Trials

What Do We Know? And What Should We Do?

You may not realize that I am actually rather rebellious. I always laugh inside when someone calls me legalistic. This actually couldn’t be further from the truth. I hate stupid rules. If something isn’t firmly grounded in scripture, I am not going to be doing it anytime soon.

This is making it a bit difficult for me right now. Mandate after mandate is being thrown down by the government. These mandates are eroding or outright removing the rights of every law-abiding citizen that we were given by the constitution of the United States upon its inception.

I don’t want to obey. I am angry and I don’t want to obey. This is for a number of reasons, but the greatest is that the statistics do not match the mandates. The fear that has been instilled in people by the media doesn’t match the actual facts. The damage that is being done by the mandates is astronomical! The ramifications will be felt by some families for generations, as they lose businesses or loved ones commit suicide or die because they are afraid to go to the ER.

Something much deeper is going on here. There are a million theories out there and analyzing them isn’t the point of this post. However, I think that those of us who have studied eschatology to any degree quickly recognize that this is part of the end game. We can see how these events are moving the world in the direction it needs to go for the one world economy and government prophesied in Revelation. (Actually, in this way it is encouraging because it is so incredibly confirming of scripture! )

Okay, so it’s clear that I don’t really buy the story we’re being told. This makes it even harder to obey rules that don’t make any sense.

I’ve had lots of conversations about this part of the quarantine with my family. We are supposed to obey the law. But when does obeying the law become wrong? At what point should we obey and at what point do we protest and even fight?

I am sure many of you are hoping I have an answer to these questions. But I don’t. I am sorry to disappoint you but I haven’t done a thorough enough study on this yet to give any kind of biblical answer.

But these are big questions. And we have to find our footing and remember our foundation in the midst of them. Any search for answers must be done through the lens of scripture.

At first, the novelty of all of this kind of filled us with that adrenalin that takes you through times of shock. None of the people on earth had ever faced anything like this before and we were reeling. After four or five weeks, however, we started to chafe against the restrictions. We became aware of families that were hurting, companies going bankrupt, depression and people committing suicide, people dying without their loved ones close by and with no funerals. Postponed weddings, canceled trips-of-a-lifetime, and high school and college seniors losing their final precious months that they can never get back again.

Some of us trust what we are being told by the health officials. And some of us don’t. But, no matter, where we find ourselves on that scale, I think I can safely assume that almost all of us are deeply saddened by what is going around us and feel pretty hopeless to change anything.

And, no matter how this ends, we all have to face the reality that our freedom was only an illusion. Our freedom dissipated in the face of fear like the early morning fog dissipates when the sun rises. We thought we were free but now we know we aren’t. Not even a bit. And this is something we need to live with, no matter how this turns out.

At any moment in the future, this could happen again. We could be ordered to do things we don’t want to do and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

Doesn’t that make you feel so powerless? We thought we were so independent and find out we aren’t at all.

So how do we, as believers, reconcile all this with what we know from scripture? This is where we must turn, isn’t it? What do we know, for sure??

We know that God is still in control. No matter what goes on or how awful it gets, He is still on the throne. (Jeremiah 10:10)

God did not abdicate his throne during Nero’s persecution of Christians. He didn’t disappear during the Black Death of the Middle Ages, the French Revolution, the reign of Pol Pot, or during World War II. And He has not abdicated His throne during this time. God is still on the throne.

We know that God wants us to obey our government as long as it doesn’t require us to disobey Him. (Romans 13:1-2)

We are told in scripture to obey our governments. There is no caveat there for rules we don’t like. This can be hard for independent Americans to swallow particularly. But it is there. We can, of course, agree that when the government tells us to do something that is in opposition of scripture, we can and must disobey. Where that line is drawn is something all of us are probably increasingly thinking about.

We know that there is a plan spelled out in the books of Daniel and Revelation, that must come to pass at some point.

Could this be a part of that? I think it is very, very likely. If you’ve done any study of end time prophecy then this makes so much sense. Whether the rapture is tomorrow or in a hundred years, we can see how the events of the past few weeks will most certainly be used to further a one world economy and a one world government. We can also see how this will break America–something that must be done in order for globalism to succeed. We can make no predictions of when, but I do believe we can say with certainty that this event took us an exponential step forward towards the New World Order.

We know that, through all of this, God can and will grow us to look more like Christ. (Romans 8:28-29)

Romans 8:28 uses that tiny word “all” to remind us that everything that happens to us–whether small or large–is being used to make us look more like Christ. We are to glorify God in this process, drawing men to Him through our godly attitudes and actions. This can be a bit eye-opening if you’ve been deceived by the “name it and claim it” kind of faith or believe that Jesus exists to make your life easier and to fulfill your big dreams. But when we finally understand that our goal as a believer is to glorify God and to look more like Christ, then the trials and hardships make so much more sense.

