A blessed Advent season to you and yours! I hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and were able to find at least a little time to enjoy the peace and presence of God. Reality is such that sometimes, large extended family gatherings on holidays can be rather stressful experiences. I was with our university ministry interns yesterday, and many of them expressed that the week was anything but easy and refreshing. One young couple was dealing with a severely depressed sibling who was speaking of ending her life. Another person had a difficult time with warring parents. Still another had a close family member going through a difficult divorce. Several had parents or grandparents suffering from serious illness. Other friends of ours are struggling through the first holidays since they lost a loved one, and these days are not quite as joyful as they once were. The list goes on and on - people are hurting and broken, just like the world we live in.
But, thank God! During these four weeks of Advent, there are some amazing things that we can and should take time to ponder and remember daily..
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
This beautiful passage of scripture was written many long years before these events came to pass. Imagine what it was like to live in the years before that blessed child was born. Certainly terribly dark, and without much hope at all. The world was no less broken then than it is now, and sin and rebellion ran just as deep throughout the earth then as now. Just one tiny nation in the midst of the wide world knew of God anymore. Somehow all understanding of the True God had been lost over the centuries, and just Israel remembered. God had made a covenant with Abraham, promising…
I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.
But even they, who were God’s chosen people to bring His light and hope to the nations, often forgot Him, or just disobeyed His law and commandments for years on end. It was during one of those times that Isaiah delivered his beautiful and hopeful prophecy about the coming King, who would right all of the wrongs in this world.
This side of the cross, and having experienced the grace of God in Christ, it is difficult to imagine what it must have been like not to know about the cross. Of course, there are still billions of people living without the knowledge of what Jesus has done for them, but there are billions of us who do know. The point is that Jesus really did leave glory to come here to save us! The words of Isaiah were more than just a dream; they were reality. During advent, we take time to remember exactly what that means.
One day long ago, a young couple really did stumble into a crowded little town and realized that yes, the baby really was coming right then. They really did have to put Him in a manger out there with the animals because all of the rooms in the entire town were full. That blessed child really was named Jesus, and really was announced by angels and visited by kings. He really did grow into the most unusual and wonderful person ever to live: fully God and fully man. He really did teach and preach and heal and encourage, everywhere He went. He really did confront the religious status quo, and bring Good News of a Kingdom of love and relationship, not endless rules and regulations according to man’s ideas. He really didn’t overthrow any earthly government by force, but instead took the way of suffering, and gave HIs life for all of us. He took the punishment of our sin on Himself, so that we wouldn’t have to be separated from God forever. He really was crucified on a Roman cross, died, and was buried in a borrowed tomb.
But, of course we know that that wasn’t all. Jesus really did rise from the dead, conquering death, hell, and the grave! He really did show Himself alive and well to people for 40 days, before the amazing day that He ascended back to Heaven. He really did pour out the Holy Spirit ten days later, and to this day offers this amazing gift of power to any who will receive it. He really is sitting at God’s right hand right now, acting as our advocate. His words still give life and hope to countless people every day. His healing presence is right now moving across the world through His Spirit and His people; the Good News of His Kingdom is being spread by believers everywhere.
Better than all of these wonderful things, HE REALLY IS COMING AGAIN! This time, to rule and reign as the rightful King of all of Heaven and earth forever. The apostle John saw a glimpse of this in his revelation…
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” -Revelation 21:1-5
Take courage this Advent. This is a special four weeks to remember the amazing things that God has done, and the amazing things He is still doing and yet to do. The entire world calendar divides on the time before Christ came, and after. Try as any nation or people might, His reality and presence cannot be erased or wished away. We live in a world that is currently enemy-occupied territory. But even that wicked enemy knows full well he has lost it all. The war is over, and Jesus won the victory. The great power of God has made a way for everyone who will to be with Him forever. This time of waiting is God graciously giving His Church time to gather all of HIs lost lambs back into the fold.
As we wait for His return, we can remember how wonderful Jesus is, and we can bring HIs light and hope to everyone in our lives. We can recall that all of the promises of God are true, and that He is faithful. Rather than being overwhelmed by the problems of life, we can be emboldened by all that Jesus has said and done. I encourage you to set aside time in your daily routine these next few weeks to contemplate these things deeply. Let the truth and reality of God’s generosity and faithfulness sink deeply into your heart and mind. I pray that God’s peace and presence fill you with strength. May your heart and home be full of His hope and joy. May the Holy Spirit fill you with wisdom and grace as you interact with your family, coworkers, and friends during this holy season.
