Struggles

How Would Someone Describe You?

If someone were to come across a description of you a few hundred years from now, what would it say? How do people see you?

Last night I read this description of someone who lived hundreds of years ago. I am sure you never heard of her but this is what the Bishop of London wrote about this lady named Margaret Middleton–

Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London, wrote of Margaret Middleton that ‘the great and distinguishing feature of her character was an active and indefatigable spirit of benevolence, which extended even to the brute creation, and which kept her mind so constantly on the stretch in seeking out opportunities of promoting in every possible way the ease, the comfort, the prosperity, the happiness temporal and eternal, of all within her reach that she seemed to have no time left for anything else and scarce ever appeared to bestow a single thought upon herself …’*

As I read and then re-read that, I was struck with conviction. Particularly by that last line “never appeared to bestow a single thought upon herself”.

How opposite of the culture today, where self has become the only thing that matters to most people. Even we Christians have been sucked into this cult of self. Viewing their happiness as premium, some lack commitment to family, church, and job as they constantly seek to fulfill their own selfish whims and dreams. Others of us have it play out much more subtly. We sulk or yell if we don’t get our way. We might give the silent treatment or walk away. Some of us may manipulate and scheme as we try to make ourselves happy. We fill our minds with ungodly entertainment that our flesh desires–even though we know it goes directly against scripture. We may indulge ourselves by buying stuff, oftentimes even going into debt to do so. Our time is often spent on selfish pursuits that have no eternal value.

Think of the utter contrast this lifestyle is to the description of Margaret Middleton.

So what would someone say about me? Am I more concerned with pleasing God than I am in pleasing myself? Am I concerned with the eternal and not just the temporal? Am I constantly looking for opportunities in which to help and encourage others?

Perhaps these are good questions for us all.

True Christianity is thinking less and less of self as we grow in Christ. How important that we don’t get it confused with that false “Christianity” where self is king and God a mere genie who is to do our bidding.

This is a difficult culture to thrive in for us people who are naturally selfish (like me). We are told that our natural, fleshly inclinations of self-indulgence and pursuits of our own desires are healthy and deserving of our attention. But this is not what the Bible says at all. Shall we take a look? (I’ve underlined the clear teaching that shows us what Christ thinks of selfish living)–

Matthew 16:24Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.

Galatians 5:16-21I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

 

These scripture passages certainly go against the flow of not only the secular culture but also against what’s being taught in most churches. I believe selfishness has become a very accepted sin and that we Christians easily explain it away without giving it much thought at all.

And yet…this is not what scripture teaches. In fact, it teaches the very opposite.

And so we must strive every single day–even every hour–to crucify our flesh and to turn away from our selfish desires and to stop worrying so much about our happiness. In fact, to not intentionally do so means that, by default, we join the throng of humanity as described in the last days–

2 Timothy 3:1-5But 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, [b]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!

Instead of turning away from them, we are them.

Oh, may it not be said of us. May we turn away from our selfish desires and pursuit of happiness, knowing that it isn’t in this life that we will receive our reward. May we remember that the eternity that awaits us is far better than anything we could ever dream or imagine. And may we never forget that chasing after our own pursuits and pleasure never leads to true and lasting happiness anyway.

But, most importantly, may we fall more and more in love with the Savior, so that we become less enamored with worldly pursuits and pleasures and more dedicated and determined to do the Father’s will.

So what would someone write about us? How are we viewed? No matter the answer, today is the first day of the rest of our lives.

It is a great day to continue steadfastly, begin again, or to get started for the very first time to live a life of pleasing God with the time He has so graciously given us to live on this earth. It’s a great day to pick up our cross, start denying ourselves, and intentionally turning our attention to how we can help and support those around us.

It’s never too late to live our lives for Jesus and the time to change is now.

 

 

*Pollock, John. A Fistful of Heroes . Christian Focus Publications. Kindle Edition.

**You can find out more about Margaret Middleton here.

 

Those Deceptive, Capricious Feelings

In the past year or two, God has been showing me how much I have lived by my feelings. Oh, when I compared myself to the world, I looked pretty good. I didn’t live by my feelings so often that it was ruining my life. Not like some people. Or was I? It has been something that I have been thinking on for awhile but it intensified greatly when I started experiencing extreme anxiety during this past summer.

I became aware that I was most definitely living by my feelings. I was allowing them to control me. They were ruling my thought life, my choices, and…well…pretty much my entire life.

