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!
Happy anniversary to us! It was three years ago that this blog was born, and it has certainly proven to be an eventful three years. Each of has just come through something unusual in history, and by that I mean an event that just about everyone in the world went through together. It has marked us all in many ways, and I remain hopeful that good things can come from the ills and challenges of the recent past. The very first blog post in August of 2018 was on the subject of faith, and it is to that topic we return today.
Jesus had a lot to say about us and our faith. Let’s look at a particularly striking passage from the book of Matthew, and its parallel in Mark:
Matthew 13: 58
And He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.
Mark 6: 5-6
He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
This passage of scripture deals with a visit that Jesus made to Nazareth, His hometown. Judging by the town’s reaction in this passage, I am thinking this must have been the first time Jesus publicly appeared in Nazareth since His ministry truly began. He was born in Bethlehem, and spent some time as a very young child with Mary and Joseph in Egypt, but most of His life to that point had been spent in Nazareth. It was not a huge city, but rather a small town - the consensus is that it was 400-500 people in Jesus’ day. Have you ever lived in a town that size, or maybe attended a school that size? Everyone would know everyone else; everyone would know everyone’s business. You almost can’t help that in a small town.
Jesus spent the first thirty years of His life just being a good son to His earthy parents, and a good big brother to His younger siblings. He worked alongside Joseph in their carpenters’ shop, and everyone would have known Him as the guy in town who could fix anything. If anyone had taken the time to reflect, I am sure they would have had to admit that there was also no one more noble or kind than Jesus. Still, to them He was just a regular person and not a prophet, priest, or king. So when He went back and taught in their synagogue in His great wisdom and power, it is not really a surprise that the Bible tells us they were offended at Him.
Everywhere else that Jesus had gone since He launched His ministry, amazing things happened. Plain water was turned into the best wine of all, giant crowds were fed from just one little boy’s lunch, multitudes were healed of every kind of disease, people were delivered from demonic affliction - Jesus was doing miracles everywhere He went. But in Nazareth, His own town among His own people, He did not do many miracles at all.
This town should seriously make us sit up and pay attention! Of all the towns in the world at that time, this was the one that should have known and trusted Jesus best. He had been there, walking and living and working among them all almost His whole life. This serves as a strong warning to us as Christians - the people of Nazareth had become too comfortable with Jesus as they perceived Him. They presumed to know everything about Him, but they actually did not know Him at all. They did not believe in Him, and as a result, the town was not transformed by His presence.
Are we too comfortable with Jesus as we think He is? Is He just the guy that we grew up with, or a good example we follow, or the one relegated to the pages of our Book? Have we presumed to know Him, and therefore assigned limits to Him? Have difficult circumstances caused me to be offended by Him? We have to be careful not to put limits on Him in our hearts - to not let our faith in Him be diminished - just because we get lost in the muddle of trying to make sense of the surroundings and circumstances of our real life experience. “Ok Jesus, I can handle that, but this is going way too far!”
Jesus did not do many miracles in Nazareth because of their lack of faith. Mark tells us Jesus was actually amazed by their lack of faith. How sad and how tragic! Just like every other town, Nazareth was surely full of broken hearts, broken bodies, and broken relationships, but Jesus came and went, and their lives remained broken.
We must do all that we can not to let our homes, churches, and towns suffer from this same lack of faith. Everything around us, especially in most media and academia, is trying to convince us that Christianity is an elaborate form of make-believe. So much around us in the marketplace is a vacuum of unbelief in Jesus. We know when we walk into our situation that this unbelief will try to choke out our faith, but we forget and we get choked when things get tough. It is an old trick in the enemy’s playbook, but used again and again because it so often works.
Sadly, nothing much happened when Jesus came to Nazareth due to their lack of faith. But how wonderful to realize that it stands to reason that the converse must also be true...many miracles can happen when Jesus works in places where there is a lot of faith.
I really love Christmas movies. I watch the same ones over again every single year. Of course they are usually sappy, but they are so much fun to watch. So many movies hinge on the idea of collective belief and faith. Think of It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, and so on. Sadness and despair come when people forget to actually believe. Conversely, there is real power when people remember to believe and exercise their faith. These stories touch on something real and powerful.
When the people of God remember who God really is and what He can do, lives are changed.
Our faith matters.
Each of us is in an area of influence that is unique. I know and associate with people that you might never meet, and the same is true for you. Some of us work or go to school where there are few Christians around. But no matter our context, no matter how dark and how difficult, we must bring our faith in Christ with us into these arenas. It is our mandate, it is our mission, and it is also all we have. We can do very little in our own power to do anything for our friends. We cannot save anyone, but we know Jesus, and Jesus saves!
Therefore, we must do everything in our power to keep our faith strong and growing stronger. We must seek Him and look to Him and know Him in all His glory and majesty. We must daily fan our faith into flame, and refuse to let circumstances dictate our faith. We must remind ourselves and one another how good and strong and loving and generous He is. We must trust Him and what the Word of God teaches us about Him.
We must not doubt His character like the people of Nazareth. DL Moody said every Christian can see God, so majestic and grand, with His hands filled to the brim with every good thing and with His glory. Faith looks at Him and believes, “We can have all of that!” Unbelief looks at Him and scorns, “See? He won’t give us anything.”