As I write, we are in Pennsylvania, on our way from one ministry gathering in New York to another in Massachusetts. We have a little time to get to the next place, so we are spending the day enjoying the cool air and spectacular fall color of this beautiful part of the country. The leaves are at the perfect peak of their change, and the countryside is a flaming patchwork of reds, yellows, oranges, and greens. The backroads take us past farms and little towns, full of activity as everyone prepares for the long winter to come.
Earlier in the trip, we were near Lake Oneida in New York. That is where a young Charles Finney moved with his parents and siblings close to 200 years ago, when those parts were still the western frontier of our brand-new nation. Finney referred to that region as the “burned-out district” since everyone had heard a good share of preaching, but were numb and indifferent to it. What the preachers had to say had very little impact on the hearts and lives of the people; many were jaded by the dissonance between what they were taught the Bible said, and the difficulties they saw in their own lives.
All throughout this part of the country, we see evidence of this same feeling, unfortunately alive and thriving today. There are billboards all along the roads warning of the dangers of pills laced with fentanyl. There are signs encouraging people not to be fooled by the too-often fatal allure and false promise of opioids. There is ample evidence that people are not finding anything that makes them feel alive and purposeful; rather, so many are discouraged and despondent.
We spent time with a good friend in New York, and he mentioned having to watch out not to be overcome by what he called his “Northeast skepticism.” He described the condition as wondering if anyone would be able to actually walk with Christ in abundance and victory like we all hope. There have been so many moral failures, so many people who claim to be godly but are actually rascals, and so much hurt and pain that it is easy to begin to wonder if all of this Christianity stuff is actually too good to be true. Sadly, this skepticism is not at all relegated to only one part of the country.
But there is something we must not forget...
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. - Hebrews 12:1-3
This time of year, we celebrate All Saints’ Day, which happens on the first day of November. Our culture absolutely loves to decorate anything and for any reason, and we are currently decked out for All Hallows’ Eve, aka Halloween. Though most have forgotten the significance of what they are decorating for, and simply enjoy a fun night of candy and costumes and celebrating, the origin still remains, and perhaps many of us could again emphasize the true meaning of the season.
There is an important reason we look at the headstones in the graveyard this time of year! We actively remember all who have walked in our faith before us, because it is a mighty number. The writer of Hebrews called it a Great Cloud of Witnesses, and gave a role-call in the previous chapter. Those mentioned are Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the people of God marching around the walls of Jericho, and Rahab,
From there, the writer broadens the scope and says, “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
Of course, the writer means that all of those amazing people had faith in God even before the incarnation, suffering, cross, death, and mighty resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Since then, think of all the mighty men and women who have given their whole lives to loving and serving Jesus…
- All of the great apostles and disciples of the early Church, who marched right into a fierce and raging persecution, including Peter, John, Paul, James, Barnabus, Lydia, Phoebe, Timothy, Junia, Philip and his daughters...
- The great fathers and mothers and fathers of the Christian faith, who faced trial and tribulation in an age of great uncertainty and change - Justin Martyr, Athanasius of Alexandria, Basil of Caesarea, Thecla, Gregory of Nazianzus, Theosebia, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian, Jerome, Fabiola, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo...