We know that God loves us and will give us grace to endure whatever comes. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

One of the most horrifying things about all that’s going on is the fact that it is being used to further ungodly agendas. I have seen terrifying articles on the unfair treatment of churches and pastors, on the necessity of the state to raise children, and on the promotion of abortion. One can only wonder how this is all going to end up for us as Christians. It is almost like the pandemic gave a burst of speed to Satan’s evil agenda for the world.

I was feeling a bit discouraged and frustrated the other day and so I read a bit in the Foxe’s Book of Martyrs to remind myself how much worse life could be. It is truly hard to comprehend the torture and persecution sanctioned by the Catholic Church during the Reformation. Thousands died at the hands of wicked, wicked men who delighted in torturing their fellow human beings. And yet, to read of the believers’ fortitude and commitment to the truth was astounding. They stood strong in the face of the threat of horrible torture, refusing to be bullied into the Catholic faith. In fact, many of them sang hymns as they burned at the stake. We know that only God can give this kind of strength. If God gave that kind of strength hundreds of years ago, then He will surely do the same for us, if and when the time comes that we need it.

And, finally, we know that we are not the center of the Universe. (Philippians 2:9-11)

We can get a little confused about this one. Many pastors preach like we, personally, are the center of the universe. Kids are raised to believe they are the center of the universe. We hear it everywhere. We need to help others and be kind, but at the end of the day, it’s about you. Take care of you.

Well, that isn’t the message of the Bible. While we most certainly need to care for ourselves as any normal human being would, we must recognize that God is the center of the universe. That all is about Him and His sovereign plan.

This can be a hard place to get to, because we have such big dreams and hopes for our lives. This current situation leaves most of those up in the air at best and has dashed them at worst. Surrendering our dreams and hopes may be one of the hardest things we have to do as Christians. Recognizing that perhaps it is not God’s will for us to do that thing we most longed for is a hard pill to swallow. But we are just a speck. A flower that blooms for a short time and then fades away.

Of course, the other side is that we know how much God loves us! He cares and gives strength and peace and joy, as we trust in Him. It’s a beautiful thing when we can surrender our lives and trust in God. But, of course, this is not easy. Releasing our grip can be very painful.

_______________________________

So these are some things we know. And these are the things we must remember as we continue to inch forward into the unknown. Many of us were on autopilot in our lives. We may not have even realized it. And now we are dealing with big questions. Some are dealing with really big problems. I think it’s safe to say that autopilot is now turned off for all of us at this point.

The circumstances are different for all. The spiritual and emotional dynamics are different. This new world is bringing to light different sins and weaknesses in all of us. To some it is overwhelming and to others it is not.

So, I’d like to encourage one final thing before I close today.

Let’s be so kind to one another. Let us have so much grace for the responses and outbursts and frustrations of others. Let’s humbly point fellow believers to the Word and share the Gospel with the lost.

I think we can all agree that the world should be a better place because Christians are in it. There is no better time than now to make sure that is true!

 

 

Changed Lives: Becky

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

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

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

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

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

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

___________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

An Unmistakable Mirror

I think I’ve been over-using the word “unprecedented”. I’ve said it more times in the past two weeks than I’ve said it in my entire life. We are facing unprecedented times.

I find it extremely hard to function in my “normal” way currently. I find it hard to think about “normal” things. I find it hard to do “normal” activities.

That’s pretty much because it’s so not normal right now.

I generally try to write posts that are not closely connected to current events so that, no matter when they are read, they are applicable to one’s life.

However, it seems like a good time to break my own rule (I broke it last week, too) since we are all facing this virus and the government’s subsequent restrictions and mandates that have completely swept away our freedoms. Literally.

So there are all kinds of theories and opinions out there as to just what is going on, but no matter what is happening, there is one thing we do know: It IS happening and very few of us are unaffected by it all.

Whether we have had our lives grind to a halt or we have been overwhelmed with work duties because we work in an “essential life-sustaining” field, this has affected most all of us.

As I was reading John this morning, I was thinking about Peter and his promise to the Lord that he would never leave his side–

Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” (John 13:27)

In the very next verse, Jesus predicts that Peter would very surely deny that he even knew the Lord!

Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times. (John 13:28)

If we read on, we find out that, yes, Peter most certainly did deny he knew the Lord, even though he loved him dearly.

This account always has a way of both disturbing and comforting me. If Peter, who was one of the great apostles, could be so cowardly, what can I expect from myself?? But, it’s also comforting. If Peter could do that awful thing and yet still go on to live and die for Christ as a martyr in the early church, then perhaps there is hope for all of us to be of use in God’s Kingdom.

What’s going on in these days is not really a situation like Peter’s, so you may be wondering where I am headed.