Our faith could be what God uses to bring His glory into the places we live. Our faith could open up something within our neighbor’s heart to make way for miracles.
The last long days of summer are upon us. This year might be the most eagerly-anticipated back-to-school time in history, after all the uncertainty and upheaval of last year. It is finally time to get ready to get back into a routine.
The bad news is that the last year or two has left us in a place where there is a big mess and much work to be done. It is plain to see that society is in trouble. The culture is becoming more secular all the time, and many people attribute that to western society having evolved past the Christianity that shaped it. The accusation is that Christianity must not be real or true since there is so much trouble and mess everywhere. But, as GK Chesterton so wisely said, “When the world goes wrong, it proves rather that the Church is right. The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.” Humanity really is sinful - we aren’t making that up.
So what is the good news?
Even though it seems like things keep going from bad to worse, we are not without hope! Much that has been shaken needed to be shaken, and many of us still believe that God can and will change broken people and institutions all around.
There is a certain book we all ought to take off the shelf and open eagerly…
There is an important and timely account in the Old Testament, recorded in both 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34.
After Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt with the Lord's powerful and miraculous help, God gave them the Law and was very clear about how important it was for them to follow it. He reminded them again and again about the blessings and curses associated with choosing to be faithful to Himself and to His Word, and gave them clear instruction on how not to forget. Everything in the entire society was to revolve around keeping and remembering the Word of God - the calendar, the sacrifices and offerings, the fasts and feasts, all the way down to the flow of each week. Their very identity came from being chosen by God to represent to the world what it looks like to be in relationship with Him, and the Word He gave them showed them how to live rightly.
Fast forward roughly 800 years after Moses received the Law from God, to when a boy named Josiah became king of God’s people. This young man had a heart for God, and wanted to do what was right by Him. His predecessors had widely varying degrees of commitment to God, and a whole lot of strange worship and behavior had crept into the nation over the centuries. Josiah intuitively knew that things were not right, so he did all that he knew to do in an attempt to clean things up.
Part of what he did was try to repair the temple that was in serious disorder. While his workers were there one day, someone found the Book of the Law. They brought it to the king, who had it read out loud right away. When he heard what it actually said, it made him tear his clothes in anguish over their collective foolishness.
Stop right there! Let’s rewind and go through that again…
God loves all the people He created and grieves that they have chosen sin and selfishness. In His long plan of redemption, He chose for Himself a people who could show the rest of the world what it looks like to walk with God, and from that people came the Savior of the world, Jesus. God gave His people the very words of life (Deut. 32: 46-47) and told them clearly how to live in such a way that they and their children might never forget, and that the people around them could see the goodness of God.
Their society - which was to be altogether different and infinitely better for every man, woman and child than any other society - was built upon those words and revolved around them. The beautiful temple was built to honor those words and the God who spoke them. But by Josiah’s time, the temple was a shambles and the Book of Life was lost in a dusty cupboard somewhere. No one even realized it was missing because their society kept rolling along - but many of them knew everything was broken, just like we do.
The Book of Life that their whole society was built on got put on a shelf at some point. When did that happen? I wonder which generation was the one to think, "We've got this. We know what it says, for heaven's sake.
Just put it over there - we don't need it anymore."
This is making me feel uncomfortable, and I am the one writing it! For many reasons, we do this same thing all the time. We all have lots of Bibles - everywhere. We talk about the Bible, read books and articles about it, we even post little pictures of special verses on social media, but we don't read or believe or obey the actual Word of God nearly as often as we should. We get frustrated at how un-Biblical our society is becoming, while at the same time holding onto the notion that our kids and neighbors will somehow know the Bible spontaneously. Meanwhile, the Book of Life just sits on our shelves, unopened, while everyone assumes to know what it says without ever bothering to read it.
During Josiah's time, the people of God joyfully recommitted themselves to Him and the Book of Life, and were blessed. But sadly, the Book kept on getting lost time and again, until the glorious fullness of time when Jesus came to defeat sin and death. Then the New Testament was given to make the Word complete, the Church was born, and the cycle of forgetting and remembering began anew.
Let me give two more quick examples:
The Reformation - by the 15th century, Christendom as a whole had fallen prey to a breathtakingly corrupt system full of wicked and power-hungry people. The Bible was only available in a language just a handful on earth could read or understand, and even then not widely available. Vast amounts of corruption and superstition had entered Christianity.
A move of God stirred across the European continent, and the Bible was rediscovered. The miraculous timing of the advent of the printing press, an explosion in literacy, and the bravery of people who risked or gave their lives to translate the Bible into common languages all combined to put the Word of God into the hands of the people. Such a glorious revival occurred, both in the new Protestant Churches and also in the Catholic Church. The repercussions of Christians reading and believing the Bible radically changed society for the better in so many ways.
The Great Awakening - again, by the late 17th/early 18th centuries, the Bible was back on the dusty shelf. In England, "Christian" society became reckless and self-indulgent. People lived in decadence and outright perversion, with little care for the sanctity of life. Injustice, corruption, and oppression were the order of the day, and the Book of Life was all but forgotten. In the American colonies, Christianity became painfully crusty and self-righteous. The goodness and grace of Jesus was missing from society.
Once again a move of God stirred, this time on two continents. In North America, people like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield preached the true Word of God and the Holy Spirit breathed on it. Thousands upon thousands were impacted and gave their hearts to Jesus. At the same time, two brothers named John and Charles Welsey had their lives revolutionized by God in England and embarked on what would be 50 years of tirelessly preaching and teaching the Word on both sides of the Atlantic. It is no exaggeration to say that the combined efforts of this great and godly generation changed the world. Christians read and believed the Bible once again, and society truly changed. The wicked institution of slavery was toppled in the west, and the well-being of men, women, and children of every walk of life was vastly improved.
What's Next? - It remains to be seen what will become of our generation. It certainly feels as though we are quickly approaching some sort of tipping point, both in our own nation and across the world. But remember, there is good news! It is the same Good News that has been rediscovered again and again when it tragically got put away on the shelf. When the people of God rediscover the Book of Life, read it, believe it, and live it, the world can be impacted. All it took in these other accounts was for a few people to get hungry for sharing the Word of God again. The Holy Spirit took it from there.
As we enter a new season, let's dive into our Bibles. Let's refuse to allow ourselves and our families and neighbors be fooled by what the world has to say about God and His Word. Let's be active in reading and believing the Words of Life in a fresh way, trusting that He can heal our land. As we turn our hearts and eyes fully toward God, may we love Him with all of our hearts, souls and minds, and may we all truly love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw this great sign on the bulletin board at a church we were visiting...
Last time, we looked at the dangerous power of expectations. So many of us spend far too much time distracted and tormented by unrealistic or unmet expectations. Here on paper, that little word sounds harmless enough. How much trouble can something that only exists in the mind cause, after all?
But we all know the answer to that by looking at broken lives all around us, sometimes even our own lives. Husbands and wives who were once so close and enchanted with one another drift apart, and entire families can be shattered just because of unmet expectations on one side or the other. Friendships can be frozen and severed. Feelings can be hurt, offenses taken, and unforgiveness can set in. Entire years or even decades can be missed by someone wishing for something that will never be rather than looking for the good in what actually is. Worst of all, a person's relationship with God can suffer terribly from doubting His character in the middle of trying circumstances. There are real-life consequences when someone holds tightly to their expectations.
So what can we do to prevent this from happening in our own lives? It is wise to be aware of the patterns of thought that can lead to a dead or destructive end. We can always choose what we think. Here are two things that Jesus told us which can help us think rightly and manage our outlook on life in a healthy way...
1. 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)
Isn’t it strange that we have such a high capacity to overlook our own faults while having such a very small tolerance for the faults of others? We seem to ignore the fact that we let other people down all the time, and that we frequently do not meet others’ expectations. There are many times we ought to be sobered at the end of a day to realize how our careless words, off-handed criticism, or lack of attention might have landed in someone’s heart.
We are very good at giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt when we say or do something selfish and unkind: we had a headache, we didn’t get enough sleep, we were just getting over that bug…
Jesus points out that the entire Old Testament (the Law and the Prophets) can be summed up in one sentence. Hundreds and hundreds of pages can be boiled down to just a few words - treat other people the way you would like to be treated.
The terrible problem of sin that we all have can also be called selfishness - each of us truly cares about and loves only ourselves. Jesus is kindly and strongly telling us to get over ourselves and think about others, also. Think how different history could have been if we would just do this. Cain would not have killed Abel, Ishmael and Issac might have been friends, David would not have killed Uriah and taken Bathsheba, and so on, right up to the present time.
This is why Jesus came here, and why He suffered the humiliation and shame of the Cross. He has broken the curse of sin and selfishness for us! Through Him, we are finally free to choose not to be selfish. As believers in Jesus, we can be like Him and always put others first, if we will.
So much of the drama and heartache in life could be erased if we would just stop being obesessed with ourselves, our feelings, and our hopes, and simply treat people like we wish they would treat us. Aiming to live with Jesus as the center of our lives instead of ourselves as the center would radically change our perspective. As we strive to care about the other people in our lives as much as we care about ourselves and as much as Jesus cares for them, we would not find ourselves feeling let down so often. Our families, churches and towns would be much stronger and better for it.
2. In this world you will have trouble.
But take heart, for I have overcome the world!
Yes, Jesus said this. He told us that the one thing we actually should expect in life is trouble, but we forget this every single day. We are constantly setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment. Somehow we manage to wake up every morning with the renewed idea that today, every single thing is going to go right. This is some kind of permanent amnesia that we all have, frankly because things were just not supposed to be this way. The fall of mankind changed everything; the entrance of sin into the world brought all kinds of terrible things, including disappointment and suffering. In this world, we will have trouble.
But how kind God is to take those troubles - now a very real and inescapable part of the human experience - and turn them into something that refines our character like nothing else can! The enemy aims to steal, kill and destroy, but God shields us and will use those same troubles to purify and perfect us if we will let Him.
Many love to read biographies of great Christian people. But what made them great? These people went through some terrible things, and still testified to the goodness of God. Corrie ten Boom went through literal hell on earth in a Nazi concentration camp. Surely there is no worse experience, and this certainly does not fit into anyone’s expectations of what the life of a faithful Christian ought to look like. If anyone could have been bitter and mad at God for the way her life went, it could have been Corrie. But what a sad book that would be - no one would want to read it. We love to read her life story because she went through horrific suffering, through no fault of her own, and was beautifully refined by it. For the rest of her life she testified to the goodness and nearness of God even in the midst of unimaginable circumstances. With great conviction and power, she told everyone she could that there is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still.
Someday in heaven, every day will be perfect and everything will go right. But until then we have to learn to rejoice in what each day brings, for better or for worse. We can take heart, because Jesus has overcome the world! We can trust that, if and when things do not go like we expect, Jesus will help us learn and grow and become more like Him every day. In this world we can expect trouble, but in the middle of it we can have joy, peace, and abundant life in Christ.
Happy summer to everyone! In southeast Texas, we generally start bracing ourselves for the return of the very hot, humid days and nights starting in April. But this year has been surprisingly different so far. It has been relatively cool and quite rainy, and I consider it a welcome change from the expected. It also fits neatly with a subject that has been popping up all over my radar lately - living with and managing our expectations. Every now and then our expectations are pleasantly exceeded, like cooler summer temperatures in Texas. Far more often, they are disappointingly unmet.
The last few weeks have been full of reminders about this subject. We have been walking alongside several friends through some difficult situations, most of which have been caused by this reality of unmet expectations: husbands and wives struggling to get along, new parents worn out from lack of sleep, parents who cannot understand the choices their young adult children are making, adult children caring for elderly and ill parents, and so on. From beginning to end, life is filled with obstacles to be overcome in the heart and mind.
On a lighter note, the last few weeks have also been full of pleasant reminders of motherhood for me - of course, Mother's Day and then both of my daughters' birthdays. Let me use this as a springboard for this line of thought concerning expectations...
Being a mother is truly amazing - the whole thing is a miracle. You take that test and hold your breath until the little purple line confirms your suspicions, and then you get several months to imagine what this new little life will be like. You dream of names, decorate the nursery, think of how many languages your child will learn, and maybe what doctoral program they will be accepted to one day - not to mention all of the wonderful things your grandkids might do. So many dreams and great expectations.
Until delivery time comes! The entire experience is a shocking reminder that maybe this isn't going to be so easy after all. The nurses help so much for the first 24 hours - they take care of the baby's bath, shots, diapers, and they even let you sleep a little bit. But then they send you home - ALONE. Then the real work begins - a beautiful work - a lot like the love of God. Parenting is self-sacrificing, always striving to choose for their highest good, so that our kids can grow into wonderful men and women of God.
But it is long work, not fast at all. It is sometimes frustrating, even agonizing, and honestly plagued by unrealistic expectations - of ourselves, from friends, family, teachers, and social media. We thought we knew ourselves, but stress and lack of sleep brought out a whole new side. We thought our babies were going to be all fluffy clouds and rainbows - but things are not always like we expected.
There are as many more examples as there are people. A woman has longed for a husband and child - then when it happens, is surprised when her husband is not always perfect and when her child is chronically ill. A child longs for love and acceptance, and then is crushed when she is abandoned and neglected. A man longs for a promotion at work and then is disappointed when his new role takes so much time and brings so little joy. Marriages suffer when one spouse or the other cannot let go of unrealistic expectations for their partner. Friendships and family relationships shatter over unmet expectations. Many people miss their entire lives, fruitlessly hoping for things that will never be and at the same time totally missing all of the good things that actually are.
So many of our struggles and problems in life are caused by this clashing of expectations versus reality.
A few weeks ago, one of my young friends had just read the book of Job in its entirety for the first time. The events in the book are some of the oldest stories in human record. It deals honestly and painfully with the account of a righteous man's suffering, and the backstory found in the first couple of chapters is stunning and thought-provoking, to say the least. Reading through, my friend was concerned about the things that Job's friends said to him - they really give him some terrible advice and counsel. "How can the Bible, which is said to be inerrant, have such false statements in it?" she wondered. This is a perfectly legitimate question, and one that has a beautiful answer.
This world is broken and infused with sin - the Word of God is very clear about this from the very opening chapters. The accounts of real men and women recorded in the Bible are unlike anything else in ancient literature. They are not heroic legends, like the Iliad and Odyssey, or morality tales like so many cultures boast. Rather, they are frank and unvarnished glimpses into the lives of regular people: sometimes faithful and lovely, sometimes selfish and awful.
The Bible is honest and true. Sin is real, the enemy is real, selfishness is real, suffering is real - and all have to be dealt with throughout life. Bad things sometimes happen to great people. Selfish actions have terrible consequences that can go on for generations. Friends sometimes give horrible counsel and advice, just like Job experienced. The Bible does not sweep any of it under the rug - it openly and honestly lays out the human condition and experience.
The book of Lamentations is a haunting example of this. In it, the writer is pouring out his sadness and despair over his people and their sad plight, brought on by their own stubbornness and selfishness. He is honest with God about how frustrating and disappointing it is to have to live through such a time. Many who are going through a time of unmet expectations can find comfort in Jeremiah's words...