When I felt anxious or scared–which, at one point, was almost every second of the day–I became a different person. I was allowing these feelings to change me. To direct my path.

But I guess most of us do this in one way or another. We don’t “feel” like doing anything productive so we scroll through Facebook or mindlessly watch TV. We “feel” like eating that second helping or that third cookie and so we eat instead of practicing self-discipline. We see something in the store or online that we “feel” like buying so we buy it, even if we can’t afford it. We don’t “feel” like talking to that annoying person (who needs Jesus) so we walk the other way. We “feel” scared to share the Gospel with someone so we just don’t. We “feel” angry with our spouse or our child and this dictates how we treat them–whether through yelling at them or by giving them the silent treatment. We “feel” scared or shy or excited or frustrated or sad–and these feelings dictate our choices and responses.

It’s a very human thing to do.

But it is not godly.

Living life according to our deceptive, capricious feelings is a very natural way to live. But it is not a godly way to live.

Recently, my dear friend, Becky, passed away after a 2 1/2 year battle with cancer. Before she died, she wrote a post (find it here) for the “Changed Lives” series. One thing she wrote really struck me while I was in the midst of my battle with fear–

“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!”

Becky lived out this peace and joy. Oh, she had moments of doubt and fear. Life wasn’t perfect. But when I’d visit with her, I’d come away encouraged by her love for the Lord and her trust in Him, in spite of all of the hardness life sent her way during that time. There was genuineness to her joy that only God could have given. There is no other possible way.

As I thought of what she wrote, it became clear to me that Becky had to make a choice. She had to make a choice that went beyond what she felt about her circumstances.

We are called to do the same.

Satan would like nothing more than for us to be imprisoned by fear or anger or a desire for pleasure. He wants us clad in iron chains or to be so far down in a dark, miry pit that we are rendered ineffectual for Christ. And it’s easy to land there if we are controlled by our feelings. The power that sin and Satan have in our lives is directly correlated to the power we give to our feelings.

I am not sure that we can ever master control over our feelings on this side of heaven. In fact, I’m sure we can’t. But we can certainly make progress.

However, first, we need to be aware that we are doing it. I believe living by how we feel has been so thoroughly ingrained in us, so consistently lived out by those around us, so pushed in the media and entertainment worlds, that we may not be aware that this is a problem.

Feelings change. But the Word of God never changes. Feelings lie and deceive. But God’s Word is Truth. Feelings often lead us in the wrong direction. Scripture always leads us the right way.

May we think through our lives and reflect on what our many choices each day are based on. Are they based on the truths and commands and promises found in scripture? Or are they based on how we happen to feel at the time?

 

His Will, Not Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He must increase, but I must decrease.

Read that again.

He must increase but I must decrease.

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

Luke 9:23 clarifies this thought even more–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His will, not mine.

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

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

His will, not mine.

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

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are to forgive.

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

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

We are to examine and test ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Defense or Self-Assessment?

Ouch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn the Other Cheek.

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

Let the Lord Deal With It.

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

Love Your Enemies.

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

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

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

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the Bible Says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Problems will rarely be solved instantly–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

God’s Battle Plan for the Mind

A few months ago, we were able to visit the church where my brother pastors. Many of you know him as Pastor Dean as I’ve shared quite a few things here on the blog by him. In the lobby, I found a mini bookshelf with about ten books that he recommends to his congregation for reading. One of the books caught my attention. It’s title was God’s Battle Plan for the Mind and it was written by David Saxton. The subtitle was: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation.

Kind of like he’s hijacked the symbol of the rainbow, Satan has also hijacked this word “meditation”. So I was interested in reading about the biblical view of meditation. Just what did the Puritans have to say about it?

I picked up the book and paged through it. I saw that, for a small donation, I could purchase the book and so I decided to do just that. Now, I have a bit of a problem. I buy a LOT of books and read so few of them. I have the best of intentions but there are just SO many that I’d like to read. I’ll never have enough time.

But I started reading this one almost immediately and it was so incredibly useful and insightful that I kept right on reading until it ended. I was rather sad for it to end. I find that it’s always hard to come to the end of any good book, no matter what genre it is.

I highly recommend this book. Here are the links for your benefit (I get no proceeds from these links but provide them simply for your convenience). The Paperback edition can be found on Amazon or, for $5 less, you can get it at Christianbook.com  You can also get the kindle version here or the ebook version here.