- The great theologians and artists of the long Middle Ages and the Renaissance, withstanding the press and threat first of barbarians and then of a militant Islam, and of pestilence and disease - St. Patrick, Boniface, the many nameless monks who preserved and copied the Bible, the architects and builders of stunning and mighty cathedrals, St. Francis, St. Clare, Anselm, Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, Leonardo daVinci, Michelangelo…
- The reformers and mystics, who withstood much pressure and persecution from the most powerful within Christendom to bring the Word of God and a personal walk with God back into the forefront of our faith - Erasmus, Luther, Katherine von Bora, Calvin, Zwingli, Wycliffe, Huss, Count von Zinzendorf, Madam Guyon, John Bunyan…
- The revivalists and creatives, who refused to let a vibrant faith in Christ be swallowed by the cold reason and individualism of their age - Whitefield, the Wesleys, Finney, Hannah Whitall Smith, Beethoven, Bach, William Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano, Hannah More…
- The moderns, who stood strong for Christ in the age of rising atheism, fascism, and militant Marxism - GK Chesterton, CS Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Watchman Nee, Mother Theresa, Pope John Paul II, Tolkien, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, Jr., Francis and Edith Schaefer, Corrie ten Boom…
The list goes on and on, filled with men and women who left a lasting mark because of their bold faith in Jesus Christ. Just about all of this cloud of witnesses faced hostility from people in power during their lifetime, some who hated God and some who claimed to represent Him. This always has been and likely will continue to be the case on this side of heaven. But even in the face of unpopularity, persecution, and violence, an incredible number of the most wonderful people ever to live have been followers of Jesus, all the way up to today.
I feel like the writer of Hebrews must have - there are so many amazing people who are alive today, loving and serving Jesus faithfully and making a real difference in their communities for His glory: it would take a whole library to contain all of their names and stories! They are standing up against the absolute insanity and confusion of this age, boldly proclaiming the love and reality of Jesus Christ. The broader world may never know any of their names, but they are many and they are bringing life and hope through Christ to people - and not just in the West, but all over the world.
Just like in Charles Finney’s day, this whole country is a burned-over District. We have seen and heard it all. Politicians make endlessly empty promises, social media never stops blaring its smoke and mirrors, many try desperately to deconstruct an orthodox faith and belief in Christ, and people are tired and confused. Families are breaking apart, kids don’t know who they are, and many people are desperate for an escape from reality.
Just like 200 years ago, many think they know what God has said, but are numb and indifferent to it. What the preachers have to say has very little impact on the hearts and lives of the people; they are so jaded by the dissonance between what they think the Bible says, and the difficulties they see in their own lives.
Friends, may we not give in to the confusing spirit of this age and grow weary or lose heart. May we keep our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. May we remember the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, and who cheer us on still. They withstood the tremendous pressures, uncertainties, and dangers of their own generations and remind us that if they can make it, we can too because the same God is with us.
Just like them, may we lean heavily on Jesus - the same Christ who endured the shame and brutality of the cross for the joy set before Him - and take courage and comfort in His help and presence. Just like them, may we believe the Word of God to be true and alive and active, sharper than any sword.
Just like in Charles Finney's day, when many tens of thousands came to vibrant faith, may the Spirit of God breath a mighty revival of faith in Christ into our hearts and throughout our burned-over land.
Greetings from the end of a long, hot Texas summer! We have finally entered the only other season that we have in Texas, known as “not summer,” and thank the Lord that we made it. The evenings and mornings are cool and glorious, and though we all try not to let the oppressively hot season affect us, a drop in temperature always makes it seem like hope has been restored.
Earlier this week, I was enjoying the wonderful morning weather on a walk with my dog, Maggie, when I heard the sound of a golf cart coming behind us - it was my father! Even though we have now lived in the same town again for 25 years, I still haven’t gotten over the pleasant surprise of bumping into my parents out and about in town. We lived across the country from each other for a season, and being together again is such an unexpected blessing.
He was headed home, so for just a moment I wondered where he might have been so early. When I remembered, I realized instantly what the subject of this blog post would be. Recently, I brought up the idea that a large part of our culture is has developed a new religion, and that Christians must take care not to become swept along. In the last post, we examined being careful not to engage in the Culture of Comment all around us. This time, let's think about the question,
What are you worth?
Not just your life, but also your time and effort - what kind of price can be put on such things?
That morning, my dad was heading home from the golf clubhouse, where he and a group of people meet one early morning each week to spruce up the golf course. They pick up trash, fix the divots, and otherwise get things back into perfect order. Similarly, he and another group from church regularly give time to doing odd jobs around the church property - changing light bulbs, cleaning messes, straightening papers and books, and keeping things in order. These examples are indicative of the way he and my mother have chosen to live, and not just in their retirement years.
My father is one who, after he retired from 30 years in the Navy, taught at a military college for a few years, and then gave a decade at our local high school in an effort to help young people learn math and even a little bit of respect. Next, he taught for the prison system, helping men who made some terrible choices have a chance of making a life for themselves once they were released. Likewise, my mother has volunteered for every group my sister and I were in, and for all kinds of church and community ventures through the years. During Covid, they both participated in drive-by golf cart greetings for people who were shut in all alone. They are always visiting and caring for others, rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn. They give so much of their time to help people, and they have been that way all my life.
They don’t do this for recognition or accolades. Neither of them are running for political office or some other position. They give of themselves, and know that what they get in return has nothing to do with money or fame or power. It has everything to do with helping others know that they are seen and heard and cared for. It has everything to do with looking to help the next generation have a good start. It has everything to do with keeping things in order, and even making things better. They serve and give because they are grateful for what they have had, and want others to have it, too.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking and living is no longer the norm in our society. Instead, most of us sit around, bemoaning the fact that things just aren’t like they used to be. Our schools are struggling. Our churches are not nearly as full as they once were. Kids are disrespectful and can’t pull themselves together. Things look so run down and uncared for. Families are falling apart, the suicide rate is alarmingly high, and substance abuse and even overdose deaths are all too common. Why are things so bad? Why doesn’t someone do something?
Last week, a royal person, when participating in an official function on behalf of their ruling family, was quoted as saying, “I can’t believe I’m not getting paid for this.” What a striking contrast with the late Queen Elizabeth, who selflessly and tirelessly served her God and her people for 70 years. But it should not be surprising - this thought is in the very air of our modern culture and is a tenet of its new religion.
The worldview assumes that each person’s worth literally boils down a dollar amount. In this way of thinking, the value of your life is dictated by your lifetime bottom line. How much are you worth? This danger does not apply to just one political or ideological branch: some have to be careful of a tendency to want to always make more no matter the cost, and others have to be careful not to want to take more no matter the consequences. Either way, the danger is found in evaluating the worth of a human being in terms of money.
If you cost someone else too much to bring into the world or to stay in the world, you aren’t worth it and are terminated. If you aren’t constantly adding to the bottom line of net worth, then you aren’t really living or being true to yourself. Choices in life, death, education, marriage, vocation, location, parenting, philanthropy, and so many other avenues are made depending on how much a person can make and how much each decision will cost them. Does it help my resume? Does it take from my retirement? Does it cost me or benefit me in any way?
No one considers the possibility that there might be quite a few things in life worth much more than money. No one stops to think about what will happen if and when money is suddenly worth much less than it is today. No one is encouraged to volunteer or give freely, instead everyone is coached to ask, “what is in it for me?” It is no longer thought of to do something for nothing - not even for our own families and communities.
This way of thinking leads to so many difficult and even dangerous ideas, actions, and inactions, and we must be careful not to become engulfed by it.
The good news is that Jesus showed us what to do and how to think rightly about this. As followers of Christ, and as people who believe the Bible, we know that every man, woman, and child is lovingly created in the image of God. This means that there is no price high enough to equate to the worth of a human being: each person, whether they live in a palace or a shelter, is God’s treasured masterpiece. One of the best-loved passages in scripture reminds us that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” God lovingly and carefully made us, and then spared no expense in redeeming us.
The ideal of Christian service, which has inspired many of the greatest people in history, and still inspires people like my parents and others like them, was modeled by Jesus Himself. He gave His own life to love and serve all of us. He left the glory and majesty of Heaven to come to this fallen earth, tirelessly showing all of us what real, abundant life can look like.
He showed us that we were all striving in the wrong direction in looking for abundant life, and getting things backwards. It isn't about power, or possession, or political gain. He plainly told HIs disciples, when they were lagging behind Him on the road one day and indulging in their usual argument about which one of them was the greatest, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” The One who actually is the greatest showed us how a real King lives, by making Himself the lowest and giving everything for us.
This is exactly the opposite of what our culture preaches. It says take and get all you can. It says demand your rights. It says don't do anything that doesn't directly benefit you. But this makes people miserable, and so many people get hurt. All you have to do is read the headlines to see that all the money and fame and power in the world can't keep anyone happy or fulfilled for long.
Following Jesus' way in being servant of all can be described by the idea that love finds a need and meets it. We don’t have to wait for someone to tell us that someone needs help or visiting or encouraging, we can look around and see who needs our help. We don’t need to be told to clean or fix things, we can see that it needs to be done and take care of it. Our cities and towns are the place we all have to live, together, and it is our responsibility to keep them in top order. Our schools and churches are where our minds and spirits are nourished and it is up to all of us to keep them healthy. When we all do this, things remain in order, people are helped, and few remain uncared for.
The world says your life is only worth a dollar amount. God says your life, and your neighbors' lives, are worth more than could ever be counted. He gave of Himself to save us and serve us; now it is our turn. We can give ourselves and our time and resources to help others, and will find that this brings more joy, purpose, and fulfillment than any amount of money ever could.
We do not have to fall into line with what our culture is saying. Instead, we can follow Jesus and give of ourselves, knowing that what we will get in return has nothing to do with money or fame or power. It has everything to do with helping others know that they are seen and heard and cared for. It has everything to do with looking to help the next generation have a good start. It has everything to do with keeping things in order, and even making things better. We can love and serve and give because we are grateful for what we have, and want others to have it, too.
This week marks the end of a special era in human history. Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain has passed from this life, and gone to be with her Lord and Savior forever. Considering that there are photos and videos of her still fulfilling her duties and graciously receiving Britain’s new Prime Minister a mere two days before her passing, we can give thanks to God for this special woman as she finally enters her rest.
There is nobody like her. I wonder if anyone will emerge from the current era to be role model for the younger set like Queen Elizabeth has been to so many us who have come before? She ruled for 70 years, meaning that for almost everyone alive today she has always been the queen of England. Her life marked an entire era of time that perhaps someday will be referred to as the second Elizabethan age. As the rest of the world went through its many kings, presidents, prime ministers, and dictators, Queen Elizabeth lived and served gracefully, bringing a steadiness and sense of timelessness to the world. Her life was so special, and there is so much we can learn from her example.
Of course, she was born into royalty as the granddaughter of the king, and therefore had a rather unusual perspective on life for her whole life. When Elizabeth was just 10 years old, her grandfather died and her uncle soon abdicated his role as king, leaving Elizabeth the heir to the throne. At the tender age of 25, an age when so many of us are still trying to figure out who we are and what we ought to be doing, her father died and she became the queen of a vast number of the world’s people. The rest of the world joined in the excitement. My mother, who was 10 in 1952, remembers her whole class gathering at the home of the one family in town who had a television set to watch the coronation of the young new queen. It was an exciting and hopeful event.
There are some pretty amazing things that came with her unique position. She never had to have a driver’s license or a passport, as all of those things were issued to everyone else in her own name! Her image has been on all the coinage and currency, postage stamps, and legal documents for Great Britain and the Commonwealth nations around the globe for the better part of a century. She met most of the world’s leaders throughout her long reign, and was given beautiful gifts of honor and respect by a great number of them. She traveled the world and was celebrated by gatherings of thousands everywhere she went. She lived in fabulous palaces and had beautiful clothes and jewels, and people to attend to her every need. She attended balls and galas, and really lived all of the fairy tale ideals.
Though she was surrounded by opulence and plenty all her life, she was not ruined by them. People were continually shocked by what a normal woman she was. She loved her husband and children, her parents and sister, her dogs and horses. She had a wonderfully regular daily routine that she maintained wherever she happened to be in the world. She was kind and gracious and respectful to all, whether family, stranger, servant, or world leader. There is a story of an encounter with two American tourists who did not realize who she was, and she just played along and even took a photo for them. Her bodyguard laughed, wondering if anyone would ever tell those two who they had been speaking with that day.
She deeply loved her God and country. At a young age she committed herself to the service of both, famously saying on her 21st birthday, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” Though many under her dominion practiced other faiths, she boldly and lovingly represented the goodness and majesty of Christ, and always referred to Him as her Lord. Though many in her care had widely differing political opinions from one another, she loved and hoped for all of her subjects, living above and beyond politics. She knew exactly who she was and exactly Who and what she represented, and took great care never to do anything that did not represent God and country rightly.
