Let's stay in touch!
Subscribe to my weekly blog posts!
Let's stay in touch!
Subscribe to my weekly blog posts!
Advent begins on Sunday, December 1 - our house is ready!
Many years ago, to celebrate our December wedding anniversary, my husband and I took the girls to spend the night at my mom and dad’s house, went out to a special dinner, and then to see a movie. It was our ninth anniversary, and the movie happened to be the first installment of the now-legendary Lord of the Rings trilogy. Our anticipation was great. Somehow, though we are children of the 1970’s, we had missed the Tolkien craze and had never read any of the books. But we had heard about this new movie coming out, so in preparation for the release, we had spent several months reading the first book together. It is an excellent story, and made us wonder if the movie could possibly do the book justice.
I remember that winter well because it was 2001. Younger readers can not quite understand how unusual that autumn was, but the September 11 attack on American soil wrought a sea change in our culture. Whatever collective sense of security we had, real or imagined, was severely shaken, and a new sense of darkness crept into everyday life. As a nation, we had enjoyed an unusually long stretch of safety and peace, at least on our own turf. But even a cursory glance in any history book from any culture will show that this is sadly the exception, not the norm. Our time of peace had suddenly ended.
So that December night, when the lights dimmed and the movie began, we were completely drawn into the story. The first few moments of the movie are total blackness, with just the narrator’s haunting voice explaining the plight of Middle Earth…
"The world is changed.
I feel it in the water.
I feel it in the Earth.
I smell it in the air.
Much that once was, is lost. For none now live who remember it…"
The story is told that a deceptive evil was sent into the world long ago by a wicked foe, and a desperate and growing darkness was steadily covering the earth. This evil enemy was defeated once, long ago, but he had now regained his strength and will to destroy. Evil creatures pledged allegiance to him, and with hearts and wills set against all goodness sought to conquer and enslave everyone. Was there any hope at all, or would the darkness succeed and completely blot out all life and laughter forever?
The movie definitely did justice to the book, and kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire running time. Both the author and director brilliantly succeeded in painting into fantasy and fiction the reality of life here on earth. Whether we realize it or not, and whether we like it or not, we are in a life and death struggle for the hearts and souls of all mankind. Our wicked enemy truly was defeated long ago by the power of the Cross, but continues to do great harm in this time of waiting for final justice. Evil has crept into God's beautiful creation, and darkness does cover the earth.
But this is the beauty of Advent - it reminds us…
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
No matter what today’s headlines say, and they happen to say some terrible things, we know that evil will not prevail in the end. No matter how dark the world seems, and it seems to be getting worse all the time, we know that the Great Light of the World really was born on that beautiful night in Bethlehem so long ago. During Advent, we wait, but with hopeful expectancy knowing that our Great King is coming again someday in glory, justice, and power.
This Advent season, I encourage you to take time to read the promise of scripture. Think deeply on the hope that we have in Jesus, and meditate on the goodness of our God who would give His only Son to save us from sin and slavery. Pray for those around you who still walk in darkness and have not yet encountered the Light of the World, that they would know Jesus intimately. Fight the good fight of faith and let your light shine brightly this season, so that many can experience what Jesus promised, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
It is the most wonderful time of the year! I love the holidays, and the week of Thanksgiving officially marks the start of the holiday season in my book. It is such a beautiful and refreshing thing to pause together as an entire country and truly give thanks to God for the many blessings He has given to us as individuals, as families, and as a nation. God really is good.
Before the rush of the season, let's take a moment to think about this - the concept of the goodness of God is so intriguing. In this day and age, when some are trying to say that down is up and up is down, it is hard to understand what is meant by the word "goodness." Some would argue that feelings determine what is good, and some would say that whatever the most people vote for as good wins. However, in any dictionary (and also in reality), the definition of goodness still has to do with moral purity and virtue. Good is a true standard, and a measure against which other things are judged. God Himself is Good - He is the standard of what is right and healthy and whole.