Of course, I do recognize that the majority of you, for whatever reason, will probably never read it. And so I decided to take a few moments today to share a few of its best quotes and ideas, so that all my readers can benefit at least a bit from this book.

When I read a book, I keep a highlighter pencil (they don’t bleed onto other pages) and sticky tabs next to me. I mark things that really make me think or that I want to remember. This book has a lot of tabs sticking out from it. It will be hard to choose what to share.

These days meditation is pretty much understood to be the eastern, mystical practice of “emptying the mind.” But this is in complete opposition to what scripture teaches us. Here are some thoughts on biblical meditation that I hope will encourage you not only in its importance, but also in its practice. Quotes from the book are in italics.

What is the danger of an empty mind? Henry Scudder explains:

When you are alone, be sure that you are well and fully exercised about something that is good, either in the works of your calling, or in reading, or in holy meditation or prayer. For whensoever Satan does find you idle, and out of employment in some or other of those works which God has appointed, he will take that as an opportunity to use you for himself, and to employ you in some of his works. (p. 41)

What about devotions? Is this the same thing as biblical meditation? Well, not necessarily. The author puts it like this:

Meditation and spending time with the Lord is like a good meal–it takes time to prepare and time to enjoy. Many Christian devotions resemble a person who is wolfing down a burger while driving on the freeway. However, our time with the Lord should look more like a couple who enjoy each aspect of a seven-course meal. (p. 57)

This thought really struck me because it is easy to have our devotions or quiet time just another thing to be checked off of our to-do list. How often do I view it as something to be cherished and savored? Something special rather than something I “have” to do? This was so convicting to me.

Why is meditation important? What good does it do? I’ve really been thinking about this as I have started to give more effort to memorizing scripture in the past few months. I am not as regular or dedicated as I want to be but I am taking baby steps in the right direction. One thing I have noticed about this is how often the words I have memorized will come to me in a situation just when I need them. If I am anxious, I will find Philippians 4:6-7 or Matthew 6:34 ease my mind. If I am going for a second piece of cake, Proverbs 25:16 will leap to mind. If I am worried about the future, Psalm 37:23-24 will come to mind. The truth is that: Unless we really spend time hiding the Word in our hearts–either through memorization or deeply reflecting on what we read, our spiritual growth will be seriously hindered.

Thomas Watson puts it like this–

“without meditation the truth of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation, all is lost.” (p. 66)

Saxton continues–

Although many read the Bible with giving meditation any merit, this is the only way to read the Bible in a completely profitable way. This will bring lasting change and spiritual growth. The believer reads scripture not for the reading itself but to consider its various truths. This gives power to the Scriptures to impact life. Watson wrote:

“Meditation without reading is erroneous; reading without meditation is barren. The bee sucks the flower and then works it into the hive, and so turns it into honey. By reading we suck the flower of the Word, by meditation we work it into the hive of our mind, and so it turns to profit…The reason we come away so cold from the reading of the Word is because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.” (p. 66)

Isn’t this so true? Bible reading is so much sweeter and profitable when we take some time to chew on what we have read, rather than to read distractedly so we can move to the next thing. Memorizing takes it even a step further and keeps the Word in our minds to chew on when we have a spare moment.

Why should we meditate? What’s the big deal? I greatly appreciated this quote by the author–

Without redeeming the time through godly meditation, one will be overcome with the evil of the age and be left vulnerable to polluted, depraved thoughts that incessantly seek a mind upon which to work their evil. Christians come into the faith with a sandstorm of carnal baggage swirling around in their minds. No believer will overcome the effects of mental pollution without using his time to continually renew himself. Christians who refuse to use their time to meditate upon the Word are as foolish as an army sentry without bullets or a fireman without a water source. (p. 101)

Oh, how true! Aren’t we so much more protected from the evil within our own hearts and the wickedness of the world around us when we are in the Word and meditating upon it?

___________________________

I have so many more quotes and thoughts I could share from this book but I think this is probably enough to chew on for today. I hope I have whetted your appetites and that some of you will consider reading it. I really think you will be glad you did!

God has created a great defense in the battle for our minds and it is biblical meditation. Don’t let the word “meditation” and Satan’s abuse of it scare you from practicing it in the way God intended.

 

A Sad, Sad Ending

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

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

However…

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

Well, what a disappointment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____________________________

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

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

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we edifying someone by using foul language? No.

