Struggles

This is Not the End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I saw this so clearly.

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

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

 

Starting With What We Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk about some of them–

Piece ONE— God loves us so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But as it is written:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Other Side of Self-Esteem

There is a constant push to view ourselves highly. We are wonderful. We are beautiful. We can do anything.

The world, and, more increasingly, the “church”, encourage us to accept ourselves as we are. To love ourselves first and foremost. We are even told that we can’t learn to love others unless we have this deep, abiding love for ourselves first.

Even as I write the above sentence, I grimace inside. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And as more and more people are loving themselves first, we find a world filled with arrogance, pride, grudges, broken families, split churches, and miserable workplaces.

The fruit of the self-esteem movement has been less than stellar.

But there’s another side to this word that we don’t often talk about. And that is this: Sometimes we don’t feel all that wonderful. In fact, we feel like a big loser. We don’t have any self-esteem at all–or do we…?

I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve personally struggled through something recently.

Let me first state that I am sharing this because I believe that there may be a few of you out there who struggle with this, too. Honestly, I don’t really want to share this and–please understand–I am not asking for you to encourage me or build me up. I am sharing this simply because it has happened. It is happening. And I am trying to work through it in a godly way. And maybe my struggle and how God is teaching me through it will help you, too.

A few months ago, God started allowing a few things to happen in my life that started to dig away at my confidence. While I try not to hold on to anything too tightly, I did possess a comfortable confidence in my purpose for this blog and for life, in general. But, gradually, through a number of different avenues, the assurance that I was in the right place doing the right thing faded away and I was left with a lot of question marks.

It all came to a head one day last week. And, frankly, I just wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. Thoughts poured into my head of my inadequacy, my countless flaws, my unfitness for ministry, my lack of wisdom, my selfishness, etc. If I am honest, I was a little frustrated that God had made me the way He did.

And I started to spiral down into a very dark place.

And then God turned the light on.

And I remembered something just in time:

Self-pity is just another way Satan gets us to focus on ourselves.

Did you notice all of those thoughts that poured into my head started with “my”??

When we esteem ourselves highly we are self-focused and everything that happens is about us. Whether we take self-esteem in the arrogant, prideful direction or we take off in the self-pity, woe-is-me direction, both lead us to a place of self-absorption and away from God.

How important it is that we take our eyes off of ourselves. If we aren’t careful, we can allow circumstances to lead us down one of these paths. Whether it’s the praise and glory of men or it’s their criticism and ridicule, both have the potential to lead us into this trap. We must take our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5), stay diligent in prayer and reading the Word, and then choose to live with great intention in order to avoid these traps and stay on the right path.

We can take great comfort from Paul’s words to the Philippians in chapter 3–

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (vs 12-14)

In these verses we read that we will never attain perfection. It is here we learn that we must press on amidst the praise and the criticism. We must keep reaching forward and pressing toward the goal. This takes intention and perseverance. It takes single-mindedness. There is no time for pouting or self-pity. These are mammoth wastes of time. As are boasting and arrogance. Both sides of self-esteem are danger zones for Christians.

So be on your guard, my friends, and don’t follow my example. Don’t spend even a second in the trap that I landed in last week. We must take our eyes off of ourselves and rest them confidently on Jesus. I conclude with these encouraging words from the author of Hebrews–

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, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

 

Disregarded Sins

The other day my phone screen went black. I could hear the texts coming in but I couldn’t see them. I fooled with the buttons but nothing I did was successful in giving me back my screen. In my thoughts, I started to complain. What in the world? Why now? Normally, I will tell someone where I am going, but not this time. If I didn’t answer texts, my family might worry. Thankfully, there was an AT&T store nearby so I stopped in there, borrowed the phone of a nice man to call my husband and let him know what was going on, and spent an hour (or more) trying to figure out how to solve my problem.

Somewhere during that hour, while I was waiting for the AT&T representative to return from the back of the store, I realized what a ridiculously unimportant, first-world problem I was having. Really? I am going to complain (in my head, mind you) about such a thing? What is wrong with me?

But we do it so easily, don’t we? We literally complain about everything. Or am I alone in this?

Every time I read Numbers 11, I am struck by God’s lack of tolerance with complaining. Go ahead and look it up. It is incredibly sobering. God hates complaining. It is a vile sin and strikes at the very heart of His sovereignty in our lives. Any complaint-no matter how big or small–is a way to let God know that we are not happy with our lot in life. We are in essence letting Him know that we don’t think He is doing a good job and that, at this particular moment in life, we really don’t trust Him.

We don’t normally think of complaining like this. We view it much more casually than it really is.