So when Jesus comes into a heart, He rights all of the wrongs, and makes things come into order. He brings satisfaction, wholeness, peace, and purpose; He infuses us with His goodness. I know that when I became a Christian, I felt complete for the first time. Nothing about me changed on the outside. I still appeared to be the same person. But on the inside, everything had changed, and I knew it. To quote a great old hymn, “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but in whole, was nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul!”
I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 34: 4-8
God hears and answers when we cry out to Him. He delivers us from fears and anxiety. He takes away our shame. He saves us from our selfishness. In essence, He takes all of the ugliness from our fallen nature and replaces it with what is right, unbroken, and unblemished - with goodness, His goodness. Our sinful nature is put to death and we begin to walk in step with the Spirit. We experience and feel the goodness of God, and for the first time, we are able to pass on His goodness to others.
As followers of Christ and bearers of His Spirit, it is our privilege and duty to bring His goodness to our neighbors near and far. If you look at any news source you will see hundreds of images testifying to the sad state of this world. Wars, terrorism, diseases, famine, domestic violence, murder, abandonment, addiction, abuse, hedonism – the list of woes is long and painful. Before experiencing Christ, we all do things that add to the drama just because that is what everyone else is doing, and without really thinking about it. Young people drink alcohol, experiment with drugs, act rebellious, and become promiscuous because that is what the world says they should do. Couples fight, become adulterous, and divorce because that is what the world says they should do. Children whine, fight, act rebellious and greedy because no one ever challenges them to anything different or better. The acts of our sinful nature are ugly.
Jesus alone can set us aright and bring light and goodness into our lives. After personally experiencing the goodness of the Lord, it becomes our responsibility to share it with the people around us. If we have experienced the liberty and sweet freedom that comes from living within the restraints of Christianity, we must share it. It’s like tasting something delicious for the first time. Just earlier tonight I watched my baby grandson try his first strawberry, and it was so adorable to see him smile and wiggle for more. Whenever I taste something new and delicious, I immediately want to share it with my family. It is just too good to keep to myself.
In the same way, I will never forget the actual relief that I felt when I became a Christian and realized that there really was a right and wrong, and that it really did matter how I lived my life. The selfish choices I had been making before had been leaving me empty and despondent – my life was not going anywhere and it felt pretty pointless. After I met Jesus and began living to please Him, I felt terrific! It would be wrong for me to think that I am the only person in the world who would feel that way about the changes that Jesus brought to my behavior. It would be wrong for me to believe that I shouldn’t share the goodness of God because people might find His commandments restrictive or outdated. I had never felt more real or alive than I have since I met Jesus, and the same will be true for my neighbors. This is just too good to keep to ourselves.
Most people have such a misconception of Jesus and of Christianity in general. It is far from a long list of do’s and don’ts; rather, it is a living, growing relationship with our Creator and Savior. It is finally becoming the person He created us to be. In His goodness He brings freedom where we were in bondage. He brings order where we lived in chaos. He brings reality when we were trapped in deception. And through the power of the Holy Spirit we can share this wonderful goodness with the people around us.
It is not difficult. We just need to open our mouths and our lives and share the good news. It is true that people will be turned off by Christians who speak angrily, judgmentally, or condescendingly. However, it is also true that people respond to care and concern. If we take the time to make an investment in someone’s life, we can earn the right to speak the truth to that person in love. In my own experience, my Christian friend did not mock my very ungodly behavior choices or taunt me that I was going to burn in hell forever. She simply invited me into her home week after week and shared her life with me. She listened to me, taught me to study the Bible, prayed for me, and cooked for me. She was a friend to me, and I grew to love and trust her. I watched her life and could plainly see the difference between the two of us. The peace and contentment she displayed were something that I wanted; I wanted to be like her. Soon, when I was presented with the choice of salvation, I was ready. I had seen the goodness of God displayed in her life, and wanted that in my own life.