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

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

And one more–

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

The Little Things

A few months ago, I had purchased a little basket and put some plastic Easter eggs in it. When my three year old grandson would come over around Easter-time, I’d hide them for him. I never got around to putting them away and so when he was over a week or two ago, he decided he was going to do the hiding. Just as he finished up hiding the eggs, they had to go so we never hunted those eggs.

Now, as I go about my day, I will sometimes find one of those eggs. The other day, I was going for the vacuum and opened the closet door. There, right at my feet was an sparkly yellow egg. It just made me smile. I put it in the basket. I know I will find a few more over the coming weeks. And maybe months or years. Sometimes three year olds can hide things very well!

When I picked up that egg from the closet floor, I was reminded of how the Lord walks with us through trials and hard times.

As we walk a rough, rocky path, God doesn’t generally tend to remove us from that path. But, every now and again–and often just when we need it–He provides a little thing to make it bearable. A Bible verse we just “happen” to read that day, an encouraging phone call or text from a friend, a video or speaker that speaks right to our need that day.

Sometimes we can be so desperate for relief from our trial that we miss the provision of the little things in the midst of the journey.

Have you ever been through a storm and then, when you come out the other side, reflect on of the small ways in which God provided for and encouraged you? Little things that showed clearly that He cares for you personally?

You see, we don’t serve an impersonal God. We serve the Lord God of the Universe who loves us with an everlasting love. We follow a God who truly cares for us as we walk in this sinful world and endure the suffering that naturally comes along with it.

I think all of us can tend towards the selfish belief that if God loved us, then He would rescue us from pain and sorrow. In fact, some of the false Christianity today gets followers by promising relief from trials if the person does just the right thing (speaks the right phrases, prays the right way, gives money to the right ministry, etc.)

But, while relief is truly wonderful, God’s purposes and plans often go far beyond instantaneous relief for His children. They include His glory and our growth. They include the salvation of the lost. And I believe that sometimes include the spiritual growth of others, as well.

But, while we suffer, we are not left bereft and alone. God, in His great kindness and mercy, provides little mercies and small graces. These make the trial bearable and remind us of His loving care.

Just like a little egg on a closet floor reminds me of the grandson who brings me so much joy, so do the little blessings during a fierce storm remind us of God’s love and the joy and peace He has promised.

Don’t miss the little blessings even in the midst of the trial. They are there, if we only pay attention.

 

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. Psalm 36:7

 
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, 17 comfort your hearts and [i]establish you in every good word and work. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. I Peter 5:7

The Case of the Disappearing Hair Cream

My eyes scanned the store shelves. Oh, no. My heart sank. Could it be they stopped making it? No, that couldn’t possibly be.

Let me back up just a bit. I have very thin, rather lifeless hair. My hair would definitely be one of things at the top of the list were I given the opportunity to change anything about my appearance. But many years ago–perhaps 15 or more–I had stumbled onto a texturizing cream that had worked wonders. I bought it year after year after year. Until that fateful day.

I asked the store clerk. She thought maybe they were just out of stock.

I went back several more times over the course of the next year and realized that it had happened. My hair cream was off the market. At that point, I purchased nine tubes (yes, nine!) off of Amazon and started on my search for a new, comparable product. But, time after time, I’d be disappointed. It would be inordinately sticky. Or too thin. It wouldn’t hold my hair enough. Or it would hold it too much. I was growing less and less sure that I’d ever find a replacement. This went on for a couple of years and my stock was growing dangerously low.

And then one day, just a few weeks ago, I was scrolling through an online store and came across a product that I thought might be worth a try. Why not? I added it to my cart.

After it arrived, it sat there for a few days. This shows you how little expectation I had that it would work. It was almost like I was stalling the disappointment.

One morning, I pulled it out and opened it up. It was a little sticky. I sighed, placed a dab of the white cream on my fingertips, and reached my hand up to my head and…it worked! It worked better than the original! I couldn’t believe it. Finally, I had found a replacement.

I am still so surprised when I use it and it works. It works for hours. It’s better than the original in every way.

So what is my point?

Well, I’d like to tell you another story. Don’t get caught up in the details of the story. Please keep in mind that I am not telling you what your convictions should be. I am telling you my testimony so that you will see that God won’t give conviction without making it possible to experience victory. And that if you are filled with conviction then be sure to follow it through–and if you are smart you will do this much quicker than I did.