And I guess it’s here: We have a choice, just like Peter. We can make the intentional choice to do the right thing or we can very easily slide into the wrong thing. The wrong choice is always the easier choice in the moment. (It’s NEVER the easier choice regarding long-term consequences.) It was easier for Peter to deny Christ than to take the heat for knowing Him. It is easier for us to sin than to not sin.

A pandemic like this (or any other trial, for that matter) shows us our true selves in ways we’d probably rather not see. What has come rearing up in the past few weeks in my own heart has not been good. Anxiety and fear; discontentment; self-centeredness; self-pity; laziness; even gluttony are real challenges for many of us in this situation. With close quarters, tempers flare, selfishness abounds, and we may be easily irritated as we are unable to leave our homes. With the incredible stress and long hours so many of you are facing at work, things come to the surface about yourself that you’d probably rather not know. With our favorite activities and the abundance in our stores taken away, we are faced with who we really are.

 

When our normal ordinary life is stripped away, we see ourselves as we really are.

 

A trial like this is a giant mirror into the state of our soul.

So what do we do about it?

As believers, it is important that we examine our hearts using the Word and then let this be an opportunity to grow.

So easy to write.

So hard to do.

As we look into the mirror and examine our hearts in the midst of an unprecedented time of uncertainty and craziness throughout the entire world, may we trust God to do a real work in our lives and grow us up spiritually in a way we couldn’t have otherwise.

May we come out of this strange, unprecedented time stronger, purer, and holier than when it started!

 

 

Some Thoughts on the Current Events

I can’t even think of any word but “crazy” to describe what is going on in the world right now. I am not sure this word even fully expresses what we are all feeling. It’s funny how you can play out and worry about all sorts of scenarios and never even dream up the one that actually happens. Coronavirus and “social distancing” was just not anything I had ever even considered.

Not that this is that bad. The percentage of people actually getting sick is low and the death toll is even lower. Us “younger folk” are just a little bit sheltered. Especially in America. We haven’t lived through the Spanish flu, the polio outbreak, or the wars of last century. While 911 is more recent and did affect us, it didn’t really affect the majority of us personally. And look up the Black Death in the middle ages. This is when it pays to know a bit of history. Really helps to keep things in perspective!

So I guess we all realize that (for most of us, anyway) it could be so much worse. But perhaps the real question is: Will it get worse?

And this is probably making us all a little unsettled and nervous. We are facing empty store shelves, keeping our school kids occupied, lack of Christian fellowship due to closing churches, and giant questions about how this will affect our economy (and, closer to home, our own jobs and income).

We are so independent, particularly those of us Christians that live in westernized nations. We’ve had so little opportunity to rely on the Lord.

So here we go. For all of us, this will prove to be a test: Do we really believe what we say believe?

Do we really trust God to provide? To carry us through the challenges this event offers to us? Do we know, without a doubt, that He will carry us through whatever is to come?

And how do we prepare for what is to come? What can we do to prepare for any trial–whether it’s across the world or just a trial I am facing alone?

Yes, these are important questions.

I read an article recently that talked about how unprepared people were for this latest turn of events. So few people stock emergency items or even a decent amount of food in their homes. The author mentioned how his grandmother was always ready for an emergency, with rows of canned goods on her shelves. They would store food and other items to prepare for any unexpected emergency–whether it would be a snowstorm or a war.

But somehow, as materialism and wealth grew in this country and there was always an over-abundance of goods on our store shelves, we grew lazy and short-sighted.

I was thinking about this in light of our spiritual preparedness. I have always loved Psalm 1 where it talks about the tree growing by the river. A strong, healthy tree has deep roots going way down into the soil. You can’t see the roots but when the winds blows that tree is prepared for it and will stand strong through any storm.

I want to be like that tree–totally prepared for any storm! I want to be ready to weather any unexpected turn of events, whether it be a world crisis or anything else.

Psalm 1 gives us insight into what it takes to become like that tree–

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the [a]ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he [b]meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the [c]rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

From this we can find two basic things we can do to grow deep roots of faith that will prepare us for any storm–

1. Remove ourselves from the influence of the ungodly and the company of sinners.

2. Meditate on the Word.

In a nutshell: Eliminate worldliness and all its influences and fill our mind with God’s Word.

Remove as much of the darkness as possible from our lives so that we can fully walk in the Light!

None of us know what trials will befall us, but we can be ready for any trial if we are walking close to God and basking in His light. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard or that we never question. It just means that we can rest in the Lord. That we experience peace and joy, despite the trials. That we can think outside of ourselves and remember that we aren’t the only ones facing uncertain, troublesome times.

I don’t really have this down quite yet myself. But I have watched godly Christians around me. I am also drawing on the many biographies I’ve read of strong Christians. I know this is true. God is so faithful.

And so I continue to strive to grow and deepen my roots. I encourage you to do the same.