Since then, I have seen the same story unfold countless times. The goodness of God is so attractive and powerful, and when people share it, souls are changed forever. This holiday season, let's ask the Holy Spirit to develop this fruit in our lives. Let's open our hearts and homes so that many more people can taste and see that the Lord is good!
My amazing husband has red hair. It has darkened to more of a brownish-red color over the years, but his beard has stayed wonderfully red. I remember when we were young and newly married, he wished his facial hair would cooperate better since he had a few spots that were pretty sparse, But time and testosterone have done the trick, and now it seems he could shave one day and wake up the next morning with a full beard! Every day he trims it up, and everyday we clean the area around the sink since it gets covered with hundreds of tiny red hairs. It needs much daily taming.
The beard-that-keeps-coming-back got me to thinking about forgiveness. Have you ever struggled with being hurt by someone? Sometimes people say or do things to us that wound very deeply. And sometimes the person is so close to us and the wound so painful that we have a difficult time letting go of the wrong done to us. Hurt is a lot like a beard in the sense that if we don't fight to get rid of it, it will grow and grow until we are completely tangled up in an out-of-control thing. It will become the first thing that people notice about us. It will take over our whole lives, tripping and distracting us from anything else.
We know that the Bible plainly states that we must forgive; there is no question about this. In Matthew 6, Jesus is teaching about prayer. Just after He teaches what we now call The Lord's Prayer, He says, "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." As Christians, we have all been forgiven so much by God, and must not withhold our forgiveness towards others. We cannot cling to HIs mercy in our own lives without pouring it out for others.
Still, there is something we all know to be true... actually forgiving someone is often very hard to do. It is like the beard. You get rid of that hurt one day, putting it at Jesus' feet, but then there it is again the next day. Lay that hurt and anger down, it pops back up; shave that bitterness off, it grows right back in.
Thankfully, here is where the beard analogy ends. My husband will keep on fighting to tame his red beard until we are old and it becomes a white beard. But there is hope in battling the temptation to hold on to unforgiveness. The way to shut out the darkness that so easily enters our hearts is simply to turn on the light. When you find yourself thinking, dwelling, and meditating on a hurt, stop. Rather than dwelling on the hurt, dwell instead on the love and truth of God. Lay the hurt down at Jesus' feet as many times as you find yourself holding it again.
Worship, fill your mind and heart with the goodness of the Lord, so there isn't any room for anger or bitterness. Remember how merciful God has been to us, and ask Him to help you extend the same mercy. Pray for the person who wronged you - truly pray for their wholeness and forgiveness in God's sight. One great day you will wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and realize that you are clean and that the hurt is gone for good. Jesus can truly help us forgive others as we have been forgiven, and He can help us to be free.
…in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
2 Corinthians 2:11
If you were an evil enemy of God, what would be your go-to scheme? How would you best achieve division and defeat among the people of God?
The most effective method is simply to keep Christians from loving each other; to cause bitter division among families and communities of believers all over the world - husband from wife, parent from child, brother from brother, friend from friend. Most of us fall for it every time, like a fish that gets hooked and thrown back over and over again by the same fisherman. Our enemy wants to highlight differences and offenses, and to keep those things ever in our minds and spirits.
People everywhere want to feel loved, accepted, and included. When Christians dwell together in unity and truly love each other, those around us can see a clear picture of how good God is and how welcoming, kind, and inclusive He is. There is nothing like the love of God! It changes everything it touches - it renews and beautifies, and gives hope, life and purpose.
To best reflect this great love of God, we must love one another as the family of God first. This is easy to say, but not so easy to do - we are all so different and have such varied ways of communicating and looking at things. If we are not careful, we can take offense easily.
We must remember that real love is not a feeling - it is a choice for the highest good of God and His Kingdom. Our ability and willingness to truly love each other is the thing that makes or breaks our witness as a community. When we do not love each other, it is painfully obvious to a watching world, and it is utterly repellent. Conversely, when we dwell together in unity, it is like oil (Psalm 133) which covers all and which everything sticks to. We become like a magnet, with a pull and draw that no person can resist.
So, our wicked enemy seeks to keep us from loving one another at all costs. This scheme becomes effective when any of us feel hurt or excluded or put down in some way and choose to dwell on that - offense is a choice, too. Something deep and dark within our sinful nature wants to demand not just our equality, but our superiority over others through attitudes of “me first” and “I am better than you.” This way of thinking leaves real love in the ditch and renders our witness ineffective.
How do we resist this tactic?
We must forgive.
The full passage of 2 Corinthians 2: 7-11 says, "Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes."
Forgiveness is one of the most powerful weapons that God has given us. Real forgiveness can break bondages that have endured for generations. It can turn a brittle heart into a soft heart, and can turn a broken family into a happy, thriving family. God has extended forgiveness to us, and asks us to return the grace and favor to others. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we can take God's gifts only for our own benefit, and refuse to extend love to others. Jesus tells us plainly, "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6: 14-15)
Extending forgiveness to others is not optional. We must forgive as we have been forgiven - it cannot remain just theory, but must become our practice. As sinful people who have been forgiven by God, we can never say, "Yes, but you do not understand what they have done to me..." We have been forgiven of so much, and must also forgive others. The beauty of it is that when we let hurts and offenses go, they can no longer hurt us or cause a division among us. When we forgive one another, the enemy's scheme to defeat us falls flat.
We must choose to believe the best about one another.
This has two facets. First, we must choose to believe the best about others when we hear a bad word or report about them. It is falling right into the enemy’s trap to ingest or repeat the bad things we hear about a brother or a sister. What good does that do? None! It helps nothing to become a part of a bad report, and oftentimes there is much more to the story than we know.
Second, believing the best means that we must have real hope for people; we must keep on bumping them towards Jesus, and towards the dream that God has for their life. We must learn to truly honor one another. We can all plainly can see the things that are wrong with one other, but Christians need to be people who look for and see what is good and right in each one. We are all created in the image of God and have something of Him in us. We must choose to see what is best and call that out in one another rather than holding each other back.
We must keep no record of wrongs.
How do we like it when our spouse or parent or brother or friend or teacher brings up that old, terrible thing we did again and again? We are so frustrated by it, and recognize that we have grown and changed. We give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, and tend to make excuses for our feelings and behavior - maybe we had a headache or had heard bad news that day when we were so rude to our friend.
At the same time, we might keep records of wrong for other people in our lives that stretch back for years, and with remarkable detail. Then, in a moment of hurt, we are likely to throw something back at our spouse that happened 15 years ago, leaving no room for growth and change. If we could have a moment of clear thinking, we would realize how horrible and creepy this is. It would be so offensive if someone kept and used that kind record of wrongs against us.
God actually does have every right to keep a record of wrongs on each of us, but chooses to forgive and forget when we come to Him in repentance. He loves to cover the shame that we heap upon ourselves. He loves to help us find a great trajectory towards godliness and cheers us on our way. He does not stand, arms crossed and face twisted in anger, reminding us of every wicked and selfish thing we have ever done, refusing to let us change and grow in godliness.
We ought to follow God in this way. We must forgive one another and cheer one another on in spiritual growth and development. We must treat others as we would like to be treated. Sure, people say and do some pretty thoughtless, hurtful things - sometimes on accident and sometimes on purpose. We all do this at one time or another. But with the same grace we extend to ourselves, we must be gracious with one another. Perhaps they are stressed out, perhaps they are hurting. Instead of feeling offended, what if we offered care and concern and friendship instead? Our families, churches, and communities could be radically changed for the better if Christians would stop falling for the enemy's schemes, and would start practicing the law of love...
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
-1 Corinthians 13: 4-8
Christmas is coming! Kingdom Minded is a great resource for small groups and Sunday School classes - order your copies today...
…in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
2 Corinthians 2:11
We have been on the road these last two weeks, and one of the great joys of our lives is meeting Christian brothers and sisters in different places. It is like a wonderful family reunion wherever we go - the Body of Christ is indeed beautiful and doing good works in communities all over the world.
At the same time, driving such a long way across the country reveals that there is much work left to do. There is a great deal of suffering and spiritual poverty everywhere we have gone, and much opportunity to share the love and hope of Christ.
Why are we slow to share the Good News - why haven’t more people been impacted by true Christianty?
Paul wrote a wonderful second letter to the Corinthian church that still speaks to us today. In it, he spends quite a bit of time painting a picture of what real, vibrant relationship with Jesus will look like lived out as a community of believers. In it are two sentences that we dare not skip over as we read, “...in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” The context in which he writes this is about forgiveness, and we will look at that in more depth next week. For now, let’s look at this concept of Satan scheming against us in order to outwit us - is this actually true?
In a word, yes. There really is an evil enemy of God who hates Him so passionately, and who has committed to try to hurt as many of God’s beloved children as he can in order to inflict pain on God. Thank the Lord that the great work of Jesus on the cross has broken the grip of sin and death, and has defeated Satan and his wicked plan. But in this time of God’s patience, waiting for His church to gather as many of His lost sheep as they can and will, Satan does not rest from his scheming since he knows his days are numbered.
We cannot be unaware of the enemy’s schemes, otherwise we will fall for them every time. These are his tricks and traps, and they are even worse than standard operating procedure of wickedness and evil. Standard to Satan is a hatred for God and for people because they are made in His image. So, as this era races to a close, we should not be surprised that the persecution of Christian people around the world is definitively worse than it has ever been historically. (Please research this sometime and join in prayer for the persecuted Church.) But all these 2000 years, persecution from the outside of the Church has not been able to stop the Body of Christ - it has only made us stronger overall.
But the enemy’s schemes are worse than just pure evil - they are how he worms his way into the lives and dealings of Christians to ruin real Christianity from the inside. When it comes down to it, Satan has just a few plays in his book, but they are so effective that he uses them again and again. This week and next, we will examine two schemes that threaten to devestate the Church.
First - Tampering with Truth
Our society is post-everything: post-Christian, post-modern, post-common sense. Still, the entirety of western civilization is actually based on Judeo-Christian principles and therefore remains standing, for now. It is interesting to watch the evolution of our society in the last few hundred years as the very foundational pillars of this civilization have been removed - a belief in God, a trust in God’s Word, a proper understanding and acceptance of man’s place in the world. Today, we have a culture with an odd blend of believing that nothing is true therefore everything is true, and that all rules and constraints should be cast off since all of that religion stuff is made up anyways. There is also a strange and pathetic hope that people are just going to get better somehow, when all of the evidence overwhelmingly shows this is not true. Our default setting without God is pure selfishness and all of the evil fruit that brings.
The cultural air we breath is such a complex mash of ideas and beliefs that it is quite difficult to write about succinctly - suffice it to say that our culture is trying to hold on to the safety and freedom that a Christian society yields without acknowledging God and what He asks of us. By definition, teachings and ideas that are contrary to the Word of God are called heresies, and our society is rife with them. It is one thing for our culture to embrace these heresies, but it is another thing entirely for the Church to embrace them.
Many Christians are being taken in by this old scheme of Satan. He takes wicked delight in twisting the Word of God into his own uses. He derives much satisfaction from using the words of our faith inappropriately to render us confused. So today, we in the Church are actually afraid to tell people the truth in love for fear that we are being judgmental or overbearing. We are silenced by this heresy that every path leads to the same place in the end, and that we are being ridiculous to insist that there is only one way to Heaven.
Do not be outwitted by the enemy’s schemes. Truth is not subjective or relative - Truth can be known and His name is Jesus. We Christians have gone well past the time for minding our own business. Our nation is hurting - our young people are neglected and confused, families have been utterly destroyed, hopelessness and addiction are rampant. The Church must shake off the drowsy stupor of believing the lies our culture is telling itself and shine the light and hope of Christ brightly in our communities.
“How different it is with Christianity, which knows no distinction of race or creed, but claims the world for Christ and whose messengers circle the globe. Where it comes and is faithfully practiced, sin and slavery and selfishness are banished and holiness is enthroned.”
- J. Oswald Sanders, The Incomparable Christ
Parents, Jesus is the Lord of your home and can help you thrive in your marriage and raise your children in the grace and knowledge of God. Students, you have the best thing going on your campus - never be afraid or embarrassed to invite people into Truth and Light. Businessmen, workers, educators, and politicians - you represent all that is Good to the marketplace; please do not be ashamed to stand proud as a representative of God in your community. Pastors and Church Leaders, teach the Truth. Live lives of holiness and sanctification, loving your people and helping them love their neighbors.
Let's not fall for those wicked schemes - let's change the world with the love of God.
As I wrote Kingdom Minded, I hoped to create a format that would be useful to you not only as an individual, but also for your small group or Sunday School class - order your copy today!
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
Matthew 18: 1-5
We have been on the road this week, seeing some wonderful people and experiencing some of the most beautiful places in the nation. I love long drives in the country - the many miles of rural scenery are so peaceful and refreshing to the spirit, and there is so much time to think. I mentioned last time that this is a bit of a watershed season in my life, as our nest is now officially empty. That, coupled with the fact that 30 years ago this fall was our first semester at University of the Pacific, where Eli and I would meet each other and Jesus and have our lives and futures transformed, has made me even more sentimental than I usually am.
I am so grateful for the life God has given to us. What a gift it is to love and serve Him, and to raise our children to do the same. What a blessing to realize that my family is such a treasure - not just our children and grandchildren, but our parents and grandparents as well. God has allowed us to have such a rich history of godly, kind, faithful people, and that kind of foundation in life is a rare gift.
Looking back on my childhood includes nothing but pleasant memories. We lived much of my young life in seaboard Connecticut, which is a storybook place, full of fascinating history, architecture and scenery. My thoughts of childhood include rejoicing when the morning news announced school was cancelled due to heavy snow, then spending the entire day sledding or ice skating. We would come back home and hang our wet jackets and socks by the fire, and it felt so awful and wonderful at the same time to let our hands and feet thaw out by the fire while we sipped some hot cocoa. I think of summertime swimming at the lake, drinking fresh apple cider at the orchard in autumn, and beautiful springtime flowers blooming after a long winter.
Absent from my idyllic memories of my youth are nights spent worrying about anything. I had nothing to worry about. My parents loved each other and they loved us, in both word and deed. I never worried about what I would do if one of them left because that never seemed to be an option in our house. I never worried about where we would live, what we would eat, or if we would have clothes - my parents always gave us everything we needed and then some. I never wondered if we would have enough money to pay the bills, or if we would be safe from harm; I had no reason to doubt that my parents would do everything they could to keep us healthy in every way. Having worked with young people with very difficult childhoods for so many years, I realize that my own experience is truly a gift, and sadly the exception rather than the norm.
My childhood helps me understand what Jesus means when He says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Many people have a very difficult time believing that God truly is good and faithful. So many have experienced terrible and traumatic events in their younger years - it has been truly heartbreaking to hear so many awful stories throughout our tenure in the ministry. Children are exposed to horrendous violence and exploitation, abuse of every kind, and float from home to home as families shatter into ever-greater disfunction. They have no good or wholesome concept of what “normal” is as they enter adulthood. Terrible patterns of behavior and abuse are passed down from generation to generation. When a person with a history like that is introduced to the reality of a great God of love, faithfulness and hope, it seems much too good to be true.
But it is true. God's promises are not empty words. His character is not unsteady or untrustworthy. HIs Kingdom is not coming someday, it is already here.