If you are a “music” person, this will make more sense to you. I love music. My life would be incomplete without it. I love all kinds of music–well, most kinds, anyway. I had to actually train myself to turn it off sometimes and learn to enjoy quiet.

As a college student, I listened to a variety of music, which included quite a bit of secular rock and pop. As I matured as a believer and became a mom, I began to realize that the lyrics of much of the secular music I was listening to was saying the complete opposite of what the Bible taught. It wasn’t what I wanted to teach my kids or fill my head with. I made the decision to eradicate most of that style from my life. (Which I have never regretted).

While I listened to classical and southern Gospel and jazz music while the kids were growing up, mostly what I listened to was of the Christian Contemporary Music variety (or CCM as it is frequently called). I had nary a hint of conviction about listening to this and was content to have this as part of my life for a very long time.

And then, several years ago now and through various avenues, God started to bring to my attention some concerns with this music. The lyrics were theologically wrong more often than not. The artists themselves were less than impressive when interviewed and often admitted to worldly lifestyles and bad theology. And, the truth of the matter was, if I listened to anything with a heavy rock beat, it would actually negatively affect my mood.

I remember often being angry about something and turning on a heavy rock song. Christian or secular, it didn’t really seem to make much difference. It matched my mood and would feed my anger. I vividly remember the day and exactly where I was when I realized that I needed to make a change. God had filled me with conviction that this music–no matter what the lyrics said–was not His music.

That led to ten or more years of me fighting against this conviction. I was basically addicted to CCM and the rock-style of music and, to be truthful, had no interest whatsoever in giving it up. Besides if I didn’t listen to modern music, what in the world would I listen to? What would even be left? I had already given up rock music and was viewed as really odd because of it. Did the Lord really desire I give up CCM, too? And was I really willing to make myself look even odder? Was I convicted over nothing? And yet the fruit of this music in my life wasn’t the best on many different levels: Teaching me incorrect theology, affecting my mood, and leading me towards the world rather then away from it. I had to admit this. Oh, how I vacillated back and forth for a very long time.

Finally, one day in the not-that-distant past, I said something like this to the Lord: “Lord, if it is Your will that I stop listening to this music, you will have to remove my desire. You will have to help me because I can’t do it on my own.” And I left it at that.

I had no instant answer. I still liked that style of music the next day. And the day after that. But a year or two down the road, a small miracle had taken place. That music had lost its hold on my life. I now was content to fill my ears with hymns and songs that didn’t need a heavy drum beat. I started listening to classical and instrumental much more often. While I still listen occasionally to a theologically correct CCM song or album, I have lost my passion for it. Now, I can take it or leave it.

And here’s the thing: I am a much healthier Christian for it. I even experience less fits of anger. I think rock music does something to our psyches. I can’t prove it. I can just share my experience. I do think it has been proven, actually, but that’s not my point.

My point for today’s post is to let you know that if God gives you conviction, it is for a reason. And the sooner we follow Him, the sooner we will be experiencing the wonderful benefits of yielding to the Spirit, separating ourselves from the world in that area, and growing in our sanctification.

So back to my first story. My new hair cream surprised me by being so much better than my old hair cream. Oh, I could still use the old stuff, but I much prefer the new one. I found something better to replace the old.

So, too, is the issue of music for me now. Oh, I can listen to CCM on occasion but I don’t really enjoy it very much anymore. God really did deliver me from my passion for it. I have no other earthly explanation.

When God calls us to give up something, we don’t spend our lives pining for it. We don’t long for it when we run into it again in the world. He actually takes away our hunger for it. And He gives us new and better desires. It is truly amazing! This is sanctification at work.

While I know this post wasn’t officially about music, I also realize that many of you won’t agree with my conviction about it. In fact, I imagine I will lose some readers over it. People feel very, very strongly about their music. It is one of the reasons I don’t talk about it that much.

However, if any of you reading this have started to have little niggling doubts about this modern day music that is labeled “Christian”, may I encourage you to start praying about it. And then start listening to the lyrics, comparing them to scripture. When the radio is on or you are listening to any song–secular or Christian–pay attention to what message is really filling your brain. Is it a biblical message? Or is it anti-biblical? Pay attention and be diligent in prayer. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom and guidance and then the strength to make a change if you are convicted to make one. He is faithful.

 

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