Relationships

When It’s Time to Reap

She sat there in her hospital room, old, confused, and alone. A lifetime of bitterness and grudges and pride was being harvested. Her unforgiving heart and her need to be in control had pushed away most of her friends and family, leaving her to walk through this latest health crisis alone. When one of her children reached out to her, she clung to her pride and her bitterness and pushed them firmly away.

It is, by far, one of the saddest, most heart-breaking things I have ever witnessed. And I was reminded of Galatians 6:7–

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.

We reap what we sow. It is a principle of life we cannot escape. If we sow seeds of bitterness and unforgiveness and grudges, those seeds will grow into plants and those plants will produce fruit. Deformed, loathsome fruit.

If we sow seeds of love and grace and mercy, those seeds will produce good and healthy fruit.

But there are other bad seeds to sow, other seeds that produce bad fruit. Galatians 6 goes on to say this in verse 8–

For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.

Any sowing that is done to our flesh will reap corruption. Any sowing that is done to the Spirit yields everlasting life.

BUT, you may be thinking, that old woman is not me. I am sowing good seeds, I have a good relationship with my family and friends. Lest we get too confident in ourselves, I remind you of something that John Stott once said–

“Every time we allow our mind to harbor a grudge, nurse a grievance, entertain an impure fancy, or wallow in self-pity, we are sowing to the flesh. Every time we linger in bad company who’s insidious influence we know we cannot resist, every time we lie in bed when we ought to be up and praying, every time we read pornographic literature, every time we take a risk that strains our self-control, we are sowing, sowing, sowing to the flesh.”

Oh, we all do it. Every. Single. Day. Maybe not to the extent that will leave us old and alone. But we all sow to the flesh, reaping the consequences of our sinful choices.

God sent His son to forgive our sins and give us eternal life. But salvation does not erase the consequences of sinful choices. We continue to live with those until we die.

Thankfully, living a life that is pleasing to the Lord eliminates so many of those ugly consequences. And that is something we can start to do right now! Today! His commands are not burdensome. They protect us! And what a wonderful protection they are.

We cannot change the consequences that we are experiencing from sinful choices of our past. BUT we can change the future. Here are a few questions we should ask ourselves as we contemplate our future harvest:

What seeds am I sowing that will yield an abundance of good fruit?

What seeds am I sowing that are going to yield the fruit of corruption?

AND…

What can I change to make my harvest so much better?

 

As God has a way of doing so often, He brings just the right book or sermon along at just the right time. That very thing happened this week. If you’d like to think on this topic a bit more, I recommend this sermon by John MacArthur on the principle of sowing and reaping: The Inescapable Law of Sowing and Reaping.

 

 

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.

 

 

When to Stop Talking

Every year there are “Christian” books that rise to the popular status of “everyone must read”. This kind of popularity always raises a red flag for me because the Bible’s message of denying self and taking up our cross is definitely not popular in a world that teaches self-absorption and the importance of following our dreams.

And usually (but not always) these trendy books that are labeled Christian show their true colors when we dig a little deeper. Underneath all of the Christian lingo, we will generally find them full of human wisdom and new age principles.

Of course, Christians are the ones that catapult these books to the bestseller list, imbibing all their appealing, comforting, and uplifting messages without ever really stopping to think if they line up with scripture.

It started with books like Experiencing God, Purpose-Driven Life, The Shack, Jesus Calling, The Circle Maker, Your Best Life Now and it has continued on until now there are so many, it is hard to keep track. There is always a latest, greatest book that all Christians “should read”.

And these books are changing the way we view God and His Word. By inserting man-centered, new age, occultic thoughts and principles, these authors are successfully weaving mainstream Christianity into something that will melt right into the New World Order. This is not conspiracy. This is fact. If you think I am crazy for saying this, I encourage you to do a little research. You will find that it cannot be denied.

Sadly, many Christians are reading these books instead of reading their Bibles, essentially presenting themselves as prey to all kinds of false teachers and doctrines.

But here’s the thing: Most don’t care.

That’s right. Most who call themselves Christians do not care that the Bible doesn’t line up with what they are reading.

I am always amazed to read the comments of a solid book review that compares the latest, greatest “Christian” book to what scripture teaches. Christians, in droves, will go to battle to defend these books. The negative comment will often start like this–

“Well, I think…” or “The book made me feel…” and “But it had so much good…”

The thing is this: Of course it made you think and feel good things. It wouldn’t be a best seller if it didn’t. And, of course, it contained a few biblical messages. That is the only way Satan can sell it to Christians. He can’t make it too obvious or we won’t buy it.

But most don’t care that the essence of the book’s message is full of man’s wisdom and not biblical. They just don’t care. They are much more concerned about their feelings than they are about adhering to the Word of God. Even if you show them specific ways that a book (or ministry or teacher) contradicts scripture and use a plethora of verses to prove your point from the Bible, they will continue in their defense of the unbiblical book (or false teacher or heretical ministry).

And that is when we stop talking.

We cannot make someone care about what scripture says. We cannot force them to hold the Bible as the authority and guidebook for their lives. We cannot coerce someone to open their blind eyes.

And so we stop talking. Otherwise, we will just create unnecessary rifts and divides. Of course, oftentimes, it’s not as simple as this. Some people like debates and they want to keep talking. But we must remember that, while it is healthy to have a good discussion, it is also important that we discern when our words are doing more harm than good.

We have to understand that our words hold no weight if the other person doesn’t care what the Bible has to say. Because God’s Word is literally our only defense. It is the only base from which to speak truth. Our opinions about these matters mean absolutely nothing.

And so it takes some wisdom and discernment to know when it’s best to just stop talking and to start praying. For it is God and only God that changes the heart.

And praise God for those who do want to know! In this age of rampant apostasy and easy-believism, we can grow discouraged at the great number of Christians who just don’t seem to care. But let’s be thankful that there are still those that want to know the truth. There are still so many who want to live by God’s Word and yet they are simply unaware that they are ingesting heresy.

And let’s not forget one very important thing: We don’t know everything. Just because God may have opened our eyes in one area doesn’t mean our eyes are opened in every area. It is so important that we stay humble and teachable, willing to listen to what others have to say and thoughtfully compare it to the Word of God.

So let’s be humble and talk when we are given opportunities, but let’s also carefully discern when it is best to stop talking, take a step back, and really pray for someone. For it is only God who can make the blind eyes see.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

What Is Your Litmus Test?

The other day I was at a Christian Writer’s Conference for an afternoon session. During the couple of hours I was there, the teacher said something like this:

I love the book The Shack. Don’t you just love that? It was an awesome book. I know some people say it is blasphemous, but I just don’t really care. I just loved that book! 

She went on to talk about the beauty of the story. Now, this was a Christian speaking these words. Not once did she talk about the Word of God or why someone might say it is blasphemous when comparing the book’s message to what scripture says. (I’ll attach a few links about The Shack below, for those that may not already realize the danger.)

Her litmus test for truth appeared to be her feelings. Since her feelings gave her the “go ahead” to read, enjoy, and promote that book, no other test was necessary. And she is certainly not alone. I find that, today, most people’s litmus tests are their feelings and experience. This is true for even most Christians.

If it feels right, it must be true. If I feel happy and at peace when I do something, then it must be right.

But this can’t and should never be our litmus test for what is true and right. We know from scripture that we dare not trust our own thoughts, feelings, inclinations, and instincts–

The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. (Proverbs 14:12)

This tells us the state of our hearts and minds and it isn’t a pretty picture. Our feelings, thoughts, experiences, and, above all, our hearts cannot be trusted.

Think of all the places we get led because we trust these wrong things–

• They lead us out of marriages simply because of discontentment (he’s not meeting my needs and I’m not happy)

• They lead us into new age beliefs about spiritual things (But this is such a wonderful and comforting message)

• They lead us into alcohol, drug, sexual, and even technology addictions (one time, one peek won’t hurt…)

• They lead us into not being the parents we should be (I am not going to discipline like I should because I don’t want my child to hate me)

• They lead to forsaken families and broken relationships (I will fulfill this dream at all costs and no matter who I have to hurt to get there)

• They lead to financial troubles (I must have that new thing, even if I can’t afford it)

Our feelings, desires, and thoughts lead us right off the straight and narrow and onto the miry and pitted path of worldly troubles–the kind we could avoid. For, as believers, God has made a way for us to bypass these pitfalls–but it’s only if we turn away from following our feelings and relying on our experiences, and, instead, submit to God and obey His Word.

But we so often don’t. Because we want so badly to trust our own selves. And the world tells us we should trust ourselves. We are told to follow our hearts and our dreams. And this appeals to us because we want our own way. We want to read that popular book or go to that questionable place or fulfill that selfish dream. Running any of it through the litmus test of scripture could put these things in jeopardy. Feelings are much more apt to take us where our flesh wants to go–at least where it wants to go at first. We rarely think of the long-term ramifications.

And so this is where we find ourselves. In a world where the Bible has little influence–even for most Christians.

During this same day where the woman promoted The Shack, I had the interesting experience of hearing people (who claim to be Christians) tell the group who their favorite non-fiction Christian author is. Not one--not one–was a biblically solid author. And this at a Christian conference.

Why?

It is because most Christians aren’t using the Bible as their litmus test, they are using their feelings. And most Christians aren’t holding the Word as the authority of their lives, for their experiences have that holy place.

I wanted to shout out to that group of people–what are you doing? Why can’t you see? But I restrained myself. I can’t fix this. You can’t fix this. God will open the eyes of His true children in His timing. I will take opportunities as He provides them, but I won’t force them.

All we can do is make sure that we–as a quickly shrinking remnant of Bible-believing Christians–follow the example of our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the ages:

1. Have the Bible as our final authority and only litmus test

2. Know the Bible and live according to what it teaches

3. Submit our whole lives to God and obey Him

4. Have the courage to stand for what’s right and according to scripture despite the slander, gossip, accusations, and hatred

5. Be willing to sacrifice our friends, family, material possessions, and even our very lives, if necessary

 

 

*Find helpful articles that compare The Shack to what scripture teaches here and here.

 

 

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.

 

 

Is Being Nice Enough?

Do you believe that others will know you are a genuine Christian because you are a nice person? It is tempting to think this sometimes. We think that somehow because we are a nice and kind person, people will see that we are different and ask us about Jesus Christ.

But how often does this really happen? How often has someone asked you about your “niceness” and about what drives it?

I would say it’s pretty rare for a number of reasons.

First, there are many, many wonderfully kind unbelievers. Being nice and kind does not really set you apart. In fact, my daughter who used to work at a local restaurant said that the wait staff used to hate when “Christian” concerts and speakers came to town because their fans were often the cheapest and the rudest. What a testimony, huh?

So being nice is not something that describes just Christians and, in fact, many who call themselves Christians make a pretty bad name for the rest of us by not being nice at all.

Second, I would say that while nice people are a joy to be around and to work with, they don’t generally ruffle any feathers or cause conflict (often out of their own self-interest). And, while this may be a good thing in some circumstances, when it comes to someone’s eternal destiny, we sometimes have to risk a few ruffled feathers by speaking the truth of God’s Word.

Third, if we are honest, we have to admit that most people don’t really care about the God of the Bible. They have been blinded by the lie that they can create a being of their own wishes and desires and call it god and they are content to with this. They really aren’t searching because they think they are okay. Welcome to the postmodern world.

So is being nice enough?

I think we can safely say that it is not. Being nice will neither set us apart or give us extra opportunities to share the Gospel.

Does that mean we shouldn’t be nice? Of course not. All of us, as believers, should be very kind to others. We do this because it’s commanded (I Corinthians 13) and not as some evangelistic method.

So how do we set ourselves apart? What will draw people to us when they are hurting or have questions? What will cause them to direct their questions to us if the Holy Spirit starts to work on their heart?

If we are faithful to God and His Word, this will naturally show up in our lives. Not only in our kindness but in many other ways, as well. Someone who loves the Lord sets themselves apart in the workplace by not participating in the off-color conversations and raunchy jokes (Colossians 3:8). Someone serious about their faith doesn’t choose to be entertained at bars, strip clubs, or casinos like their worldly co-workers (James 4:4). Someone who is obedient to the Bible’s commands doesn’t cheat or lie or steal when they could do so without the boss or the spouse or the friend knowing (Colossians 3:9). Someone who loves others will speak the truth with love and grace as God gives opportunity (Proverbs 8:7). They control their tempers and do not hold grudges (Colossians 3:8). Someone who is a genuine believer has the courage to stand up for what’s right and to tell others the truth of the whole Gospel–including the part about sin and repentance (Mark 1:15). And they also have a generous and cheerful spirit (2 Corinthians 9:7). Integrity, honesty, grace, courage, generosity, patience, and, yes, kindness, should be the words that people use to describe us. Of course, we aren’t perfect and we don’t get them right all the time. Some of these are easier for us than others. But we should be different in a myriad of ways–not just by the fact that we are “nice”.

It is about so much more than being nice. It’s about being wholly dedicated to the Lord so that when people are searching they come and find you. Anyone can be nice. But it takes a genuine believer to point people to Christ with both their words and their actions.

 

Do You Have a Few Minutes?

Last week, a Growing4Life reader (who is also a dear friend) gave me a biography of J.C. Ryle. She knows that he is one of my favorite authors and had picked this book up for me as a gift. Inside the book she had written a wonderful (and much needed) note of encouragement. I often marvel at God’s perfect timing and am so thankful that He so often uses others to encourage us as we go about doing the work He has called us to do. No matter what our calling is in life, we all can use a pick-me-up once in awhile.

Certain people seem to have the gift of encouragement (like my friend) but it is really something we should all be doing.

It’s crazy how quickly we all fill up our time. Crazier still that this “filling up” hasn’t really led to better lives–just busier ones. And this leaves us precious little time to build into the lives of those around us. We get so caught up in our own worlds and our own problems, that we forget the discouragement, sadness, disillusionment, and grief that is overwhelming others.

Romans 12:15 tells us that we are to–

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

 

But, if we are honest, most of us are too busy rejoicing and weeping over our own situations to pay much attention to the situations of others.

And that is why today I want to offer a little challenge to all of us. Would you join me this week in my Encouraging Others challenge? The truth of the matter is that, as believers, we should do this every day but few of us actually do. Oh, some of you are much, much better at this than others and will find this challenge easy. But some of you aren’t an “encourager” by nature and could find this to be a bit more challenging. I hope you will step out in faith and give it a try, anyway.

This week, let’s take just a few minutes of each day and encourage someone. Think through all of your friends, family, church family, and co-workers. Who do you know that could use a bit of a pick-me-up this week? You can also encourage someone you don’t know all that well (or at all) such as the cashier at the grocery store, the lonely elderly person at the mall, or a hurting neighbor.

We live in a sinful and hurting world which means that there are probably millions of people who could use some encouragement right now. Would you join me in making a small dent in that number this week by taking on this challenge?

Here are some ideas that might help you as you think about who you want to encourage and how you want to encourage–

1. Be aware of those around you. Notice if someone seems extra quiet or appears to be struggling and take some time to talk with them and ask them about themselves. Not in a nosey, busybody way, but in a loving and kind way that shows you genuinely care. If someone just won an award or received some good news, rejoice with them.

2. Ask questions. Instead of talking about yourself the next time you are with a friend or talking with a bank teller or store clerk, ask questions. How is your day? How are the kids? Do you enjoy your job? are good questions for friends. And How are you today? Are you from around here? How long have you been working here? for strangers. And, if the Lord gives you opportunity, even How can I pray for you? I am often surprised at how many strangers will start telling me their life story if I ask a question or two. Most are ready and willing to talk to anyone because there is a real shortage of people who actually listen anymore. (But be sensitive if someone isn’t willing to talk. You will sense it pretty quickly).

3. Be creative. There are so many easy and quick ways to lift someone’s spirits. A hand-written note, an email, a lovely card, a comment on social media, a text, or phone calls are all ways to brighten someone’s day. You can literally do some of these in less than a minute so saying you don’t have time to take on this challenge is not an acceptable excuse! ;) Flowers from your garden or homemade cookies are an easy and inexpensive way to brighten someone’s day. A grocery or restaurant gift card for those in financial difficulty is another idea. Think outside the box.

4. Remember your discouraging times. What was it that cheered you up? What would have given you a much needed boost at your lowest time? When you think of it, do that for someone this week.

5. If you think something good about someone, try to say it to them. For example, if you notice that someone’s children are respectful and well-behaved, say something.  If you like someone’s new haircut or notice they’ve lost weight, mention it. If someone has blessed you by their special music, teaching, or preaching at church, let them know. If a co-worker really stepped up on a project, thank them. Say the good thoughts that you are thinking about others. This is perhaps the easiest way to encourage others.