Certainly not every person born or married into human royalty has viewed the position and privilege in quite the same way that Queen Elizabeth did. So many have wasted and squandered and misused their influence. There is much in the written record about her, documenting that even at a very early age she had a deep understanding of what it meant to be the child of a king. Friends and contemporaries testify that she was always both grateful and dutiful. She was a person like all the rest of us, and must have had off days, but we never saw them. She kept her frustrations to herself. There were no bitter and weeping interviews when she felt she just couldn’t take it anymore. There were no sensational books or exposés about her secret and awful hidden vices. For nine decades, this lovely woman lived her life of service to God and others. She never wavered, she never complained, and she never quit. Right up to the end she was the steady and responsible queen that her people and the rest of the world could count on to do what was right.
It is such a lovely thought to picture such a graceful and dedicated queen finally entering into the courts of the King of all Kings. May her memory be a blessing for many generations to come.
What can we learn from such a life well-lived? None of us are likely to ever know the kind of broad power and significance that she had by virtue of her office and birth, but each of us has our own sphere of influence in this life. We have the opportunity to choose to live a life of unfailing service and encouragement.
There is something wired deep inside every person that longs for a good person to rule. We seem intuitively to know that things were supposed to be a certain way, and they are not. We know that everything about illness and death feels wrong. We know that injustice and poverty and misuse of power are wrong, and should not exist. We know that the weak and vulnerable should be loved and cared for by those who are stronger. We know that families should be healthy, not broken. There is something in every heart that yearns for true justice and peace, and wisdom and plenty for all. Our hearts are longing for the very one who made and sustains us - the Lord Jesus Christ.
Elizabeth exemplified a true servant of this good King. She believed that her honor came only from Him, and always sought to point back to Him. She knew that He was the giver of life, and the One from Whom all blessings flow. On His behalf, she strove to rule with wisdom, grace, and justice, and always had a hopeful and encouraging outlook for her people - the people she knew He loved so much. She stood for righteousness and peace, and against division and unbelief. She determined to always remind her people of who they were, and of what they could be with a little faith and diligence.
I am grateful to have witnessed someone stand steadfast and faithful for the entire fifty years of my life and beyond. We are blessed to have had such an example of a strong and committed leader, who spent a long lifetime in joyful service as a child of the King. What a difference it could make if many of us determined to serve God and the people in our lives with such unfailing hope and faithfulness.
Happy Anniversary to us! It has been four years since this blog first appeared, and what a season it has been. Thank you so much for joining me on a journey to know God better, and to love people more. So much has happened in that span of time. In my own family, we gained three beautiful grandchildren, a new son-in-law, and have had ministry roles change for everyone in our family. In the broader picture, many of us have experienced real loss and change, and we all muddled through Covid as best we could. At the same time, so many joys and triumphs have occurred. It has been a lot of wonderful, God-given life, and what a joy to know Him and walk with Him. I look forward to sharing another year with you all!
Nearly thirty years ago, at this time of year, I was beginning my first year as an elementary school teacher. The first day of your first year is something to remember. Suddenly, and for the first time in your life, you are on the other side of the desk. It is your responsibility to make sure that the kids in your care are safe, loved, and above all else, educated. The daunting task of taking someone from illiteracy to literacy, and from unfamiliarity with numbers to proficiency is sobering. But what a joy to watch young minds learn and grow. Back in the day, it was still an accepted and expected outcome that students would learn to read and to think for themselves. Education was understood to be the foundation each student would need to build a life.
But how interesting to look back on that time and realize that it was the beginning of a great sea-change in our culture. I have some vivid memories from the first teacher inservice day of that year. I was on the fourth grade team, the sole new teacher in a group of highly experienced veterans. Three of them were at the stage then that I am now - empty nest and second stage of adulthood. These ladies knew exactly what they were doing, and did so with excellence. They were so gracious to answer my many questions and to give me many helpful methods and strategies. Their reaction to the special speakers on that day made a lasting impression on me.
The theme of the day, as you might expect in an elementary school environment, was based on a fun, whimsical name - TTWWADI, apparently pronounced to-wah-dee, and devised with the hope of producing ridiculing laughter. It stood for That’s the Way We’ve Always Done It, and the idea presented all day was that it was definitely time for some new ways of doing things. Why should we keep on doing the same old thing, year after year? How silly to do things just because they are the way we have always done them! When the day is new and the future so bright, why should we stick to the same old crusty ways? Modern kids, they said in 1993, ought not be constrained by the rigorous and demanding methods of the past. We would not want to crush their creativity or stifle their imaginations by expecting everyone to learn in the same exact way.
I had never been a teacher before, and I had never heard a presentation like this before. All I knew was my own school experience as a child and what they had told me in my teaching classes at school. I had never actually tried to teach a child anything before. I listened to the people presenting, all just a little older than myself, and found it interesting, even compelling. They were very passionate and fun, and gave a great presentation full of wonderful sounding new ideas. I left the sessions with my open and impressionable mind ready to try any of these new methods.
I was soon fascinated and quickly redirected by the reactions of my teammates. We gathered together later that afternoon in one of our fourth grade classrooms, and I heard them questioning why in the world people with so little experience were knocking the methods they had relied upon for two or three decades. These ladies each took twenty-five children, year after year, and taught them to read, write, and think. They had also raised their own children from infancy to adulthood, and knew that you can’t just give children free reign over every decision. Well, not without coming out with some really confused and difficult, oftentimes profoundly unhappy, people.
One of my favorite authors, GK Chesterton, once suggested that it is a very foolish thing to remove a fence before you inquire why the fence was put there in the first place. You might soon find, hopefully before it was too late, that the fence was put there by a kindly farmer who hoped to protect people from his large and angry bull.
From the vantage point of thirty years later, I am sad to realize that many other teachers and educators of that era must not have had the benefit of experienced and wiser people to guide the way. Not just in the realm of education, but it seems that our whole culture has embraced the idea of scorning and ridiculing TTWWADI and removing a lot of fences that were put there for very good reason.
The core of the matter is a difference in worldview. People with a distinctly Christian worldview founded and shaped this nation, and our laws and institutions reflect this fact. Our education system was founded and formed under this Judaeo-Christian way of viewing the world and people. Our standard for life and morality is the living and active Word of God. Those of us, then and now, who believe in God and trust His Word believe that every person starts out with a sinful nature, and needs to be shaped and molded by people who love and value that young life and mind. We all need to be diligently instructed and reminded and disciplined and taught how to bring order into life, in order to live a healthy and productive life as an adult. We further know to be true that without diligent shaping, each person runs the risk of giving entirely into their sinful predisposition and potentially becoming a supremely selfish and lazy person. We believe that it is not kind to leave kids to fend for themselves.
The other side of today’s culture does not start from a Biblical view at all; conversely, they believe that man, while somehow an accident of nature, is inherently good and ought not be stifled in any way. They think that it is cruel to impose any set of values or beliefs onto anyone else. The foundation for what is true and right is based on people's feelings and on public consensus, not on anything fixed. Some believe in a god and some don’t; some believe in life after death and some don’t. But this all comes together to make a new, secular religion, and involves a fundamentally different view of life and eternity than Christianity.
This radical difference in worldview impacts every part of modern society. As Christians, we have to take extra care not to let our secular society and its way of thinking shape our values and actions. We don’t want to throw away the fences that we know were put there to keep everyone safe and healthy, no matter what anyone else says. Now that I am one of the older set, I would love to spend a post or two sharing caution in areas that I have particularly noticed lately.
Now, I must pause to say that I am definitely all for improving things that need improving. I really love indoor plumbing and air conditioning. I love that women can now be educated along with men, which wasn’t always true, and still isn’t in many parts of the world. I love improvement that benefits society, and that helps everyone live a healthier and more productive life. I love anything that makes life more abundant for all. For we all have to live together in this world, regardless of worldview. There isn’t us and them - there is just us, and we are all affected by culture.
But we must realize that not every change is a good change. Progress for the sake of progressivism is not necessarily healthy. For example, while they have been amazing in many ways, personal cellphones and the constant interconnectedness they have afforded have brought some real challenges and dangers; on this everyone can agree. One that I would love to draw attention to is the modern Culture of Comment.
Compulsion to Comment
A strange evolution in our society has to do with the perception that every person must comment on everything that happens, or else that person is doing something wrong. Think about this - it has happened slowly but surely and is now a real thing. There is strong pressure on social media to comment on everything.