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
Lamentations 3: 19-24
The best thing that we can do when faced with disappointment and unmet expectations is to turn our eyes away from our own situation and circumstances, and fix our gaze upon the Lord. That something deep within each of us that always cries out, "this is not the way things were supposed to be!' points to something real and true. This is the message of the Word of God: In the middle of all of the frustration and pain of life, there is yet hope. There is One who can be relied upon to never let us down. There is One who is faithful and true, and who can actually help.
Unmet expectations do not have to derail our entire lives. Next time we will look into some practical examples of overcoming pain and disappointment in life. In the meantime, keep your eyes on Jesus - great is His faithfulness!
“The joy of the Lord is our strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
Though our modern world is filled with conveniences, many people find themselves exhausted. We can’t seem to keep up with life and the curve balls it throws at us. So many people - especially young people - are struggling with anxiety and depression. There is widespread suffering from a legitimate but unrecognized spiritual need.
The other night at a gathering of university students, our friend Jason was preaching and mentioned a documentary about a man who climbed El Capitan in Yosemite without any ropes or support of any kind. This was only a brief illustration to a point Jason was making, but my hands started sweating and my heart started pounding. I was sitting safely in a chair on the ground, almost 2000 miles from El Capitan, but just thinking about having to climb that thing with no harness or net made me feel anxious.
This is similar to how many people are navigating life. We live in an era that is increasingly godless. Certain members of society have been hard at work removing God from everything. Because of this, we have nothing that we can count on or trust in, and no firm foundation to stand upon. People are hopeless - literally without any hope. They have believed in the lie that there is nothing to believe in; nothing to hope in, nothing to trust in or put faith in. We, as a society, have believed the lie that God is not there. We have lost our joy and we have no strength.
Because of this, people have tried to put their hopes elsewhere: in marriages and relationships, in education and the government, in the prosperity of our nation, and even in the church. But all of these things, though they can be wonderful, can also fail us. When we have nothing true and right to trust in, we feel hopeless and afraid - like we are sure to lose our grip and fall. Though most of us have more possessions and nicer homes than the world has ever known, we are not happy. Fearful, anxious, and depressed, yes; joyful, no.
But there is good news! God is real and true and trustworthy. He is there, and He has created each of us with purpose and delight. He cares for each of us deeply, and wants the best for us.
God sees each of us and hears our hearts' cries. He goes to great lengths to order our steps and the steps of others to bring us to the right place at the right time. I am reminded of an example of this in my own life as a simple illustration of this fact. Many years ago, I had just dropped my husband off at the airport and was feeling a little blue about the prospect of not seeing him for two whole weeks. On the way home from the airport, which is about an hour from our home, I decided to stop at a store to pick up a few things. As I was headed out to my car, I realized I had forgotten one of my bags at the checkout.
I went back inside the store, and when I came out the second time I looked up to see a red minivan pulling up right in front of me. To my surprise, it was my mom and dad! Better than that, my two sweet little girls were in the backseat. My parents had been watching the girls while I made the airport run, and had decided to drive to the mall for lunch and shopping. Now, since I was in exactly the right place at the right time, I was able to spend a lovely day with my family. If I hadn’t gone back in for the bag I forgot, I would have missed them and been alone all afternoon.
I heard God speak to me that day. I was so touched by how kind God was to orchestrate such an encouraging "coincidence." God sees us and knows us. I truly believe that God orders our steps – on little things like this, and even more so on the big and important matters in life. As we walk with Him, no matter where we are we can be sure that we are on solid ground. We might be climbing up the cliff, but God Himself is our support. He is not like all of the other things in life that can be false and fail. We can trust Him, and be sure that He is with us and looking out for us.
With that knowledge comes JOY - something that the world cannot reproduce.
Joy is the feeling that wells up in the deepest places of our spirit; an excitement and undeniable assurance that the Lord of heaven and earth is concerned for me. It reminds us that no matter how difficult things might be sometimes, there is goodness and rightness in the world because of Jesus. It is an echo from the garden before sin came in, and a whisper of what heaven will be like.
Joy is inextricably connected with hope and faith. When we believe that God is who He says He is, we eagerly look forward to how He will work all things for good. We can know that no matter what circumstances are in life, God has loved us and made a way for us to be with Him forever in heaven. Nothing can separate us from His great love!
We can experience this joy only fleetingly in natural things. We feel joy for a moment when a baby is born, or on our engagement or wedding day, or even at a surprise birthday party. We sometimes experience a taste of joy, but it does not last. And it cannot be manufactured. No matter how hard you try, what product you purchase, or what you consume, you cannot make yourself feel truly joyful. Real joy comes from outside of us.
The only place that a person can find real and lasting joy is in the Lord. When we look anyplace else, it leaves us feeling like we have to climb a giant cliff with no support. Only the supernatural joy of the Lord can sustain us, and strengthen us.
We are so blessed to live at this time in history. We can look back and see all that God has done, and know that He is so good and so faithful. As believers, we are marked and can be filled with the Holy Spirit - the very Spirit of God! One of the fruit of the Spirit is joy, and this deep, sustaining, strengthening joy makes the difference between just making it through the day and really thriving.
When we allow ourselves to be overcome by the cares of this world, we - even as Christians - can sink into depression and despair. I am sure that most of us have experienced this at one time or another.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, and by fixing our eyes on Jesus, we can have joy that helps us endure and overcome the hardships of life. We will have joy to share with others around us, those who are despairing and hopeless. As the psalmist said in Psalm 5:11-12, “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as a shield."
It is springtime! Somehow this spring feels even more special than usual given all that was happening at this time last year. This new season is one of hope and renewal.
Earlier this month we had the exciting opportunity to celebrate our grandson‘s second birthday. It was the perfect family party for our precious little man, and everyone was so aware of how special it was to have four generations represented. This little boy is loved and cherished, and we are all so thrilled to watch him grow and learn every day.
Those of you reading this who are also grandparents and great-grandparents know just what I mean when I say that I feel like just a few minutes ago, we were celebrating his mother’s second birthday party! Time does fly, but what a joy it is to watch your children grow into a wonderful young men and women. What an honor it is to sow faith, hope, and love deeply into their hearts as they learn and grow.
We have been in New Mexico latetly, visiting our younger daughter and her husband. Outside the place we are staying is a beautiful fruit tree. The blossoms are just starting to burst into bloom, rich with the promise of a bountiful harvest to come. The tree was planted decades ago, and lovingly tended by people I will never know. I am so blessed to enjoy the literal fruit of their labor.
While here, I have been reading Edith Schaeffer’s classic The Tapestry. In it she recounts her family's life story, and beautifully captures the idea of all of history and all of mankind being woven together by God in a gorgeous and complex tapestry. Each of us from every generation is connected in ways that we do not understand - that we cannot understand until heaven. All of our lives are vitally important to someone else’s life.
This flies directly in the face of one of the great lies currently floating around in our society - namely, that people are just a random chance of chemicals or evolutionary happenstance, and this accidental chance of existing is all there is to life. When we take time to understand that this is really what many people believe (because this is what they have been taught!), it helps to make sense of some of the chaos we see all around.
If your life doesn't matter, then getting drunk or high to numb the fear and boredom makes sense. If this life is all there is, then trying to find temporary pleasure in plentiful sex, drugs, relationships, and even food makes sense. If you are a random accident of evolution, then of course you might feel that you are in the wrong body, or that you have no purpose or meaning in life whatsoever. If there is nothing after this - no eternity - and if life has no meaning, then who cares if even have my babies let alone take good care of them? This erroneous way of thinking is bringing so much pain and suffering to so many.
The Word of God clearly teaches that life is no accident. Woven throughout scripture and foundational to our faith is the truth that each of us in made in God's image, and that we are lovingly crafted with purpose and beauty by our very present and very involved Father in Heaven. One of the loveliest psalms states this clearly...
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139: 13-16
And considering the vast effects of the fall of mankind on this world, what a miracle it is that any of us are here in the first place! It is possible that the fact some precious baby 400 years ago survived a childhood illness means that you are alive today. A battle which took place centuries ago on a different continent might have wiped out your ancestor, but did not - and here you are. Think of all of the generations that had to hold together for you to be born here and now. Life is such a wonderful gift!
In her book, Mrs. Schaeffer brings up the idea of each life planting seeds into the earth, bearing fruit that will impact the generations to come. Some people waste their entire lives in planting bitter, hateful seeds that will continue to hurt and harm for generations to come. For example, a father who abandons his family, or a mother who abuses her children. Or people like Karl Marx or Adolf Hitler writing their caustic books.
Thankfully, many more people that we will never know about spent their lives planting beautiful seeds of hope, faith, and love which grew into abundant, fruitful trees that we all still enjoy today. Some of us may see little fruit throughout our own given years, but our life just might touch and encourage someone else who will be the very one to open the heart of a city or nation for Jesus.
What small glimpses we get of the preparation of the ground for the planting of evil seeds, leading to despair, and the preparation of the ground for the planting of the seeds of truth and true hope.
This leads me to wonder what kind of seeds I am planting. Is my life and time only spent on myself and my comfort, or am I making sure to plant wonderful things into the lives of my family and neighbors that will bear healthy fruit for decades, even centuries?
What a wonderful privilege we have as Christian people to share what we know about life, supported with the knowledge that each of us was purposefully and lovingly created in the image of our great God. Too many people believe that nothing that they do matters. Some people use this to live selfish and destructive lives, but many are just trapped in sadness and despair. Instead of being frustrated at such behavior, we can reach out to hurting people all around us with truth and hope.
There are hundreds of people reading these words - if we would take this message to heart, we could have a great impact on this generation. Be encouraged today - your life is making a great difference and is vitally important to many others. The healthy seeds you are sowing into your family and friends and neighbors will bear good fruit for generations to come.
It is the beginning of a new year, and we all know what that means… New Year’s resolutions! But here we are, already a full two months into 2021, and life experience tells me that most of us have already given up on any resolution that we might have made. My daughter worked at the local gym for several years - the staff and regulars of any gym cannot help but notice the number of eager people who buy a membership every January, only to stop coming well before February 1.
We make all kinds of fun resolutions - to learn a new language, watch less tv, save more money, read more books, and so many more. One of the most common is the resolution to make better choices when eating. This is a good one to make with all of the wonderful options of healthy food most of us have access to. The problem comes, of course, in that there are also so many other delicious things to choose from. When faced with the choice between broccoli and brownies, very few people actually want to reach for the broccoli. When given the option of ice cream or iceberg lettuce, hardly anyone wants that watery green stuff. Choices in life are plentiful, and good choices are often really hard to make. We give up on tough choices too easily.
One of the first things that we teach young Christians is a new definition of love. We do not subscribe to the modern definition of love - it is a feeling, it is fleeting, it is conditional, it depends…
Instead, we like to say that love is not a feeling, it is actually a choice.
In fact, love is unselfishly choosing for the highest good of God and His kingdom.
This sounds great, doesn’t it? We all believe this, and not one of us who claim to be Christian would say that this was not true. However, this is like our choice between broccoli and brownies - good intentions can only take us so far when the choices get real.
We always like to give a few real-world examples of what we mean when we teach that love is an unselfish choice. For instance, we tell the story of our friend who was a campus minister, and who spent his twenties pastoring university students. One particular year he had a young man in his discipleship small group who became like a brother to him. Time went on and our friend, who was still single at the time, began to have his heart grabbed by one of the young ladies in the college ministry. He thought she was beautiful and godly, and he could really picture himself spending the rest of his life with her. So imagine his surprise when one day his small group guy, his little brother in Christ, came to him and said, “Big brother, I need your advice. You see, there’s this girl. She is beautiful, she is godly, I really think I would like to get to know her better. What do you think I should do? “
At this point in the retelling of this story, all of the oxygen has been sucked from the room, and all of the students are leaning forward in suspense and anguish. This is getting real now! Of course, it was the same girl. What do you think our friend did?
If we were honest, almost everyone would have to admit that in a similar situation, we would choose the thing that is best for me. "Nobody would even know," we could rationalize to ourselves. "It is not going to hurt my friend to not date that particular person - there are plenty of other great people out there," we would think to comfort ourselves. But in reality, how is this kind of selfishness any different from any other kind of selfishness?
As Christians, we know that real love which brings real power is unselfishly choosing for the highest good of God and His kingdom. That is the kind of love that will actually change a piece of the world from selfish and broken to lovely and whole. I am glad to say that our friend made the very difficult decision to encourage his little brother to date the girl. Now, many years later, they are both happily married to their own beautiful, godly wives and living wonderful lives.
Another real example of rightly choosing is the time that one of our friends said something about another friend in front of a large audience. It was not said in a malicious spirit, but was nonetheless quite embarrassing and hurtful, and caused great duress to the one it was said about. That friend suddenly had a very real choice to make. They could become justifiably angry with the other, and bear a burden in their heart towards them that would make a rift between them forever. They could entertain many conversations with others about how they were wronged, and how they could not believe anyone would do such a thing. They could hold onto that hurt for years, and feel justified in doing so the entire time. Sadly, situations like this happen all the time.
But Jesus teaches something altogether different than this. One of his disciples asked Him how often he had to forgive his brother, and thought he was being very generous when guessed the number to be seven times. Jesus was kind, but blew his answer out of the water by saying, "Not seven times, but 70×7 - when you get to 490 times of forgiving that same person come and talk to me, but until then keep forgiving." (my paraphrase of Matthew 18: 21-22)
Much of what is wrong in our world stems from this very real choice that all of us have to make at one time or another. Whether we mean to or not, all of us hurt other people with our words or with our actions. So much strife, from within one household to between nations, comes from the fact that people will not choose to forgive or to act unselfishly towards one another.
Why do marriages implode, why do families break apart, why do churches split? Because when faced with the choice of broccoli or brownies, most of us go for the brownie every single time. It is easy, it tastes and feels good, and it just seems right. But it is not what is best.
I am so glad to say that our friend who was wronged was able to forgive his brother by the help of the Holy Spirit. He was able to recognize that in front of him was a very real choice, which could lead directly to life or death - for himself and for many others watching him and his reaction. He chose life, and forgiveness, and to walk the path that Jesus Himself walked for all of us. "While we were still sinners, He died for us." (Romans 5:8)
Christianity is not a trend, or just another self-help lifestyle. It is a very real and very powerful relationship with Jesus Christ, who changes our hearts and helps us to make a difference in our hurting world. Sometimes the power of God plays out in a large geopolitical way, and that is what we always hope for. But much more often, the power of God in the world is made manifest through our everyday choices.
May we never grow tired in our resolve to choose rightly!
Recently my eye was caught by a news headline that said something about a particular industry that has been hit hard by the lockdowns. Thinking that it might be about the service industry, or retail, or any number of important layers to the fabric of our communities, I was struck to realize that the industry highlighted in the article was the Influencer Industry.
Those of you reading this who are of a certain age (myself included!) might now be wondering what in the world the Influencer Industry could be. Those of you who are Milennials and Gen Z know exactly what it is, and could name several actual Influencers. To use a modern phrase, this really is a thing.
As best as I can explain, an Influencer is someone who has a large media and/or social media following, and is known for knowing what is desirable in a particular area such as fashion, travel, or decorating. They may or may not be creators of a product or brand, but more likely they are simply curators of what is cool. When they wear something or do something or go somewhere, their followers encourage them with “likes” on social media and emulate them.
Influencers actually shape society. Hold on to that thought…
We are starting on a long road trip today. In fact, I am one in a train of four cars headed west since our daughter and her husband are moving to be a part of a new campus ministry in New Mexico. So I am following along behind the U-Haul, with my emotions all over the map. Still, what a joy it is to know that they are following God’s plan for their life, and there is nothing greater we could want for them.
A few miles back, we passed by what used to be a rest stop on the side of the road. We have lived in this area for a long time, so I can remember when it used to have a large building that served as a restroom facility and break area. Many cars and trucks and trailers could pull off the road and take a break, whether it be in the middle of the day or the middle of the night.
At some point during the last few years, the state of Texas decided that they needed to build a new rest stop. So just a few miles up the road, there is a beautiful new facility and now all the cars and trucks stop there. Somewhere in the process, they came and bulldozed the old building, but the old parking area and grassy fields remained. It has been so interesting to watch the old rest area as the years go by. Since no one has been maintaining it or paying attention to it in anyway, the very earth is reclaiming the space. Now, after about five years, you can hardly tell that anything was ever there. You can barely see the remnants of the once-kept road, the parking spaces, the park area - when no one has cared for it, the whole place has gone back to its natural state.
Isn’t this what happens to our families and cities and even our country when we forget to pay attention? It is plain to see that our society is not currently in its best place. Though we are all well-aware that our 24/7 news cycle keeps everyone in turmoil since it is such a good business model for them, it is still evident that many people are confused and hurting and lost.
There is such an interesting misconception about the way things work. Many people seem to be under the impression that left to our own devices, humankind will automatically rise to sparkling, alabaster cities of harmony and prosperity. Many people seem to believe that the natural state of human beings is peace and perfect brotherhood. This is actually completely backwards! Our natural state is chaos and confusion and turmoil and strife. Just remember the story of Cain and his brother Abel. Community always starts from that same place of strife and selfishness, and needs some sort of help even to become a functioning society.
Many modern people in the west have lost sight of what made our society work in the first place. The influence of Jesus and His Way are what gave civilization such concepts as equality and freedom and democracy - without the Judeo-Christian influence, none of these concepts would exist. This is why removing the foundation of Christianity from our society and replacing it with a religion in which man is the center is causing such chaos. When no one is paying attention, we just return to our natural state, like the rest stop. Without anyone carefully tending the gardens, our children just go right back to the natural state of selfishness, confusion, and turmoil.
They need some help to think and live rightly, and this is our job.
We do need some influencers to shape our society. The people of Instagram are not wrong in this sense, they are just wrong about where to look. In fact, the best influencers probably will never be on social media, yet they are the unsung heroes of our culture and society. We need many, many more of them to step up.
These are the husbands and wives that take their marriage vows seriously, and live to create a home that is safe, stable, and God-fearing. These are the grandparents that choose to invest not only in their own children, but also their grandchildren, reinforcing in them what is right and true and valuable. These are the teachers that put their students’ best interest at the forefront. We hear so many horrible stories about wicked and abusive teachers and coaches - we need thousands of godly Christians to step into this role to help the next generation on their way safely. No one is going to make a lot of money teaching, but there are some things far more valuable than money.
These influencers are the pastors and youth pastors that are not in the business to make a name for themselves, or to have some sort of platform, but who are in faithful service to help men and women and young people know how to walk with God for their whole lives. These influencers are people in every part of society who live not for their own gain or for their own fame, but simply to help others know God and thrive.
Every Christian should be an influencer. We no longer live in a society fully undergirded by Christian principles - if we do not help people understand that there is real justice, truth, love, and hope, no one will. Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to any of us, and we must share the good news from whatever vantage point we have.
Just the other day my daughters and I were talking about how brilliant God’s design for society is. Every generation has to start all over again with the basics of teaching and training. Our babies don’t know anything and cannot do anything for themselves. We have to teach them how to eat properly, how to walk, how to talk, how to read and think, and how to live. No one can ever get very far away from the basics of life, because it is always time to start teaching a new generation. This is all the more true with our faith. We cannot ever become lax and neglect to teach the next generation how to feed themselves on truth, how to walk, how to talk, how to read and think for themselves, and how to live. We have come dangerously close to doing this as a church, but thankfully it is not yet too late to start again.
This new year of 2021, how can you and I become Influencers? There are a thousand different ways, starting right inside your own home and community.
Evaluate your spare time - your "me" time - and give a good chunk of that away:
-Look around in your own family and circle of friends and acquaintances - who needs help and encouragement? Start there and give generously of your time and support.
-Volunteer at your church, in the local schools, and in local kids' programs.
-Find organizations that help disadvantaged kids and work to give them some encouragement and hope.
-Run for office, pay attention to the school board and curriculum choices, be a voice of truth and justice in your community. For too long have we let others with suspect agendas choose the direction we will all go.
We have to work hard and be purposeful to hand things off well to a new generation. We cannot just go on without thinking and expect the rest stop to stay tended. Jesus has forgiven us and given us the message of real life, joy, and peace - let's do everything we can to share it with our hurting world.
Looking for a good resource to use in your small group or Sunday school class? Kingdom Minded is a great help in learning the basics of walking with Jesus and influencing those around you for the long haul.
Follow the link below to order your copies today!
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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