6. Consider even more. If you feel extra ambitious or have a little extra time on your hands this week, think about taking someone a meal, visiting with a shut-in, or having some church families to your home for coffee and dessert.

7. Be sure to encourage fellow believers. These verses from Paul speak specifically regarding how we are to encourage one another as believers. Let’s remember our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, especially, this week–

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (I Thessalonians 5:11)

8. If you are praying for someone, let them know. Sometimes we will be praying faithfully for someone but they have no idea. This week let’s take some time and let them know. I know I am so greatly encouraged when someone tells me they are praying for me. I am sure you feel the same.

9. Expect to be blessed. It is so amazing how blessing others almost always blesses us more. It doesn’t seem logical, I know, but when we put aside our own selfish desires and agendas and focus on blessing others, we are so blessed, too! It’s one of the most beautiful things about being an encourager.

So are you ready? Do you have a few minutes that you can carve out of your day to be an encourager? Then let’s do it!

 

P.S. If you have other creative ideas on how to encourage someone, please share them in the comment section below. And thanks in advance! :)

Salvation is not a Moment

Does one prayer give us fire insurance from hell for the rest of our lives? Does it secure our place in heaven forever? Well, it might. But it might not.

You see, salvation is not a moment. And since we can’t know someone’s heart when they say that prayer it takes time to figure out if they truly were serious.

We learned this many years ago when one of our young employees was really struggling in life. My husband talked with him about the Lord and connected him with our pastor. He “got saved” and things seemed to change. We saw him around church for the next few months. And then, gradually, he stopped coming. A year or two went by and he ended up cheating our company by using our machines to do his own work on the side while he was supposed to be working for us. That was the end of his employment with our company and the last thing we ever heard about him was that he died in a motorcycle accident, leaving a wife and two young children.

Do I know he wasn’t genuinely saved? No, I can’t possibly know that. We lost touch and he could have changed. And, honestly, we can’t possibly declare if anyone is or isn’t saved. Only God knows the heart.

But what we can see are the repenting person’s transformation, or lack thereof. This young man, in desperation, called out to the Lord. But when things started to get better, the things of the Lord grew uninteresting and unnecessary.

It reminds me of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-9–

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

I believe this passage teaches that there is only one type of prayer that leads to genuine salvation and that is the prayer that comes from the good soil of a repentant and humble heart and then produces a crop of spiritual fruit. Just because someone says a prayer doesn’t necessarily mean they are saved. We honestly can’t find it anywhere in the Bible. While Jesus tells us that to be saved we just need to believe in Him (John 3:16), we also know that true belief gives us a hatred for wickedness and evil by reading verses 19-21 of that same chapter–

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

So you see it is impossible to claim Christ as your Savior if you don’t love the light. While believers are not perfect and never will be on this side of eternity, we do love the light. We do desire to walk like and be like our Savior. We hate sin and yearn for righteousness.

If there isn’t even a smidgen of these new desires in someone you love who claims they are a Christian because they said a prayer, you have cause for concern. Pray for them. And talk with them as God gives opportunities (but never, ever saying they aren’t saved, because we can’t possibly know, but, instead, taking them to the scriptures and showing them what the Word says about genuine salvation).

I get why we like to think salvation is a moment. It is a comfort to us, isn’t it? It assures us that we will spend eternity together with those we love. But the Bible clearly shows us that this is a false belief. Oh, how I wish it wasn’t so, but it’s there. All through the scriptures. Not just at one, vague place but all through them. True salvation yields change.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.[b] The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

So what does this mean for those of us that are genuinely saved? It should give us a more passionate prayer life and compel us to speak the truth in love and grace. For what could possibly be sadder than believing that a sentence you prayed as a kid saved you for eternity and then finding out too late that you have believed a horrible lie?

It is better to speak the truth that hurts and then heals, than falsehood that comforts and then kills. (Adrian Rogers)

Yes! a thousand times, yes! May we be kind. And may we be filled with God’s love. But may we speak the truth that heals rather than comfort people with lies that lead to their eternal damnation.

Salvation is not a moment.

 

The Other Side of the Equation

On Monday I wrote about the “Tactless Art of Making People Feel Small”. In that post I shared how important it is that we treat others as we want to be treated instead of acting like we are better than they are. It was an important post because it’s an easy (and acceptable) sin to commit. I hope you will take the time to read it if you haven’t done so yet.

Ironically…

On Tuesday (the day after that post was written), I was planting flowers for a few of our customers. I actually don’t do a whole lot of on-the-job work for our landscaping company but planning and planting the flowers in the busy month of May is something my husband has asked me to do.

Our second job of the day took us to the house of a customer who has mastered the art of making others feel small. We just know that this is the case with him and I tried to prepare myself for his condescension and abrasive attitude. While we were there he came out of the house and got into this car that was parked in the driveway. I glanced over with a smile and a ready wave, but he completely and absolutely ignored my daughter and me planting flowers in his front yard as he drove away in his {very expensive} car. And, yes, I’m pretty sure he knew we were there. That’s just the kind of guy he is. This is not the first time this kind of thing has happened and I am sure it won’t be the last. Unfortunately.

But my reason for writing is not this customer’s treatment of me. Rather, it is about my very wrong reaction to his treatment of me.

I was actually rather surprised at the intensity of the feelings that stirred up in my heart against him. Who does he think he is? The smallness I felt was almost tangible and my first reaction was indignation and animosity towards him.

The Holy Spirit almost immediately convicted me as I realized that this man doesn’t know the Lord. He is lost in his sins and my sinful anger won’t help Him to know my Savior but, in fact –should he ever find out my bad attitude towards him–would serve to drive him away from Christ. This really had me thinking as I sat there digging holes in the dirt and planting pink supertunias.

You see, there is another side to this equation of making someone feel small and that is: How we respond when someone makes us feel small. Because I think we have all been there. Whether it’s a customer who thinks they are better than us, an arrogant co-worker or boss who is constantly demanding things from us, a friend who directs unkind, sarcastic remarks at us, or any other countless situations that remind us that there are those who think we just aren’t important, all of us have been there at one time or another.

And how do we respond? Actually, don’t answer that. If you are like me, you won’t be very proud of the answer.

So let’s, instead, go to the Bible and see how we should respond–

First, Jesus tells us to love our enemies in Matthew 5:44: But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

While this is talking specifically about those who hate us, I think we can safely say that if we are to love those who hate us, we should do the same for those who would make us feel small. It is easy to build a lot of resentment and bitterness towards someone who does this because it feels so very personal. But, instead, we must forgive and then forgive again. We must let the remarks roll off our backs without building up a mountain of anger inside that festers.

In fact, Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:21-22 that we are to continue to forgive someone, even if they continue to hurt us: Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

This can be hard to do with someone who is making us feel so incredibly unimportant and small.

(And if I may go down a quick bunny trail–I had to wonder why I was so angry about this as I stood in the front yard with my frozen smile on my face as I watched him drive away. And I realized it is that ugly old sin of pride cropping up yet again!! It revealed my own ugly self-importance that will probably plague me my whole life. And it makes me glad, once again, for a wonderful Savior who covers my sin and makes me right before God.)

And, second, I think it’s important we take it a step further as we respond to people like this by remembering that something is going on. While many of us struggle with making people feel small on occasion, there are those who do this to us all the time, which makes it harder to forgive. And yet, we have to understand that if someone is living in a pattern of this type of behavior, we can know that they are either lost and headed to hell in their arrogance and pride or they are saved but struggle with a deep-seated problem of insecurity and the only way to make themselves feel better is to make others feel small. Either way, they should be the recipients of our forgiving loving-kindness that would echo the same forgiveness and loving-kindness that God showed us– But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.(Romans 5:8).

If we need to wait for someone to treat us kindly before we treat them kindly, we are doing it all wrong. God can fill us with His love for someone like this, if we only just ask Him.

And, finally, we have to remember to put ourselves on the back seat and consider our ultimate objective–to save those who are lost and to draw believers to the Word of God and to walk closer with Him. What reaction will best further this goal? Instead of worrying about our foolish pride, we must toss it aside as the rubbish it is and turn our eyes towards eternal matters. What does it matter if someone thought they were better than us if they end up in hell?? It is sobering to think how often we let self  keep us from our ultimate objective.

Anyway, these are all the things I have been thinking about since that incident on Tuesday. I am sure that some of you do not struggle in the same way with that ugly root of pride, but for those of you that do, I hope that this post has encouraged you. God’s Word has the answers, it is just a matter of obeying it. Therein lies the real challenge.

 

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