Philippians 2:14 lets us know that God’s hatred of complaining continues on into the church age–

Do all things without complaining and disputing.

All things. When our phone dies. When it rains for our summer picnic. When we get sick. When our arm hurts. When someone disappoints us. When we are betrayed. When something really bad happens. We are supposed to live all of life without complaining. That is a really tall order in a complaint-drenched society.

Complaining can become almost habitual if we aren’t careful. It can even be the main gist of the conversation when we hang with friends or family. It can become a way of life.

But perhaps it is time to change. God hates it. This is reason enough to break ourselves of the habit.

As if that isn’t enough, in the next chapter, Numbers 12, we go on to read about the sins of gossip and envy.

Numbers 12:1-2 puts it like this–

Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman. So they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it.

The Lord becomes so angry about this that He strikes Miriam with leprosy!

Was He more angry about the envy than the gossip? We can’t really know, but we do know that both are sins that are very serious in God’s eyes.

We read about gossip in Proverbs 16:28: A perverse man sows strife, And a whisperer separates the best of friends. 

And envy is one of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:17): You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.

Both are considered sin in the Lord’s eyes. And for that Miriam paid dearly.

But in this age of grace, we are not often struck down for complaining or for gossiping or for holding envy in our heart towards someone. Does this mean it is any less grievous to God than it was in the Old Testament? Has the age of grace changed how God views sin?

Most certainly not.

And it’s these sins we view as small and inconsequential that can be the most damaging to those of us who truly desire to live a life pleasing to the Lord.

While we feel pretty good about ourselves for avoiding the big, obvious sins, these other sins sneak in unobtrusively through the cracks in our spiritual armor and before we know it, they have taken up permanent residence in our souls.

Has any of these sins made themselves comfortable in your Christian life today? I know I had to really do a heart and mind check after reading these two chapters.

If God hates these things so much, why do we treat them so casually?

After awhile, we can get discouraged. When we realize some of the sins that have become a part of the fabric of our lives, we can be frustrated or overwhelmed. I don’t believe this is what God intends.

We know He uses the Word to convict and correct us (2 Timothy 3:16) and we know that we are foolish to read the Word and then to remain unchanged (James 1:22-25). And so, as God shows us the sin in our lives, we should thank Him and then begin to intentionally eradicate (or at least greatly lessen!) that particular sin in our lives.

And here’s the wonderful thing–not only will we please God but we will reap the wonderful benefits personally. Curtailing sin has a way of doing that.

If we aren’t complaining all the time, it is much easier to be grateful. And when we are grateful, we are much more content. And when we are more content we are just naturally happier. See how this works?

When we make pleasing God our main priority, He naturally takes care of our peace and happiness. It’s an amazing thing. God’s plan for us is right and good. He is not a mean ogre in the sky making demands (as some people would think). He is a gentle and loving God who wants and knows what is best for us. And it is best for us to not complain, to not gossip, and to not be envious.

But, most importantly, it is best for Him and His glory. What kind of testimony are we if we have these sins in our lives?

When Christians gossip? Envy? Complain? What kind of impression is the world getting?

I’ll tell you: They are thinking “these Christians are just like us.” And, rightly so–because it’s true.

We can remove all kinds of worldly things in our lives but if we are complaining, if we are gossiping, if we are filled with envy–well, we are still very worldly. And we are a discredit to our Lord and Savior.

I say all this to myself, too. It is convicting to think about, is it not? And these sins sneak in so subtly, don’t they? May we never let our guards down.

I thank the Lord for His Word and I thank the Lord that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can change. It is never too late!

Let’s begin that change today.

 

 

A Life Above Reproach

Tomorrow is voting day here in the United States. Someone told me the other day of a conversation they had with the staff member of a local representative. This person was sharing her horror and disgust at the lies and slander that were being told about this man by his opponent. She listed a few things that the commercials had “asserted” and declared their impossibility given this man’s upstanding character.

We already know that we can’t believe everything we hear–especially during voting time.

But there is something else to consider:

This man’s closest friends and co-workers knew with certainty that the things being told about him were false. This should lead us to ask ourselves a question: Are we living life in the same way? Are we living above reproach in such a way, that if someone slandered us, we’d have those who know us best declaring there is no way it could be true?

Do you know that this is how it is supposed to be for us as believers? Peter puts it like this–

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. I Peter 3:15-16

How do we have a good conscience? We do this by living a life of integrity. While we can’t do this perfectly (we all continue to sin, unfortunately) we can and should choose to live righteous and holy lives.

If we always tell the truth; if we honor our marriage vows; if we never cheat, steal, or rob; if we respect authority; if we are kind and loving to others; if we are content with our lot in life; if we are humble; if we are careful not to put ourselves purposefully in the path of sin (such as bars, casinos, and wherever else we know temptation takes us to places we shouldn’t go) then we are living a life of integrity.

If we never take advantage of people in business deals; if we don’t manipulate and use people; if we don’t hold grudges and aren’t easily offended; if we conduct any company, church committee, or PTA business with fairness and honesty, then we are giving our enemies very little to grasp onto.

They are then forced to lie.

And we all know that this is what happens. If there is a man or woman of integrity that has an enemy, be sure they will be lied about.

But that person that’s being lied about? He has a clean conscience. He knows the truth and those that really know him know the truth. While it is a battle to be fought and there is much heartache that comes from false accusations, there is still an accompanying peace that comes from knowing that the accusations are false.

As I think about the recent Kavanaugh hearings, this comes to mind. You see, we as the public, are at a loss. And people like his enemies know this. They know that once a lie is told it puts a seed of distrust in the hearer’s mind. I have my guesses on what happened with that hearing but unless I’d get to know both parties personally, there is really no way for me to know the truth. False accusations are extremely powerful.

Opponents in political races know this. As do irritated agenda-driven church members, frustrated co-workers, and others who strive to knock someone down and out of place. Lies bring destruction.

While we can’t stop people from lying about us, we are able to choose to live a life above reproach. We can choose to live in righteousness so that when they do choose to say something about us, there is no foundation of truth to even be found upon which they can build their lie.

No, this doesn’t bring back the trust of others. No, this doesn’t take away the dreadful pain or even the consequences of the slander and false accusations. Elections are lost, godly men are forced out of ministry, and good workers leave companies because of lies. Christians even lose their lives because of lies. False accusations have often been what Satan has used throughout history to martyr many of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can’t change this.

But we can live with a clean conscience so that, as Peter says: that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.

It is a discouraging world where lies will win. But Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44) and the world is currently under his influence (I John 5:19). We also know that Satan is a Christian’s greatest enemy (Ephesians 6:11-12;I Peter 5:8). Therefore we should’t be surprised when we are the target of lies and slander.

So let’s not give Satan any handles to grab on to. Let’s live a life so above reproach that there is not even a hint of truth found in any accusations against us. It is in this way that we can honor the Lord Jesus as well as preserve our peace of mind and heart.

And while we are struggling (and hopefully growing in our faith) through those false accusations, we dare not forget this:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But 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, (Matthew 5:43-44)

Nothing is outside of God’s care, including false accusations. Even this is under His sovereignty and can be used to teach us and grow us in holiness and righteousness.

 

Ants and Donuts

A few weeks ago I came downstairs to find ants. Normal-sized ones and teeny-tiny ones* were making themselves right at home on my kitchen counter. I had been fighting a battle with them since it got cooler. I thought we had beat them, although I would still find an occasional one making its lone way across the countertop. Until that morning.

I grabbed some thick sheets of wet paper towel and just started wiping it across the counter, gathering all I could see in my broad swipes, muttering to myself all the while. I. Hate. Ants. Especially in my house.

Nearby sat a container of apple cider donuts leftover from a gathering the night before. I carefully lifted them up in the dim light, twisting and turning the clear container all around. I didn’t have my glasses on but from what I could tell, they looked okay. I breathed a sigh of relief and moved them to the kitchen island where, at least so far, no ants had been spotted.

A little while later, my husband mentioned that the donuts had ants all through them. Rather shocked, I put on my glasses and sure enough! They were all over those donuts. What looked like hundreds of them crawling over, under, and through the holes in the middle.

How could I have not seen them?

I threw the donuts away and went on with my day.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about this incident. There are a few lessons to be learned.

The first lesson that came to mind is that worry and anxiety are like those ants. They crawl in and around and through everything good in our lives and destroy it. While worry and anxiety do nothing to help change the future, they do destroy the present. I think this is why Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:34–

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

The fact that Jesus mentions this would tell us that worry has always been around. What is the antidote for worry? How do we get to “Do Not Worry”? I am actually still working on that. However, I think there are two things that can really help.

First, and most importantly, we need to fill our minds with God’s Word. His Word fills us with comfort and peace and gives us an eternal perspective. We should memorize a few verses about who God is. And Matthew 6:34 (or even back up a few verses and catch the rest of what Jesus has to say about worry). Saturating our minds with God’s Word will serve us well when the anxieties loom over us and steal our joy.

Second, we need to turn our attention from inward to outward. It is hard to see the needs of others when we are focused on ourselves. We render ourselves fairly ineffective for God’s Kingdom when we are overtaken and haunted by worry and anxiety about the future. But when we can think outside ourselves and serve others, we will find that the thoughts of anxiety and worry will melt away as other thoughts fill our minds.

I believe that our battle with worry and anxiety is a sin because it shows that we are not trusting God or submitting to His will for our lives. I also believe that this sin is one that almost all of us fight at one time or another. The first key is to recognize it as a sin (and not just blame it on our personality or circumstances) and then we need to actively work to eradicate that sin from our lives.

The second lesson from those ants is this: We need our glasses on in order to see the ants. The Bible functions as our glasses. It gives us understanding and shows us who God is, who we are, what sin is, how we can be saved, and how we can grow in Christ. Everything we need for life and godliness is within its pages.

But, too often, we try to navigate life without it. And so we have ants on our donuts but we don’t even realize it! We think all is fine when it’s not fine at all. The Bible not only helps us get rid of the ants, it shows us that the ants exist.

You may think you’d just rather know the ants don’t exist. And I feel that way, too, sometimes. But God’s way is always perfect and finding those ants (and sins!) sooner rather than later is always going to be best for us!

So we need to put on our Bible glasses in order to see ourselves as we really are (instead of our “friend” glasses that have us comparing ourselves to those around us).

And then we need to do something about it. Remember what James says–

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. James 1:22-25

 

I don’t like ants, but they did give me something to write about this morning, so as it’s the first day of November I can say, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, there’s even a reason to be thankful for ants on my counter! Have a great day!

 

 

*The exterminator told me the really tiny ants were baby ants! Who knew??

 

The Expedient Lie

A friend of mine and her husband have wisely decided that their family will not celebrate Halloween*. As they have been going out and about town these past few weeks her four-year-old has frequently been asked what he will be dressing up like for trick-or-treating. His consistent answer was that he wouldn’t be dressing up because “Mom says we only celebrate holidays that have to do with Jesus.”

But one day a lady asked him this same question and his answer was remarkedly different.

“Umm, I am going to be a superhero!”

“Ohh, which super hero?” the lady asked.

This peaked his mom’s interest, as he doesn’t even know any superheros. She stood back to watch where this was going.

“Ummm, well, it’s red and blue…” His mom realized he was describing a mask and cape that he had at home.

“Oh, nice.”

But the little guy wasn’t done yet. He added this, “And yeah, I am going to wear it to our Halloween party.”

She says, “Oh, a Halloween party?”

He proceeded to enthusiastically tell her that he would be eating cake and having fun there.

Mom didn’t say anything but later she asked him why he had told that lady he was dressing up and talked about a Halloween party.

He said something like this: “Well, I just got tired of telling people I don’t dress up and that we don’t celebrate Halloween and so I just decided I am going to tell them I am going to be a super hero and that way people are more excited.”

This little boy had done what so many of us do. We tell an expedient lie to avoid consequences. While we adults tend to justify these lies in our minds the little boy, like most children do, had been quite honest about why he did it. He didn’t feel like dealing with the questions anymore so he just told them what they wanted to hear.

Can you think of the last time you did this same thing? How often do we say something dishonest in order to avoid a hassle and/or ridicule?

I would say it’s pretty often. It’s actually pretty ingrained into this culture anymore. It’s hard to gauge people’s true opinions because they generally aren’t saying them. Oh, I know there are lots spouting off online and that’s not good either. But there are lots and lots of Christians who are just not saying their honest opinion about the things that matter because they don’t want the heat. It’s just easier to go along with the crowd or to make up an answer that people like.

Specifically, I can think of a few ways that we Christians do this in our homes, workplaces, and churches–

What do you think of _________ (ungodly movie, band, or book)

         (uhhh, it was okay. I really liked the part where…)

Did you finish that report today?

           (“oh, yes, I started it” while it’s laying in an unopened folder on our desk)

Will you be home by six?

        (“That’s my plan” knowing full well that there is no way it will happen)

Do you like my new hair style? (I hate this one. It’s so hard to navigate!)

             (“Yes, it’s so cute” when it’s not cute. At all)

And husbands will relate to this one: Wives ask, “do you think I’m fat?”

          (Oh, no, of course not, dear)

It’s just easier and much more expedient to lie most of the time. We avoid hurt feelings, fights, arguments, derision, and mockery when we do this. Surely God doesn’t have a problem with it, right?

Well, I’m not so sure.

God condemns lying very strongly in His word. Here are just a few of the many verses–

The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies. Psalm 58:3

He who works deceit shall not dwell within my house; He who tells lies shall not continue in my presence. Psalm 101:7

Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, But those who deal truthfully are His delight. Proverbs 12:22

Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. Ephesians 4:25

Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, Colossians 3:9

Inevitably, when we discuss lying, the subject of Rahab comes up. She lied to protect God’s servants and was blessed for it (Joshua 6:17; Hebrews 11:31). Dare I point out the obvious?

Rahab was not lying to protect herself.

While I am not prepared to discuss what anyone should do in her circumstances, I think it is pretty clear that lying to protect our own selfish interests is clearly sinful. And, if we are completely honest, we are generally not protecting anyone other than ourselves when we lie. So to use Rahab (or even the Christians who hid Jews during the Holocaust) as our excuse to lie would be a pretty ridiculous cop-out.

God hates lying lips. We know this from His Word. And yet we all so easily fall into lying. Because it’s just easier. Perhaps it is time to carefully examine our words for how often we are speaking the truth.

 

*Should a Christian celebrate Halloween? I’ve vacillated through the years on my response to this question. Recently, though, with the rise of occultic activity and the growing fascination with all things dark (zombies, witches, vampires, magic) I would agree with my friend and would avoid celebrating this holiday. A good question to ask is this: Does this holiday glorify God or the devil? The obvious answer to this should give us a clue as to whether or not we should participate in this holiday.

 

 

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.

 

 

The Odd Disconnect

This summer has to be one of the wettest on record in our area. And not only the wettest but, for the last eight weeks, also the most humid. There are certain diseases and fungi that are inevitable when your lawn is wet, humid, and without sunshine for days on end, no matter what kind of Turfcare program or fertilization you use.

Customers are calling us, “What is wrong with my lawn?” and they are frustrated because they have paid for a Turfcare program and it’s not working. And we have to tell them that even our best Turfcare plan isn’t designed for such unusual conditions as these.

And this got me started thinking about entertainment.

Just follow me. I know it’s a big switch.

I think some of us Christians do this same thing. Our Turfcare program is our Bible reading and church attendance. We believe we have ourselves protected and covered. And the wet, humid weather pattern is our entertainment habits. We engulf ourselves in the evil of this world, by filling our brains with books, music, TV shows, movies, and video games that blaspheme God, that are filled with violence, that promote sinful sexual relationships, that use crude and profane language, and that teach ungodly philosophies.

We seem to think that because we read our Bibles we are somehow immune from the effects of these things.

But we aren’t. The ugly fruit that is born in our hearts from our sinful entertainment habits is told in the current Christian culture that is now starting to teach that homosexuality isn’t a sin. This is just a natural direction to go for professing Christians that have already been hardened to couples living together and rampant divorce. It’s a natural progression for a Christian culture that has accepted almost any sin known to man via the little screens positioned strategically all over their homes.

Christians find themselves weak and powerless and prayerless. And they can’t understand why. But I propose that it is a natural outcome for people who have soaked themselves in sorcery and witchcraft at unprecedented levels. For people who watch other people having sex on a screen and torturing, maiming, and killing others in cold blood. For people who hear their precious Lord’s name taken in vain and no longer even cringe. It’s a natural outcome for people who have filled their minds with all that God hates.

No amount of Bible reading or church attendance can withstand that deluge of evil coming into your mind.

This is why God has commanded us to be holy and pure (2 Timothy 2:22; James 3:17; I Peter 1:15-16). Growing in Christ includes both filling our hearts and minds with God’s Word, as well as eliminating evil influences.

I confess I don’t understand the really odd disconnect in this area of entertainment. It is like we have the rest of lives and then over here in a little box we have our entertainment. It is the one box we don’t even consider submitting to God.

But why?

May I challenge you today to start purifying your life in regards to your entertainment. May I encourage you to submit this area of your life to God without reservation? If you don’t feel convicted about this then I would suggest that you start digging in the Word in regards to this specific topic, asking the Lord to open your eyes and show you the truth about what you have been reading, watching, and listening to.

Too many of us are the lawn with the great fertilizer program and yet find ourselves full of disease because we have been submerged in the world’s philosophies and sinfulness. By choice.

Somehow that makes it worse. We choose to put ourselves in this condition. Unlike the weather that is outside of our control, what we fill our hearts and minds with is our choice.

God wants all of our hearts. He desires that we live in purity and holiness. He calls us to repent and leave sin far behind us. This is hard under the best of circumstances, but it is almost impossible when we are filling our heads with all that we are supposed to turn away from.

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk c]”>[c]properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. Romans 11:11-14

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 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. I John 2:15-17

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.

 

 

 

 

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