It started with commenting on one anothers’ pictures, at least with a like or an emoji. Then it grew to acknowledging the birthdays of all 800 of your Facebook friends. Now it has to do with commenting on sad news stories, and the deaths of public figures. And is has grown so much that now someone, somewhere is inventing special things to be commented upon. Evidently this last week included National Dog Day. I have lived fifty years and avidly love dogs, yet this is the first time I have ever heard of National Dog Day. But there is a strange tug to say something about it! If you don’t, you feel that you are being disloyal to your past, present, and future dogs, or maybe are giving the impression with your silence that you actually hate dogs. This is affecting all of us. It is exhausting and stressful and guilt-inducing to try to keep up with everything that we have to comment upon.
Worse, it is creating a new ritual for this new religion that our secular society is developing. It has to do with Denouncing Bad Things. Now, if our secular society was consistent it would admit that if you remove Biblical values in one place, you have to remove them everywhere. So secular people being offended by what the Bible calls sin is strange. Why do they even care about people doing bad things if the Bible isn’t true? But they do care. In their new religion, it is a vile offense to not publicly denounce every terrible thing that happens and every person who has done something wrong.
It is here we must be careful. We cannot let ourselves be sucked into this new religion; more, we must prayerfully consider actively going against the flow of participating in this new ritual. It is one thing to comment on a friend’s wonderful vacation picture - that is innocent and sweet and connects people in a good and healthy way. But it is another thing entirely to join in on trashing a person who has done wrong.
As Christians, we actively strive to follow the Kingdom way of life that Jesus lived and taught. His way was (and still is) radically different than what the world comes up with...
-The world says we are against each other; every man for himself.
-The world says take what you can get, no matter who it hurts or what it costs.
-The world says make yourself look good, even and especially at the expense of your neighbor.
-But Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself.
-Jesus says giving is much better than taking.
-Jesus says do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.
There is not one person who wants their own sin to be publicly ridiculed and shamed; those of us who follow Jesus must remember this and act accordingly.
Jesus taught about Denouncing Bad Things. We can read about it Matthew 18:15-17...
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.“
As Christians, we believe that sin is real, and is what separates each of us from our loving Creator and Father. It is something that affects every person, and it is devastating. The consequences of sin ruin families and break hearts, and nothing about it is funny or lighthearted. In fact, sin is the saddest thing in the world, and our hearts are so heavy when we hear of a Christian brother or sister who falls into a terrible abyss of sin.
But we also believe that Jesus came to save us from our sin, and to cover our guilt and shame. He graciously meets us as we come to Him to repent of our sin and accept His grace. Though He is the One person who could without being a hypocrite, He would never broadcast any of our sins for the world to see and gloat over. He meets everyone who is repentant with forgiveness - be they a liar, an adulterer, a murderer, an embezzler, a slanderer, or anything in between. He teaches us to deal with sin in our own communities in a gracious and loving way. The hope and goal is always for the restoration of a soul. The way of Jesus is never to make ourselves feel better by pointing out that we were not the ones who did something bad, or trying to fool ourselves into believing that we could never do anything wrong.
It must be noted that it is terrible when anyone sins, but it is truly devastating when a church leader sins. Everyone who enters into ministry understands that we will be held to a higher standard by God Himself, and that we must diligently strive to live holy lives. The devil knows that when he can trap a church leader into choosing sin, it does maximum damage. The people who represent God to people must represent Him rightly. The Apostle Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy, instructing what to do when a church leader fell into sin. “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.” Every Christian denomination and community has practices and procedures for doing this, and these are to be diligently followed when the occasion arises, otherwise we have compromised everything we hold to be true. Nothing is to be winked at or swept under the rug; rather it is to be treated with utmost sobriety and severity, and ministerial credentials relinquished. Still, the public address occurs among the people that the leader led. The circle of confession ought to be proportional with the circle of offense. This is God’s gracious way.
Our nation is still Christian in its laws. People who do evil things have to bear the consequences of their actions, and this is a sacred thing. Our legal system recognizes the Biblical truth that what we do and don’t do really matters, both now and for eternity, and we should all be mindful of that. But there is nothing Christian in taking to social media to name and shame those who have fallen, be they inside or outside the church.
Our secular friends and neighbors may not agree or understand. But our great leader, Jesus, has clearly instructed us on His thoughts in this matter, and asks us to represent Him rightly to a watching world. Let’s cling to that truth, and prayerfully consider bowing out of this dangerous part of the modern comment section.
For further study, please read John 8:1-11 to see what Jesus Himself did when pressured to join an angry and denouncing crowd.
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”
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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