Because storms will come and storms will go. May we be like the strong tree that stands strong and gives hope in the midst of any storm that arises!

 

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.
Trust in the Lord forever,
For in Yah, the Lord, is [b]everlasting strength.

Isaiah 26:3-4

 

 

 

The Path to Peace

Sometimes we are forced to travel a path that we just don’t want to be on. We diligently look for options to get off the path and find none. It is at that time that we are forced to make a choice.

First, we have the option to sulk, moan, complain, or get angry at God. When we cannot accept God’s sovereignty in our lives, this is the place many of us find ourselves. We do this over big things–like physical illness and death –but, sadly, we also do this over small things. When life isn’t the wonderful thing we imagined or we don’t get our own way, we so often fall into these sinful responses.

This choice to choose anger and/or sadness over our circumstances yields so many bad fruits.

Two of the most common fruits are bitterness and depression. When we are unwilling to accept the hand we’ve been dealt by God it can potentially drive us to extreme sadness (depression) or extreme anger (bitterness). Both of these turn us into people who are hopeless, unpleasant, and generally ineffective not just for God, but often within our own families or circles. They rob us of our very lives. I’ve seen this over and over. Is there anything more tragic than a person with tremendous potential for God’s Kingdom who has spent most of their adult life in bitterness or depression?

Second, we have the option to work feverishly at fixing our circumstances. We panic and then we pull ourselves up by our boot straps and we decide that, if God isn’t going to help us, we will help ourselves. We try all sorts of things and, as a rule, make things so much worse. All of it often ends in frustration and discouragement when we are forced to recognize that, whatever it is, is outside of our control. In fact, most of us end up at option one (above) after we’ve tried option two.

But we do have one other choice: We can surrender our will and trust God. What does this look like? Well, let me tell you.

I had the opportunity to spend a few days with my brother (Pastor Dean) a few weeks ago. As most of you already know, he lost his wife this past April to cancer after a year and a half of uncertainty. Through all of that, their family remained at peace. They lived out Philippians 4:6-7.

I saw that same peace recently. He is on a path he would not have chosen. He has to do the things he always relied on his wife to do. He is no longer part of a couple when he goes out. He has to grocery shop and clean. But, most importantly, the person he confided in and talked with is no longer there.

And, yet, I have not heard one word of complaint. Oh, he doesn’t pretend that it’s all great. We know this wouldn’t be his preference, but he doesn’t complain. He has told me that he has submitted to God’s will in this and God is providing for Him. This does not mean it’s fun and pain-free. It means that it is bearable and that he experiences the peace promised by God in His Word.

I have to confess that this has gotten me really thinking about the importance of surrendering my will to God’s every single day of my life. Even in the small stuff. Maybe, most importantly, in the small stuff. Because it is this surrender that prepares us for the large stuff.

What are some of these things we must surrender to the Lord?

We face so many different and varied troubles. I think of so many of you that have shared with me your burden of an unsaved spouse or child. How tempting it must be to grow discouraged and angry that God isn’t answering your prayers on your timeline (option 1) or to play the “Holy Spirit” and try to manipulate them into salvation yourself (option 2).

Or you may be facing your own uncertain medical diagnosis and it’s thrown you for a complete loop. Or financial difficulty. Or a job you hate. Or a wayward child. Or a much-beloved church that is leaving its solid foundation. Or a move across the country that took you away from all that is familiar. Or a… the list could go on and on and on.

Big burdens and little burdens. Life is full of them. Everywhere we turn, they are there, revealing themselves as tests.

Will we allow them to make us angry, bitter, sad, or depressed? Will they tempt us into sulking and complaining? Or will we harken back to the promises of God?

As I have watched Dean lean into this trial rather than grow angry or fall into a pit of despair, I have to admit that I have been so encouraged. Dean is no saint (I should know–I grew up with him!) and he doesn’t claim to be one. He gives all praise and glory to God for seeing him through this trial. We are so thankful for this rich reminder that God does keep His promises to those that trust Him and surrender their will to His.

This doesn’t mean we will always get our way. Of course, we won’t. We can’t. But what it does mean is that God walks with us through these things and provides the grace we need to bear them (2 Corinthians 12:9). And that, if we love God, then every single trial we face, both big and small, will yield good things for God’s Kingdom (Romans 8:28).

But this can only happen by surrendering our lives daily to God. There is only one path to true peace and that is submitting our will to God’s. This is no easy task. To say the least. But it is the one thing that will bring the peace and joy that God has promised us in His Word.

 

Please Note: This post is for believers–those who have acknowledged their sin, repented of them, and have trusted in Jesus alone for salvation. If you have not done this, then there is really no way for you to experience eternal peace, as salvation is the only true way to be reconciled and at peace with God. If you have any questions about this, please feel free to email me at leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net.

 

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.

 

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

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

__________________________________________________

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.

 

 

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: