Recently we actually went to the movie theater to see a new movie. This is not something we do often at all, so we were so surprised to find out that nowadays before the movie started we were subjected to at least thirty minutes of previews. As we were about to lose heart that the movie we came to see would ever begin, a trailer played for a new movie about Elvis Presley. He, of course, was a worldwide phenomenon, and certainly had lasting impact on the United States.
I have not seen the movie, and I am not sure whether the filmmaker was trying to say anything definitive about the choices that Elvis made throughout his lifetime, or whether that person was simply telling a life story. But a two minute trailer was enough for me to have some takeaways. I could not help but notice that there were the stereotypical nagging scolds represented in the film, scowling at a young and cool Elvis Presley, warning of the dire consequences should he rebel against their rules. The line delivered was something like, “You had better not wiggle so much as your little finger on that stage.” From just the brief few seconds of that scene in the trailer, you see scowling, scolding, disapproving faces juxtaposed with the seemingly electric, exciting promise of all that Elvis‘s new style of reckless abandon contained.
Sadly, his life story did not end in excitement or promise. I do not personally know anyone in Elvis‘s family, and he died when I was only five years old, so I cannot make any sort of intelligent or helpful commentary on any of them. But decades have passed since the time the real-life scolds gave their real-life warnings to a young Elvis and his whole generation. We are left here to deal with the outcome, which turns out to be nothing new.
Jesus once told a story in response to the religious scolds of His generation who were following Him around and contemptuously muttering, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” It never ceases to amaze me how wise and relevant Jesus’ teachings are, though the words we read were spoken over 2000 years ago. In this story, Jesus perfectly captures the two different ways that people go in an attempt to make a way in the world, and it just so happens that the two sons He mentions in His story are just exactly like Elvis and his critics. (I am going to put the whole story down below - it is found in Luke 15, and I hope you will take a moment to read it.)
The first son represents every person who decides that the rules and restrictions are just too much. They either don't take the time to think that their own actions are actually hurting themselves and others, or they just don’t care. Much of the modern generation fits this category, and even advertisers pander to this attitude: Have it Your Way, You Deserve It, If it Feels Good Do It, and so on. Everything in our society is encouraging people to smash the rules, shatter the conventions, and push the limits. It has become so prevalent that we can no longer pretend we do not see the ramifications.
Sin is devastating. We can try to explain in away, and we can try to pretend that there is no such thing as morality, but all around us the evidence says otherwise. We can also pretend that if no one else sees our own sin, then it does not matter. But if you have ever been impacted by the nuclear-grade destruction of sin, whether self-inflicted or caused by someone else’s choices, then you know that Christians, scolding or not, are not making this up. Sin is very real, and it destroys everything it touches.
When a person chooses to follow their own willful desires for a moment or a season or a lifetime, throwing off every thought of anyone or anything else, terrible consequences follow. Sin is costly. It is never free. No one ever gets away with it. Sometimes the price is required now, sometimes accounts will be settled later, but every time a terribly expensive cost is incurred. Broken homes, ruined careers, devastated hearts and lives, crushed spirits: all of these things are the very terrible and very real price tag that accompanies our rebellion.
When any of us is confronted with such a devastating situation, and if we take a second to be honest, something deep within us recognizes that this is our own true spiritual condition. Sometimes we are tempted to throw stones at others who make horrible choices, but what we should do is stop and reflect. The Bible teaches that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have a sinful nature that desires its own way and its own will, and separates us from God.
So Jesus does not stop with just the person who breaks all the rules. He also takes the time to explore the second son, the one who stays home and keeps every single rule. In fact, this guy is keeping careful score of how well he keeps the rules, and also of how poorly everyone else around him is doing in comparison. Just reading the story, you can picture the person in your mind - grumpy, scowling, angry, and bitter. If he was a modern, he would certainly be an internet troll. Though he lives in the house with the father, he is not happy or satisfied or kind. You get the distinct feeling that he is just waiting for his dad to die so that he can have his inheritance all to himself, not so different from his wayward brother after all.
Both sons represent the two dangers all of us face when we do not keep our own wills submitted to the love and wisdom of God. Giving in to our inherent selfishness can manifest as either a person with no rules at all or a person who thinks the rules are the only thing. But the point of Jesus’ parable is what everyone of us must take time to understand - rules without any relationship just lead to rebellion in our hearts. One person thought the rules were stifling and threw them away, one thought they were a way to be superior to everyone else. Neither realized that they were entirely missing the point.
What can possibly quiet the demands of our strong wills; what can replace our selfish desires on the thrones of our own hearts? Only someone better and far more lovely than anything the world has to offer. Only someone stronger, with infinitely more love and wisdom. And only someone who is strong enough to conquer sin and selfishness. Through His finished work on the cross, Jesus has made a way for us to have peace with God, with ourselves, and with each other. As we trust Jesus as both Savior and Lord, surrendering our wills to Him, we realize that being in close relationship with Him was what we were yearning for all our lives.
The father in Jesus' story provided a safe home and a robust inheritance for each of his children. When one child strayed, the father was waiting and watching for him to return. When the other child was bitter and disgruntled, the father gently reminded him that everything he had was available and always had been. Jesus is telling all of us that the point of life is a relationship with the Father, who eagerly desires to be with each one of us. The rules are just there to keep us safe from ourselves and our proclivity to sin; the point is enjoying a loving relationship with Him, both now and then forever.
In our incredibly divisive and angry age, it would be wise to take a moment to reflect on our own hearts. Are we leaning towards breaking down the barriers and doing whatever our hearts and bodies desire, or are we leaning towards looking with contempt at others who don’t play the game as well as we do? Either way, the remedy is to lean instead into a loving Father who watches and waits for each of us to come back into His loving embrace. Only standing with Him, made complete and whole by His love and grace, can we look rightly on the world around us.
Luke 15: 11-32
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
On this Father’s Day, let’s hear it for all of the wonderful dads out there! I happen to know several who are among the best who have ever lived. I'm so grateful for my amazing husband, my wonderful father, and for my godly father and sons-in-law. I wish that everyone could experience the same honor, tenderness, and care that I know from all of these gentlemen. It is something that I pray about often.
Sadly, our nation is seeing the terrible fruit that is borne when boys and girls grow up fatherless. We seem to have an enormous number of lost and confused young people, desperately searching anywhere and everywhere for affirmation, significance, and purpose. It does not matter rich or poor, left or right, or any other distinction, nor does it matter what happened to cause the situation. When a child does not have a father, a vital piece of life is missing.
College ministry affords an incredible front-row seat to watching young men and women have their hearts and lives absolutely revolutionized by the love of Jesus. Every year, on so many campuses, we see broken people made whole, confused people find direction, lonely people find community, and rejected people find hope and purpose. Jesus truly is the great Healer and Savior of all, and we never get tired of watching Him bring new life. Something I would not have known when we were first starting out is that when one university student is touched by the love and hope of Christ, the repercussions go on and on for years and in so many directions. Their parents and grandparents are impacted, as are siblings and extended family members. Best of all, their own children will be raised in godly homes, by caring and unselfish people.
There are only two reasons that I affirm social media. One of them is because people in truly closed countries are able to potentially hear the Gospel, which is amazing. We have heard believers from all over the world testify to first seeing the Good News in someone's online post. Every time I get annoyed by how invasive social media is, I remember this and thank God. The second reason is because I can look on as people that we knew as college students become some of the most outstanding people in their communities and incredible parents. Since it is Father’s Day, let me brag on some of these dads.
When they entered college as 18 year-olds, most of these young men had no idea what an amazing opportunity and blessing it was to be at a university. Many of them were too distracted by the baggage from their dysfunctional childhood to be very forward-thinking. So many were terribly selfish and even mean. Too many of them were content to use their substance of choice to stay checked out just about all the time, whether that be drugs, alcohol, sex, or even video games. These young men were angry, broken, put down, and ignored. So many had been neglected or outright abandoned by their own parents, especially their fathers. Others had some vague understanding of God, and many of these came from great families, but they were full of pride and some of the most selfish people you could’ve ever met. But then something unexpected happened. They made a friend who introduced them to the greatest Friend in the universe.
We watched as these young men gave their lives to Jesus, and He began His great transforming work on their hearts and minds. Nothing impacts a life more than realizing that the good father someone longed for all their life was actually God, who was and is always near and ready to help. Now I see that these men have become incredible husbands and fathers, wonderful ministers, and important parts of whatever community they live in. They are kind, patient, generous, and selfless. They are courageous, truthful, and humble. Their own children will never know the sting of abandonment, neglect, or abuse. This is nothing short of a miracle! God is our Good Father, and He is in the business of making good men who act a lot like Him and who are the backbone of a healthy society.
Faithful – God has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. He stays and stays. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and anyone who knows God as Father never has to worry about being abandoned. God never quits. He never stops working all things for the good of those who love and trust Him, and He helps men become steady like Him in this. A great father is one who clings to the best for his family with a love that never fails. God helps men be faithful fathers who never abandon their wife or children in word or deed.
Giving – God loved the world so much that He gave the most precious thing in the universe to save us: His Son Jesus. It does not matter how much it hurts Him, or how much He has to give and give and give some more - God will always choose to give more. He helps men become this kind of father, too. He puts an unselfishness in their hearts, that they will choose for their wife and childrens’ greatest good. Great fathers give, even when it costs them something; even when it costs them everything.
Encouraging – God is the great encourager. He gives us dignity and purpose, and challenges us to be the best that we can be. He has a dream for each of us, that He wove into us as he knit us together in our mother's womb. This is what great fathers do. They lovingly guide their children to be and to fulfill the dream that God has over their life. They watch and advise and help and speak truth. When a child knows that their father is behind them and for them, nothing can stop them.
Full of Justice - God made each of us on purpose and for a purpose, and what we do and do not do really matters. The justice of God is His kindness and holiness wrapped together. Ignoring truth and reality leads to death, so it is amazingly freeing to know that when we trust and obey God, life and health follow. Rebellion does not take anyone anywhere good, and a good father helps his children learn to navigate life with wisdom. Great fathers pass on to their children a deep love for the Bible. They teach their kids respect for God, truth, self, and others, and that our thoughts and actions truly have consequences.
Full of Love - The Bible tells us that God doesn't just have love or feel love… He is love. He has had perfect love and trust and fellowship forever within the Trinity, and created us all to take part in that. He loves us, and helps us to love one another. The opposite of love isn't hate, it is selfishness. Great fathers refuse to be selfish, and choose to generously display the love of God to their families. There is kindness and affirmation, hope and affection. They don’t leave when the going gets tough, or when something that seems better comes along. They don’t spend all their time and money on themselves to the neglect of everyone else. They always strive to choose what is best for their families.
This summer as we watch the news headlines, everyone is asking, “what can we do?“ The world seems so unsteady, and so many people are wandering and lost. Of course there are many wildly differing opinions about what should be done to make the world a better, safer place for our kids.
Be encouraged today – we know what to do! Every one of the thousands of university students we know have been led to Christ was brought there by someone who simply befriended them. A purposeful Christian kept their eye out for them, and took a real interest in their life. Someone was intentional, and that led the student on to a new path that changed their destiny and eternity. Now all of the children born to those students have a radically different existence and experience than they would have otherwise.
Every day, everywhere we go, we can share this great love of our Good Father with everyone we meet. He has plenty of love and faithfulness to go around, and He never gets tired of revolutionizing hearts and lives.
Thank you to all of the wonderful fathers in our lives, who exemplify these characteristics of God to so many of us!
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Romans 15:13
This scripture has been so important to me over the last several months. There is so much bad news out there, screaming for our attention. It really is too easy to listen to all of that too often and begin to slip into discouragement or even despair. But imagine what might happen if the people of God stopped focusing on the bad news, which has been a thing since the Garden of Eden and will continue to be a thing until Jesus returns. Instead, we could try focusing on our Great God of Hope, who will fill us to overflowing with His hope if we let Him.
Hope is so powerful! There is even something physical about it, and many doctors recognize this. When patients believe they can get well and hope to be better, they often get better. Hope has proven to be powerful medicine and incentive. Viktor Frankl wrote his book Man’s Search for Meaning after his own personal experience within the atrocious Nazi camps of World War 2. He witnessed that many people in the concentration camps who hoped and believed they would get out alive did, as opposed to so many others who just gave up and gave in to despair. Vast numbers of people in those wicked camps died of hopelessness.
Eli said something recently that is so meaningful to me. He pointed out that Jesus came to rescue us not only because He thought were we worth saving, but also because He thought we actually could be saved. God knows what He made us to be, and has such hopes and dreams over each of our lives. We can all read a history book or the nightly news to see the ill that we are capable of, but Jesus knows the good we are capable of. He came to make a way for all of us to have the opportunity to become everything that God created us to be.
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
- 2 Corinthians 13:11
Chip and Joanna Gaines have absolutely transformed the city of Waco, Texas. Even just ten years ago, passing through Waco was like passing through a shadow of a town. It had once been prosperous, but was fading so drastically. Now, it looks significantly and even surprisingly better. The idea of taking something old and unloved and putting some sweat equity into making it beautiful again has struck a nerve with our whole nation. Everyone loves Chip and Joanna, and their brand is everywhere. This idea of restoration obviously speaks to something deep within many of us.
Our good friends Johnny and Amy understand this in a profound way. We have been all over the country with them through the years, and they almost always end up hauling a big rusty pile of junk home to Texas from every trip together. What the rest of us might see as a pile of rubbish languishing in someone's field, those two see as something that could be beautiful again, whether it be an old car, or a barn door, or a soul. This is a clear reflection of God, who is Himself in the restoration business, and invites us to join in with Him.
What are striving to see restored?
-To right relationship with God. To see men and women recognize our own sin, and let Jesus be Lord and Savior of our hearts and lives.
-To truth and sanity. So many folks are just lost in unreality with bad habits of thinking and lifetimes of believing in lies. Jesus restores hearts and minds.
-Not just God to man, but man to man. Here is where racism, classism, sexism, ageism, and all other wrongs are actually made right.
-Recognizing the worth and value of each person, and having the God-given grace and love to be right with one another.
-Selfishness and ambition are replaced by humility, which is a sober sense of reality. When we realize all are made and loved by God, and all are special in His sight, peace can be achieved…
-husband to wife
-parent to child, child to parent
-brother to brother
-neighbor to neighbor
-Real Christianity does not seek to completely erase any culture. God is the creator of all people, and put so many different wonderful flavors into the many cultures across the globe. Rather than see any culture destroyed, the Church hopes for every culture to be fully restored through the power of Christ.
-It is not a demolishing of culture, but an enhancing, a remaking, and a restoring!
For every land to be filled with healthy family relationships, healthy work and rest rhythms, healthy community, and a healthy and whole understanding of who and what they can be as a people.
So, our job as the Church is not to fixate on the bad news, but to do something about it! We are to be the ambassadors of the God of Hope...
-To represent Him rightly to our own families and the people in our spheres of influence.
-To see people the way He sees them - absolutely worth saving and able to be be saved and restored.
-To pray with hope, to minister with hope, to encourage and cheer on, to set them on the best foundation and trajectory we can for them to thrive and live lives of restoration and hope.
Many of us can remember what we were like before Jesus came in and brought hope, joy, and peace into our hearts. We know that He took our mess of a life and made something beautiful out of it. He saved us not only from our pasts, but from our futures without Him - thank God! As we go into a new week, may we remember that He longs to restore every heart we encounter. God is in the business of making thrown-away and unloved people absolutely beautiful and useful, not just temporarily, but forever. This is the best news of all!
Be filled with His presence this week, and may this great God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Lately, it had been interesting to notice that a skirmish of sideways energy has burst out in our society, even within the church. It seems that we are succumbing to the the pressure of the world around us to be at one another’s throats, and to distrust or even dislike each other. This particular battle is raging in several arenas, a noticeable and noisy one being between women and men,
It would be wise for us to recognize that there is much room here for everyone to grow in grace and understanding. It would also be wise to recognize that our enemy would love nothing more than to keep us distracted from the real battle for the souls of men and women by pitting us against one another.
As a woman, I know I am not alone in being absolutely thrilled about the way society has opened up to allow women to thrive over the last several hundred years. Jesus is our great champion, and publicly recognized the God-given worth in women alongside men, in a time and place where women were totally overlooked. His works and words have brought us so far! Never before in the history of the world have there been so many opportunities for females in so many places. In many nations that have been touched by the Bible, we can be educated and in the marketplace right along with our male counterparts, earning the highest degrees in the most challenging fields. Some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world are women. We sit in the uppermost seats of education, culture, government, and leadership, and the female voice is definitely heard in our own society.
But what should thrill us is suddenly not enough. In society and especially in the church, there is confusion and frustration about the place and leadership of women. My purpose here is not to make any definitive statement about who is right and who is wrong. It is simply to remind us that in Christ, there is always a positive way to move forward.
There are two ways of understanding the relationship between men and women within the church. Of course, both positions are informed by exactly the same scriptures, only with quite different interpretations. Many wonderful, godly people who are followers of Christ land on different places on the spectrum between these two camps. This issue is not and should not be a deal breaker as it pertains to friendship and fellowship. This is absolutely an area that we can agree to disagree. Our fellowships all have their stated positions, and we can all operate within the rails of our denominational movements. No one needs to be completely sidelined in sharing the Good News with others.
In brief, on one side are the egalitarians, who believe that men and women are absolutely equal in God’s sight, with equal ability and opportunity to lead. The other side of the issue are the complementarians, who believe that while women are also made in the image of God and equally valuable, they do and must carry a lesser role and responsibility in the sight of God than men. In the barest terms, the egalitarians look to the preponderance of evidence in scripture and church history which points to women in every arena of church leadership, while the complementarians major on the few specifically instructive verses within the letters from the Apostle Paul.
Of course, I am speaking as a married woman who is an ordained minister in the Assemblies of God. My husband and I came to faith and have spent our whole adult lives as a part of this tribe which affirms women into leadership. Still, I believe I can shed some insight into where the frustration might be coming from on both sides. Having been born, raised, and educated in the United States of America, I can see why many modern women might find it offensive to hear the complementarian take that we are in any way lesser. Certainly, the scriptures that this camp sites for the grounding of their position are clear and thought-provoking. But everyone has seen where abuses and excesses in this line of thinking can take a fellowship, or even a marriage. On the other hand, excessive emphasis on the radically egalitarian side can make a woman very angry at her male peers and leaders, her husband, and ultimately God. A two-headed creature just doesn’t make very much progress - someone has to lead, and it is very easy to get angry and frustrated when that someone is not me.
This particular place is where some of us find ourselves at the moment, and it is not fruitful to remain there. It would be wrong for men to completely shut out women, and it would be just as wrong for women to totally shut out men.
But this is the beauty of Jesus and His gospel. He came to give us - not just some of us, but all of us - abundant life. For Christians, it should never come to Us vs. Them in any way when we are talking about fellow believers. Jesus Himself said that whoever is not against us is for us. We who are in Christ follow His lead, and He is not at all confused or mistaken.
In God’s great design, He created us in His image. First He created Adam from the dust of the earth, breathed His life into Him, and set him to work. Then, because it was not good for this wonderful creation to be alone, God made Eve from Adam’s rib - bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. God’s image within her, and God’s breath within her, Eve was also set to work. Man and woman, each lovingly created by God, with His purpose, passion, and dreams on their lives. Separately, they are each wondrous and glorious beings. But when man and woman come together, literal magic happens.
This is true in the most obvious sense when a child is conceived. What a miracle! Parts of our society are trying so hard to make this amazing fact sound so awful and negative that we are in danger of forgetting what an incredible blessing the miracle of life is. When we come together in mutual submission, and ideally in committed love, new life comes. Try as secularists might to change this, it always takes a man and a woman working together for this miracle to occur. Then, also in God’s design, the man and woman must continue working together to protect, nurture, love, and encourage this new life to be the best he or she can be. Of course there are stories of people with awful childhoods who become incredible adults, and the converse of people with great childhoods who become reprobates, but the fact remains that the best way for anyone's life success is to be raised under the loving care of a husband and father + wife and mother + God.
The same magical combination also makes the healthiest homes, churches, and societies. Sure - we can get plenty done when men and women do their separate things, even without acknowledging God in the mix. Society moves forward and things do happen. But when we actually purpose to work together and not individually, and also with God and not without Him, the best and most powerful things can happen.
Thank God that men and women are each created in His image, and that like the Apostle Paul also said, it is actually wonderful for single people to give their full attention to the furthering of the gospel and the work of God’s Kingdom. Historically, it is plain to see that many incredible things happen through the lives of people like Amy Carmichael, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Saint Francis, and Corrie ten Boom. All of us cheer on the myriad single men and women serving in our fellowships.
But how wonderful the fact that so much health and life can come when we work together. Ministry teams of men and women working together can see vibrant spiritual growth in a Christian community. Our differences and unique viewpoints can combine to create a rich culture and a beautiful reflection of the character of God. The richer this "soup" becomes, the more the people within the community can thrive and grow and learn to impact the world around them with their own God-given talents and dreams.
In the same way, a godly husband and wife working together to fulfill a vision and calling can see abundant fruit. Neither person in a marriage partnership can demand all from the other - there must be mutual submission in moving forward in a healthy way. To see maximum results of fruit and health, each has to die to self and actively work and hope for the best for one another. God put dreams and passions and vision into each of us, and even when these might seem conflicting at first glance, He is altogether good and wise enough to be able to see all of those things come to fruition for each partner and within the partnership.
It is so unfortunate the way it seems to have become very fashionable to blame men for just about everything wrong with society. Too many people are doing this. The Bible teaches that all of humanity has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23), not just the males. For example, big trouble can come when we women get really impatient and think we can make a better way on our own. Just ask the ladies of the Old Testament, Eve and Sarah! Some will try to blame their husbands and say that those particular women had no choice within the societal structure they lived. But in both of those situations, the women seem to have been pretty empowered.
What if either of them had been a little more patient and trusting of God and His Word? We will never know because they weren’t patient or trusting, and took matters into their own hands. The entire world is still reeling from their choices. Talk about power! On the other hand, look at the world-altering repercussions of the choice of Mary, whose humble “yes” to God brought the Savior into the world, even when it surely cost her a good reputation and probably seemed to be the end of all of her own hopes and dreams. The amount of power that God has allowed us to wield as women is sobering. We must use this power to choose with wisdom and grace.
We can trust God. His design is perfect. His will is perfect. He did not make a mistake in the order or method of His creation. He did not think less of any of us or forget anything at all when He set the world into being. Yes, sin has corrupted everything and we must deal with its repercussions in our hearts and in society daily. But instead of getting angry at each other, we can look to Jesus to lead us forward into more abundant life for all of us, no matter our differences.
The work of Jesus on the cross is complete, and He has begun the great and hopeful work of the restoration of all creation. God Himself invites us to work with Him and with one another to see His Kingdom come and His will be done. Instead of joining in the raging chorus of our secular age, demanding and fighting over which of us should be given special recognition and power, we must all follow the lead of our most excellent Savior, who taught us that to be first we must be last, to live we must die, and to be the greatest we must become servant of all. It will be exciting to see what wonderful and unexpected things might happen as we trust and follow Him with humble hearts.
When our daughter Katie was a toddler, she could always be found holding Hannah, her stuffed bear. Those two were inseparable. Katie brought her wherever we went, whether it be to the store, to church, or to her grandmother’s house. There was never anywhere Katie wanted to be that Hannah did not make it better.
Later, I began to notice that Hannah didn’t accompany us as often as she used to. She sat sweetly on the dresser in Katie‘s room, relegated to a place of honor, but often left behind. Katie was older now still going many places and doing many things, but she came to prefer the company of her little sister and her friends during that stretch of her life.
Now, years later, Katie is rarely seen outside of the company of her new entourage. She is still going all kinds of places and doing all kinds of things, but her preferred company is no longer a stuffed bear, or even her teenage friends. Now she is seen in the company of our wonderful son-in-law and their adorable children. What happened? Why isn’t she still toting Hannah the bear along with her everywhere, and why isn’t she still hanging out with the same kids from her teenage years?
Of course we all know the answer. She is a girl who can recognize a better thing when she finds it. She very naturally has moved on to bigger and better things the older she has become. While a stuffed bear might be great company when a person is three years old, it cannot compare to real live flesh-and-bone friends during those teenage years. And friends, as amazing as they can be, cannot compare with the wonderful companion and friend that a husband can be when that girl becomes an adult. Just about everyone understands the idea that the only thing that can replace a good thing is a better thing.
Similarly, better things are also very good at replacing bad things. So often we attempt the impossible when we try to overcome the bad habits and behaviors in our lives. If someone has developed the bad habit of over-eating, they might attempt every diet out there. Some might eat only grapefruit for weeks, some try to subsist on one meal a day, some eat only meat, others eat only potatoes - the list is endless, but the result is the same! We end up just thinking about food all day every day, and eventually most people lose the battle.
Or maybe we have a worse habit; not just something physically destructive, but spiritually devastating. We might cry, we might pray, we might make vows, but too often we find ourselves returning to the same poor habit again and again and again. We try to rely on our willpower to overcome bad habits in our lives, but our willpower is never strong enough. It is as if we are a person in a dark room with no windows or doors. The room is completely black, and we try to do all that we can to shove the darkness out of the room. We push it, we drag it down, we punch at it, we kick it, and still the darkness stays.
By now, many of you reading this are thinking, “stop doing all of that! Why don’t you just turn on the light,“ and of course, that is the point.
In the same way that so many naturally move on from a good thing to a better thing , our bad habits can fall by the wayside, left behind forever when we just replace them with something life-giving. The best way to get something damaging or draining out of your life is to put something wonderful into your life instead. You are not stuck. Jesus has given us the power to be free and delivered, now we need the discipline to walk out that freedom and deliverance.
What is the habit or thought pattern or activity in your life that you wish to be rid of? So many people struggle with some thing that they just can’t seem to shake. I want to encourage you today to stop trying to shake it, and start right now replacing it with something that is really good for you. Whenever you find yourself reaching for or starting that undesired activity, have something positive in your life ready to go.
Here are a few great trades to consider:
Replace French fries with salad
Replace soda with water
Replace sitting around with going for walks
Replace playing games with living life
Trade destructive thought patterns for truth
Trade worry for prayer
Trade stress for trust
Trade fear for a sound mind
This is the most important exchange to make. A reality to consider with each area - physical, mental, and spiritual - is that no one can make a trade for nothing. It would be a very effective diet to eat nothing, and it would erase most mental problems to think of nothing, but both of these things are impossible. In the same way, many people think it would be ideal to worship nothing, but it is not possible. We were made to worship, and our hearts cannot be kept from it. In fact, this is the source of most of our most tenacious problems. There are so many things in the world to worship - money, power, sex, food, acclaim, other people and other gods - but just One who will set our lives in order and bring hope, freedom, and peace.
A minister named Thomas Chalmers brilliantly explained this reality…
The love of God and the love of the world, are two affections, not merely in a state of rivalship, but in a state of enmity - and that so irreconcilable, that they cannot dwell together in the same bosom. We have already affirmed how impossible it were for the heart, by any innate elasticity of its own, to cast the world away from it; and thus reduce itself to a wilderness. The heart is not so constituted; and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.
There is something better!
Trade your hopelessness for hope. Trade your despair for joy. Trade your frustration for purpose. Trade your worship of destructive things for the worship and adoration of the Lord and Savior of life. Let the love of God and the freedom and righteousness that He bestows fill your heart and life. May Jesus bless you and keep you, may He make His face shine upon you, may He look upon you with favor and give you peace.
The sermon quoted here is “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”
Happy 2022! One month in, I pray that the hopeful feeling a new year always brings has not faded for you. This is a big year for me - I will be turning 50 years old, and Eli and I will celebrate 30 incredible years of marriage, and both of these things fill me with wonder and amazement. As a truly sentimental person, this year of important milestones has my natural proclivity for contemplation and reflection shifted into overdrive.
For those of you who might have heard Eli and I preaching and teaching together recently, you are already familiar with a theme that has been so important to us in the last few months. Please allow me to fill the rest of you in on something God has been helping us understand. As people well within the bounds of middle age and now past the empty nest, we have been so mindful and questioning of what we ought to be doing with our lives. This is something we first walked through as young adults finishing college, and now find ourselves wrestling through again. From what I can see from those ahead of us, it seems that retirement is another age that this particular struggle hits. Surely God is very concerned with what we are doing - so, what if we are somehow not doing the very best thing we could?
In His wonderful and gentle way, God has reminded us that what He is most concerned with is who we are becoming.
Another great milestone happened earlier this month - my beautiful mother's birthday. Gathering with family and friends to celebrate this lovely lady and reflecting on her life helped me better understand the importance of becoming. I have had the joy and privilege of watching my mother become a joyful, steady, godly woman from my view as her daughter for five decades now.
Of course, everybody has a mother. But not everybody has a great one like my sister and I do. This woman is the best encourager and friend that anyone could ask for. She has always been there for us - not just there in person, but also there in heart and spirit and with a beautiful smile. She has taxied us thousands of miles, cheered for us in so many forums, listened to us for countless hours on end, and she has loved us.
She shared with us her deep love of music, and took us to see so many wonderful live concerts in so many fantastic venues. She passed on to us her love for singing, especially singing in groups or in a choir. She sewed for us and shopped for us, and helped each of us love both of those activities. She also passed on to each of us her deep love of reading. We went to every library, and every bookstore, and I think the only time we all got in a little bit of trouble was when dad came home from sea and we had to remember that reading at the dinner table was not exactly the best way to socialize with each other.
She has showed us how to be hospitable, no matter what the cost of time or money or convenience. She is always giving amazing and timely gifts. She is always encouraging. She is always noticing who needs special attention or cheering up or visiting. She doesn't just think about folks, she shows them how much she cares.
More than anything, mom has passed on to us her great love for her family. She has never been smothering, but neither is she distant. All of us, kids and grandkids alike, feel so loved and cherished in every conversation we get to have, whether in person or by phone, or by 4 o’clock in the morning email from our early-bird mom/grandma.
I am more convinced than ever that all of this fantastic doing that our mom has always done stems from some choices she made a long time ago. She chose wisely, and stuck to her choices with determination and consistency. We grew up watching her be something we did not know was unusual at the time; namely, an uncomplaining and joyful military wife. When she married my dad, they lived in a tiny Texas town and had no idea that the military was in their future. She was the later-in-life darling of her parents, and spent every day of her life before marriage on their idyllic farm. I am sure it would have been very easy for her to let herself feel angry and resentful about being uprooted from all of that and moving all over the map.
Half the time, maybe more, she had single-parent duty while dad was away serving our country. While so many other moms around us drifted off or became bitter, our mom made our life so wonderful and fun. We watched her be faithful to her husband, and watched her be so glad and grateful and happy when he came home. We watched her be faithful to the church, always plugging us deeply into the local Christian community, which for us really was home no matter where our residence actually was at the moment. We watched her choices to be joyful and grateful and content actual help her become an incredibly steady and godly person.
I am so thankful to have had a front row seat to watch someone choose wisely. I have been reaping the pleasant fruit of her life all of my life, and now it spills into two more generations. The question for all of us is, who are we becoming? The truth is that when we become who God dreams for us to be, we will certainly do wonderful things for Him and all those around us. May the Lord help all of us be mindful of our choices in word, thought, and deed, and may we all look to Him to help us become all we were created to be.
As I write this, we are standing right on the edge of a brand new year - 2022! We have just celebrated the momentous gift of Christmas, and rejoice in the beautiful truth that God so loved the world that He gave His Son, not to condemn us, but to save us. I love that right after the high holy days of Christmas comes a season of renewal and recommitment as we begin a new year. This always feels like a clean slate, and an opportunity to start fresh; a hopeful time to reset and refocus.
Eli and I returned a few weeks ago from a visit to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This beautiful country, which has so long been locked away from outsiders, is opening its doors so that people can come see the rich history and mystery of this ancient land for themselves. The current monarch has bold and sweeping plans for progress and economic expansion, and is extending tourist visas.
I was so surprised at the beauty of this place. In my mind it was all desert and vast sand dunes, and while it is true that one section of the country is that, much of the land is marked by rugged mountains and breathtaking beauty.
We were able to tour many fascinating sites, mostly along the west coast and near the Gulf of Aqaba branch of the Red Sea (pictured above, with Egypt in the distance.) There is rich history all across that region, as the northwestern part of Saudi is the ancient land of Midian, home to Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. It was so interesting to be able to see so much history and beauty for ourselves.
Much more than access to the scenery, it was wonderful to have a glimpse into the stirrings of the Christian Church in what is currently the very heart of Islam. The statistics say that of roughly 30 million people in Saudi Arabia, about 20 million of them are actually Saudi while the rest are expatriates. Many of these people come from places like India and the Philippines and other nearby countries, and a good number are followers of Jesus. But it is not common for the expatriates to share their faith, so there are very few Christians among the local people. But, thank God, some amazing people have moved there, not just to live and work, but also to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. We were so privileged to meet a few new believers, and to hear their stories. God is moving and stirring this ancient land and people.
We saw so many things during our trip, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have gone. As I reflected, I was struck by the fact that the entire time we were there, we only had opportunity to interact with one local woman. The men are out and about, and the towns and the villages were bustling with their activity, but we rarely even saw any women let alone interacted with them. Most of the women and girls that we did see were fully covered with a black abaya and hijab. We could see only their eyes, which looked straight ahead and down. I was very humbled by this. I cannot say that I know what any of those women or girls actually think or feel, but I know very well what it made me think and feel.
This fall, I have used this blog space to write some thoughts about Christian morality, contemplating how wonderful it would be for our nation to have a real repentance from our selfishness and pride, and a real return to biblical principles. After our trip, I am even more grateful than ever for the blessing it is to live in this country. And I am more aware than ever of what it means when the Bible says it is for freedom he has set us free.
I am grateful that my children and friends have always been able to see my uncovered face. I am grateful that I have been able to go to school, and to have a job, and to go wherever I like whenever I feel like it. I am grateful that I can shake hands and speak with anyone that I meet. I am grateful to be able to go into my church to worship God and to fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I am so thankful that in a few days I will even be standing behind a pulpit, sharing the good news of Jesus with men and women alike.
I have been loved and cherished and encouraged first by my father, and now by my husband. I have never been made to feel less-than or second class; rather I have always felt very seen and heard and appreciated. I know that it is only Jesus who has made it possible for us to have a free and unrestricted country like we do. In the same way, t is only the grace and love of Jesus which has made it possible for me to have an amazing and fulfilling life, and I am so grateful that my daughters and granddaughter and sister and friends have all of those opportunities as well.
But we must not forget that with our freedom comes a great responsibility to protect it. We must not believe the lie that freedom has no boundaries at all.
Imagine a broad hilltop, covered with beautiful green grass, flowering fruit trees and all good pleasures known to mankind. Around the perimeter of the hilltop is a tall fence, erected long ago. One day, suddenly unsatisfied with the wonders in their garden, the people on the hilltop decide to leap over the fence. Surely there are even more wonders on the other side. How awful for anyone to constrain everyone like that; how awful to try to keep people from following their own hearts!
Sadly, too late do the people find out that there is nothing but a bottomless void and certain death on the other side of the fence. It was not erected two deprive anyone of anything; rather it was put there to keep everyone safe and flourishing. These are the beautiful boundaries of Christian morality.
I just saw part of the world where a system really does keep everyone submitting and conforming, and that yields no freedom at all. In contrast, I have spent the past few days at a winter conference for university students, where 2000 young people have gathered together to worship and seek Jesus. Many of the altar responses have been absolutely filled with students seeking freedom from horrible, life-gripping addictions and habits. How sad that in our great freedom, we too often sell ourselves into other kinds of bondage and oppression.
But hundreds and hundreds of people have been set free in the past 48 hours. It has been amazing! Hearts and lives are being transformed by the power of God, who alone has the power to deliver us from our sin. It is from this place that we move forward into a new year...
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
- Galatians 5: 1
As the Christmas season draws to a close, and as a brand new year begins, may we be filled with gratitude for all that Jesus has made possible . May we remember what a truly revolutionary thing it was for the son of God to leave glory to come and be born to a young woman in a rude stable the middle of nowhere, so that He could give His own life to save us. May we recommit ourselves to live holy lives worthy of His great sacrifice for our freedom. And may we freely share this good news so that everyone across the world can know the real freedom that Jesus brings.
Happy fall to everyone! This is definitely my favorite season. I love everything about it - shorter days and longer nights, cooler weather and hot drinks, and more time with family and friends throughout the holidays. Last week, Eli and I were able to visit some friends who are starting ministry in New England, which is where I was born and spent the better part of my formative years, thanks to my father's Navy station. It was such a great visit, and God is doing wonderful things in that beautiful part of our country.
Last time, we began a closer look at Christian Morality, and the power a return to Biblical thinking and action could have upon society. It is helpful for us to take a step back, and try to see and understand where our culture is coming from. Let me go ahead and give you a spoiler alert: our society has now got Christianity totally backwards. Most people today truly think Christianity requires perfection as a starting point. This is why people are constantly "outraged" and throwing stones at others trying to walk with God. "See?' they might sneer when a professing Christian stumbles and does something selfish or immoral. "I knew those people were hypocrites! They aren't perfect, either." With the wrong starting point, it is no surprise that the modern world has a very incorrect view of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Recently, my attention was captured by a meme that perfectly depicts this wrong starting point and wrong understanding of Christianity...
On the surface, this comparison seems devastating to those of us who have a positive view of religion, and a personal walk with Jesus. How reasonable it seems to agree with this depiction, as much of our culture now does. Many would argue that we have evolved as a society to something post-Christian: they might concede that our society was founded upon Judeo-Christian, Biblical principles, but would insist that we are beyond that now. The modern idea is that religion is nothing but a man-made, social construct which exists only to establish and enforce moral and judicial boundaries. (I can think of some religious systems that actually are like this, but Christianity is not one of them.) Now that we are so much more enlightened, the argument continues, we no longer need the pretense of religion to keep order.
If we did not believe the Bible was actually the inspired Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17), these lists would indeed seem reasonable. Even if we did believe the Bible is real and true, but never actually took the time to read what it says, we might be confused or swayed by this argument. We might find ourselves thinking that maybe it does seem kind of cruel and unhelpful to say that people are broken and flawed, especially since we all know and love so many people who fit this description.
I mentioned this last time, but it bears repeating. Our thirty years of college ministry have afforded us a front row seat to the culture. Having worked with 18-22 year olds for so long, we have plainly seen where the thinking depicted in this meme takes a child. If a little one grows up embracing those ideas, it is like slamming into a wall to reach adulthood only to realize that we truly are broken, flawed, and sinful, and that all of the positive thinking in the world can do nothing to help. Looking around at the chaos and confusion we all accumulate, it truly feels like being chained to something awful, frustratingly hopeless to rid ourselves of the burden. It turns out that what is actually cruel and unhelpful is letting anyone think it is ok to just pretend the burden isn't real or doesn't matter.
Christian Morality 101
The true Starting Point for Christianity is recognizing our need for a Savior. In his masterpiece The Everlasting Man, GK Chesterton said, "...original sin is really original. Not merely in theology but in history it is a thing rooted in the origins. Whatever else men have believed, they have all believed that there is something wrong with man." Every culture has had its own expression of attempting to make sense of this deep inner turmoil, and we call these expressions religion. Some religions require endless good works of their adherents in hopes of shedding the burden, some try to expunge the guilt and replace it with blissful nothingness. Still others have tremendous checklists of dos and don'ts, leaving the follower with an uncertain hope of reward and deep fear of punishment.
Only one religious system actually offers freedom from the burden, and it is not a system at all but a Person. We come to Jesus, not when we are finally perfect, but when we realize how desperate we are...
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
- Titus 3: 3-7
The next step is to become more like Jesus. Once we have been born again (John 3:3), it is time to let God conform us to the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3: 16-18.) We work together with God to become more like God. Our part in the equation is to listen to Him and do what He says; His part in the equation is to effect the transforming work in our hearts and lives.
As we become more like Jesus, those around us can be impacted by our new and godly character, thoughts, and actions. Walking with Jesus makes us radically different. We can plainly see that there is no improvement away from Jesus - there are only different cultural expressions of pride, hatred, malice, and greed. Our own nation is rapidly devolving back to this as we push God further and further away. Historically, when people are truly born again, it is strikingly noticeable. The crowds in the stands at Roman games watched as the Christians tried to save one another from the beasts by giving their own lives instead - "see how they love one another!" When we give our lives to Jesus, not only can our hearts be transformed, but also our homes, our work, our relationships, and our communities. When this real transformation happens in many hearts, revival comes.
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
-2 Peter 1: 3-9
The world is broken and chaotic because the hearts of men and women are broken and chaotic. These beautiful qualities listed by St. Peter are not natural to our sinful nature. We all come to Jesus spiritually poor, pitiful, blind, and naked. The greatest news in the world is that God loves all of us so much that He would not leave us in that helpless state, and sent His Son to save us and give us abundant life! We do not have to stay hopeless and burdened, and neither do our family, coworkers, and neighbors. Jesus has already done the horrific work it took to break the power of sin and death in our lives. Everybody needs to know this, and every Christian needs to let their new godly life shine in the darkness.
We must not let the culture fool us into thinking that we are cruel and judgmental to believe that people are sinful and broken. We must not just go with the flow and believe the lie that Jesus is too good to be true. If we never recognize our dire need for a Savior, we will just stay lost and broken forever. We who know Jesus can all testify that He takes every broken person who comes to Him, removes that awful burden of sin and shame, and replaces it with freedom, joy, and peace. We can confirm that only in Christ can we finally be just what God created us all to be - full of wonder, intelligent, beautiful, curious, strong, and full of potential. May our lives increasingly reflect this wonderful truth in a real and compelling way.
The days are growing shorter, and autumn is finally here. I find the slowing of pace which earlier nights afford to be so welcome every year. It is a great opportunity to pause and reflect on life, and there is much to think about.
As we travel across the country upon ministry assignments, there are two things that I have particularly noticed lately. The first is that most people are quite worried about the state of the world, regardless of their age, socioeconomic status, or political point of view. There is a dark cloud hanging over so many, and people are truly feeling anxious and even afraid. The second is quite different, and is something I wish everyone could see with us. God is moving, and thousands of young men and women across the nation are encountering the real love and hope of Christ. Jesus is setting them free, as only He can.
I have always loved the front row seat to our culture that university student ministry affords. College allows many people a soft launch into the adult world, as the definitive end of childhood and beginning of the next stage. It is also a place to see up close and personally how every parenting style, educational theory, and religious pursuit ends up. The things that you see on the news about what is happening on our campuses are all true - many kids are not alright. They really have seen it all, and are not impressed. In fact, so many of them are broken and deeply wounded physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Hearing their stories, it actually is no wonder that so many of them are angry and confused.
But what you are not shown on the nightly news is that when young people have an opportunity to hear and experience Truth, many of them respond and are grateful to run towards God. The contrast this affords on campus is tremendous. Too many classes on too many campuses are teaching some hopeless and dead-end things. No matter how people might try to explain it away, the problem of sin is real, and we need Someone to save us from it. The hope for our world continues to be the Gospel. When people find this Truth, their lives shine brilliantly in the darkness.
A friend recently gave us a copy of a wonderful book that I had never read before. The Book That Made Your World has been so eye-opening to me, and I highly recommend it. Vishal Mangalwadi was born and raised in India, and found faith in Christ at a young age. He and his wife have chosen to dedicate their lives to sharing their faith and practices in their homeland. This book is written as an examination of Western Civilization from his own very Eastern perspective and experience.
Each of the chapters examines a concept and how the Bible has impacted it in the nations that embraced Christ: it includes topics such as humanity, rationality, education, science and technology, family, language, music, and so forth. The chapter I read most recently was about morality, and it was so thought-provoking.
One story in particular stood out to me. Mangalwadi told of a trip he took to The Netherlands years ago, where he visited a large and sparklingly clean dairy farm with a friend. The whole operation was automated, and no one was attending the dairy at the time of their visit. They bought some fresh milk by putting their money into a bowl on a shelf. The friend actually put in a large bill and took out the exact amount of change from the cash in the bowl. Vishal laughed and pointed out that in many places around the world, when in an untended shop, people would just take the milk and all the money in the bowl, too. Maybe even the cows!
What is the only thing that can stop corruption and wickedness, not just in business, but in all interpersonal relationships? There must be someone watching all the time. Not just anyone, for in many systems with much oversight, things often turn to bribery to get around rightness and justice. It must be someone completely trustworthy and who is always vigilant.
The point is that Christianity produced the kind of society where people did trustworthy business with one another because most people truly believed that God was always present and watching. It did not matter to them if anyone else saw - Christians knew that God sees, and changed their behavior accordingly. Christians also believed that life was not just about here and now, but also about eternity. They believed that what we do actually matters, all the time.
In this chapter, Vishal also mentioned an index that ranks countries on a scale for how much corruption is a part of the nation’s fabric. When the book was published in 2011, the USA was proudly ranked number 6. I looked up the most recent rankings - in 2020, we were tied for a dismal 67th. Our hard turn away from God and His Word shows too plainly.
As followers of Jesus, it is no longer enough for us to look back and remember when society was Christian - we must take action. Rather than remain stuck, in nostalgia at best or discouragement and despair at worst, this is a great time for Christians to really live and share their faith. So many times in history, when the people of God remember who they are, and who God is, hope and blessing are restored to the land.
The question is, of course, what can we actually do? The problems are so big and numerous, it seems difficult to imagine that any of us can make much of a difference. Thankfully and hopefully, the rest of the morality chapter highlights the Wesleyan Revival of the 19th century. Things were arguably worse then than they are even now. I am sure that if any of us had been alive during that era, we would have been tempted to fall into discouragement and despair, just like today. But along came John and Charles Wesley, two brothers who had a real encounter with the Living God, and who dramatically changed the world.
- They believed that the Bible was the true and living Word of God. As Mangalwadi observed, in that generation, "Restoration of the authority of the Bible in the English world amounted to a civilization finding its soul." How wonderful it would be if people could say that of our generation! The Wesleys studied the Bible, obeyed it, taught it, cherished it, and lived by it. We can do the same.
- They changed the way they were living. After they accepted Christ, the brothers lived differently. They chose to consistently act unselfishly and with honesty. They became generous and selfless, and arranged their lives around their faith - not the other way around. They lived as though God was always watching, even if no one else was, and as though eternity was real and mattered. We can do all of these things, if we will.
- They helped others know and walk with God. The Wesleys would not be content with just having personal revival. They were intent upon helping as many others know Jesus as they could, were committed to helping people learn and grow as Christians, and helped so many learn to express their faith in their homes and in the marketplace. They spent the rest of their lives practicing these habits. We can do this, too.
"Transformation of a nation is an intergenerational task," according to Mangalwadi. I love knowing that those of you reading this have a wonderful range in age and life experience. I believe that if just the few hundred of us reading this would take these things to heart, and put them into practice, God would bless our efforts. It is so encouraging to remember that just a few people really living for God can change so much. For the rest of the fall, we will continue to take a deeper look into Christian Morality. Until next time, may the Lord richly bless and keep you!
This weekend marks a terrible anniversary for our wonderful nation. All of us who are old enough can vividly remember what we were doing 20 years ago on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. It is difficult to capture all of the feelings and emotions stirred by that tragic series of events, but I know that thinking about our country and how unique it is deeply stirs my heart. Here is my love letter as a grateful daughter - of wonderful parents, a tremendous nation, and a loving God...
For the past year or so, I have been loving the fact that I have been adopted into a fun and long-standing Friday golf group. Everyone else in the group, which includes my own mother and father, was born before the middle of World War II. Also, everyone in this golf group can soundly smash my score every single week - they are all really good at golf. They are in excellent shape, and inspire me every week to strive to be healthy and to take good care of myself. I want to play golf like they do today, let alone in 30 more years.
I think this is truly remarkable! In the entire history of the world, has there ever been a cohort in which the 80-year-old great-grandmothers and fathers are still amazing athletes? I think not. Though we are facing many troubles and concerns as a nation today, we must not forget what it is that has made this unique era possible. This is a perfect time to stop and reflect on what a special place and time this is.
The United States of America is a great experiment; never before has there been a nation founded upon the premise that regular men and women can be trusted to govern themselves. Of course, that grand idea comes with an important catch. As President John Adams wrote in 1798, "... we have no Government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or galantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
The country was founded on many Biblical principles, the most important and far-reaching of which being that all are created in the image of God. Not just some men, but every man, regardless of the color of his skin, the place of his birth, the amount of land he might own, or the contents of his wallet. Not only every man, but every woman, too - and every boy and every girl. Every person is equally precious and valuable, that means that everyone has the birthright to enjoy the same opportunities, protections, rights, and freedoms. Historically and practically speaking, this is unheard of, which is why people from all over the world wish to be a part of this nation.
We were also founded upon the principle of personal responsibility. The Bible teaches that each person is seen and known by God and will someday be judged for their own actions, thoughts, and motives. This has created a society built upon and sustained by personal morality. Deeply woven into the fabric of this society are the teachings of Jesus Christ:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these." - Mark 12: 30-31 and
"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." - Matthew 7:12
These ideals uphold our justice system, our government, our education system, and our ideas of liberty and equality. We do not cheat or steal because God sees all, and because we would not want to be cheated or stolen from. We treat people well because God sees all, and because we want to be treated well. We take care of those weaker, older, younger, and less fortunate than ourselves because God sees all, and because we would want to be taken care of in those situations. The implications of these beliefs are plentiful and their roots run deep.
Our nation was built on the backs of strong families, created within the framework of a New Testament conception of marriage - monogamous, faithful, and loving. These men and women, and their many children, did what it took to leave familiar civilization to carve out a better life in the wilderness of a new world. As they moved west across the continent, they brought with them a deep commitment to God and to one another, and an incredible work ethic that built a new and prosperous nation.
Alexis de Tocqueville was a French magistrate who came to America forty years after the failed French Revolution. He visited on official business, but used his time to conduct an unofficial investigation into what made American democracy successful. His findings were published in a two-volume work titled Democracy in America, and he wrote,
"I have recorded so many considerable achievements of the Americans, if anyone asks me what I think the chief cause of the extraordinary prosperity and growing power of this nation, I should answer that it is due to the superiority of their women."
What an interesting observation! By the 1830's, the ladies of America already understood that it changes absolutely everything when everyone is considered equally precious in God's sight. This brings me right back around to the exceptional women in my golf group. They, and we who follow behind them, have benefitted from 240+ years of a nation learning and expressing what it actually means for every person to be equally valuable in God's sight and in society. This is still very new in human civilization - we are still learning and growing, and we have much room yet to grow, but what a long way we have all come! Again, it is hard to state how different and how much better this generation of women live compared to all others before them, and compared to so many others around the world still.
I know my mother's story well, and it is representative of many in her cohort. She was born to loving. committed, faithful Christian parents, and raised with the deeply held belief that she, a youngest daughter, was a treasured gift from God. She was protected, educated, and valued, and played every sport and joined every club she liked. When she was finished with high school, she was allowed to choose her husband when she was ready and willing to do so. My father has loved her and cherished her, and has been faithful to her and to his marriage vows. He worked hard to support his family, and left his wife free to work if she liked, to volunteer when and where she chose, and to be an active member in the community.
In that safe and loving environment, they raised two daughters. They loved and cherished us, and also believed that we were treasured gifts from God. They supported us, encouraged us, educated us, and helped us know and believe that God had made us and that He loved us deeply. They drove us all over the place for swim meets and softball games and cross country races, they helped us with school projects, they listened to us and gave us wise counsel. They encouraged us to pursue higher education, and generously footed the bill. When we were old enough and when we were ready, they allowed us to choose our husbands. They have been our greatest cheerleaders and supporters, and have helped us to fly and flourish in every way. My sister has a beautiful family, two degrees, and a decorated life of public service. I also have a beautiful family, a degree, and am an ordained minister. There has never been a time or place in all of history where women were afforded such opportunity and status!
On this special and somber weekend, as all of us deeply reflect on our special nation, may God help us to recommit ourselves to Him. May we truly be people who love Him, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. May we pledge ourselves to be faithful to God, to our spouses, and to our children, and may we do all in our power to protect and promote the next generation in every neighborhood. May we not give up on the dream of the beautiful experiment called the United States of America, striving to see every person reach their full potential in this great land of opportunity and freedom.
God bless America!
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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