our trust in Him that He will work all things out for our good (Romans 8:28).

I don’t know about you but, personally, I can find this quite a challenge. Not only in my personal life but in all of the craziness going on in the world. We read of terrorist attacks and shooting sprees and we come face to face with our mortality. At any time in any place we could breathe our last. If we don’t keep our mind stayed in the right place, we will become anxious and nervous. If we don’t keep our mind on God and His glory and purposes, we will become frustrated and disillusioned when things don’t work out in our lives the way we thought they should.

This is no easy task, mind you. It is our natural human tendency to worry and fret and to long for peace in our external world. While we know from the scriptures that true external peace will not happen on this earth, we are promised internal peace through our saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And this is the kind of peace that truly matters.

Not only should we not expect external peace, but we learn from the Bible that God uses trials and tribulations to help us grow. We read in the Romans passage from above that trials produce perseverance and perseverance produces character and character produces hope. God is using our trials to make us more like Christ!

And so I have been challenged recently to be sure that anything in my life that I am unhappy about will be used by God to draw me to Him and to grow me as a believer. Instead of being a discontented and unhappy person, I want to learn perseverance and to be a light to those around me. And God is teaching me that the only way this can happen–the secret to true peace–is to keep my mind stayed on Him instead of on my circumstances.  He is teaching me that true peace come through my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and is not dependent on being free from trials and tribulations (or life changes happening all at once!)

I have let you see a little bit into my own personal struggles this morning. I don’t know if there is someone else out there who has these same struggles, but I thought I would share what the Lord has been teaching me. It is my hope that any who are struggling will be encouraged to look to the Lord for internal peace rather than grasping for illusive, impossible external peace. I hope that, together, we can grow more like Christ through all of life’s changes and trials.

 

 

10 Reasons Why We Avoid the Altar

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

That’s just the honest truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. John 15:19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Finding Peace

Peace is hard enough to find in the best of times. But when tragedy strikes, it can feel impossible. Just yesterday I read of the terrible thing that occurred at the Oklahoma State University homecoming parade and the group prayer that followed at the football game. There is something in us that seeks for the peace we know only comes from God when something awful happens. Even atheists and agnostics will send up vague prayers, begging for God’s grace and mercy in the midst of a calamity.

But there is only one way of actually experiencing the peace that God promises us in the Bible. Only one.

As some of you already know, my brother pastors a small church. A few weeks ago terrible tragedy hit their small congregation. Because it is such a close-knit group, the loss of any is felt acutely. But perhaps even more so when one is removed so suddenly and tragically.

It was just a normal morning. A man from their congregation was traveling with his oldest son to a special event. Little did his wife know that it would be the last time she would see him this side of heaven. There was a terrible car accident that ended the life of her husband. Her son, left with a serious brain injury, was not expected to live.

Many, many people prayed and asked God to spare this teenager. In what seemed a miraculous turn of events, her son went from being at death’s door to being released from the hospital only a week later. The doctors and nurses have shared their amazement and disbelief with the family. They had told his mother to prepare for his death when he first arrived at the hospital. It is truly an awesome blessing from God.

And yet, there is still the devastating loss of his father–a godly man who loved the Lord and led his family well. He was not only a wonderful husband and father, but a vibrant Christian testimony in his workplace and community. He was also a dear friend of my brother’s.

How in the world do we find peace in such the midst of such heart-wrenching circumstances?

During the course of the week, my brother, Pastor Dean, wrote some update emails to an ever-growing list of recipients regarding this dear family. One of the emails was so profound–so helpful– in answering this very question, I asked him if I could share it here. My brother loves the Word of God and this is not his family’s first taste of tragedy. His counsel, straight from the Word of God, may not be the popular answer of the day but it is truth–

I am truly astounded at the recovery of {the son} – it is almost miraculous (those of you who know me, know I don’t use that word lightly!).  We abundantly thank the Lord for restoring him to us.  But we also mourn the death of our brother in Christ, Mark.  I know for me, the mornings have been the most difficult, just when I wake up.  It is of great importance that we, like David, encourage ourselves in the Lord our God  (1 Sam. 30:6).  We deal with an event like this either in faith or unbelief.  The difference is not in whether or not we weep, but whether or not we trust the Lord and His eternal and perfect promises.  He is the Rock, immovable and unchanging, and those who find refuge in Him (that is in His written Word and in Christ), will never be moved.  To see examples of how David encouraged himself in the Lord, see Psalm 18 and 27.  We must call upon Him, submit to Him, trust Him, and obey Him on the basis of what He has said to us in His Word.  As believers in Christ we do not weep as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13-17).

But there are some who are reading this e-mail who do not have the peace of God because they do not have the God of peace.  You cannot have the peace of God without being reconciled to Him through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-23).  The reason we do not have peace is because we are sinners, rebels against God and His truth (Ps. 2:1-3).  We disobey His commands and refuse to believe His Word.  The result is death . . . and restlessness – “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” Is. 57:21.  The first problem is that people do not think of themselves as wicked, but the Bible informs us that we all are wicked from birth (Ps. 51:5; 58:3).   Not only do we sin, but we are incapable of doing anything that is good in God’s sight (Romans 3:10-19; 8:8).  There is only one way to be reconciled to God, according to His Word (John 14:6) . . . it is through His Son Jesus Christ, who, as the Son of God, was sent by God to fulfill the Law on our behalf and be our Substitute by dying in our place (read Isaiah 53 – a prophecy about the Messiah written 700 years before Christ died on the Cross).  When we call upon the Lord through Jesus Christ, confessing our sins and repenting from our sins, we are forgiven and reconciled to God (“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” – Rom. 5:1).  Apart from faith in Christ, there is no hope for the sinner:  “When a wicked man dies, his expectation shall perish, and the hope of unjust men perishes” (Prov.11:7).  There is no ritual, there is no form of meditation, there is no pill, there is no action that you can take that will give you eternal peace – a peace that only God gives to His children who are born again through faith in Christ.

For those who do not know Christ, my prayer is that this day, they would call upon the Lord in faith.  For those who know Him, my prayer for you is that of Paul’s for the Ephesian believers in Ephesians 3:14-21:

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,  that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;  that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,  may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;  and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.  Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,  unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

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