Even with my wonderful childhood and my extensive adult studies of the nature and character of God, I have found myself slipping many times into the habit of worry. Sadly, I can no longer say that I have never lost sleep, wondering what would happen with this situation or that person, fretting over every potential terrible outcome. I have struggled with doubts and with a lack of faith more times than I care to admit. What happened?
I am the one who changed. As I entered adulthood, I saw and experienced some of the storms and uncertainties of life, in my own life and in the lives of people I loved. When the ground suddenly seemed to be unsteady, I took my eyes off of what the Bible tells me to be true, and worried instead that maybe God wasn't quite as good or powerful or faithful as we hoped. When circumstances did not meet my expectations, my faith faltered. When seasons were difficult to walk through, I trusted my eyes and not the greater reality of the Kingdom of God.
I changed, but Jesus says plainly, "change back." Take action against your doubt, and stop trying to make it through on your own. Remind yourself of truth. Relax and trust God like you did when you were a child. Rest easy like you did when you were small. You don't have to worry about any of those people or things, what you will eat or what you will wear; you don't have to be knocked off balance by the uncertainties of life. God is looking after all of those things for you, and He is much more capable anyhow.
Further, if we won't change and trust like a child, we will miss so much of the goodness of the Kingdom of God. We will entirely miss the rich and satisfying life of living like sons and daughters of the King - people who hold so much power and authority and resource because of Who their Father is.
In John 16:33, Jesus said, "“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble...." Life is certain to be uncertain. But just as certain is the fact that God is good and trustworthy - Jesus continued, "but take heart! I have overcome the world." Let's live like children, and trust our Father whole-heartedly. Let's believe Him when He says that He has overcome the world. Let's live as people full of faith in the goodness and steadfastness of our King, so that others can see how much better it is to live in His Kingdom - both forever and for today.
The book is here! Here are Tara (a delight to work with from Wisdom House) and I at the book launch party last weekend. Order your copy today!
This month marks the one year anniversary of this blog - thank you so much for reading and for all of the lovely feedback so many of you have given. This has all been such a joy to me, and has proven a perfect combination of so many of the things that I love - God and people, reading and writing.
As I was thinking of how to mark this anniversary, I could not help but be drawn to the idea of remembrance. So much has happened in our lives throughout the past twelve months, and I am sure the same is true in your home. One of my favorite hymns has always been “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” The second verse says,
“Here I raise my Ebenezer,
hither by Thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God.
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood.”
This refers to the passage in 1 Samuel 7, chronicling a time in history when all of Israel was turning back from their sin and rebellion to serve God with all of their hearts. At the same time, they were in great danger of being overwhelmed by their enemy, the Philistines. The prophet Samuel interceded, and God protected Israel by throwing the enemy army into a panic. Afterwards, "Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far the Lord has helped us.'"
Life is so interesting, isn’t it? It is so full of highs and lows, ups and downs, sweet and bitter. And I don't how this works, but time seems to speed up even more every year. Still, so much happens in a year, and if we are not careful we run the risk of forgetting how good God has been. Remembering is an important part of our faith - prayers answered, deliverance wrought, provision given. All through the Bible, God instructs us to mark things and remember, so that when tough times come again we will not be shaken. But what about the times that remembering is uncomfortable?
Lately Eli and I have been paying some much-needed attention to our home. Painting, cleaning, clearing out things we no longer need or use - it has been an entire summer of spring cleaning. We suddenly have more time on our hands to pay close attention to such things since our nest became empty as of May. The last time I checked, we were knee-deep in middle school and sports and carpooling, and now it has all passed in a flash. I thought I was doing really well with all of the changes until I went to clean the laundry room and saw this on the door...
A simple growth chart. How could this make a middle-aged woman cry? What served as a joyful expression of hope for the future has suddenly turned on me and tempts me to wish to go back in time. As much as I looked forward to this season when my girls were grown and thriving on their own, I feel the sharp stab of loss as that part of my life is over. What about my friend who lost her baby this year, or another friend who has now lost both of her parents, or still another who lost his beautiful wife to cancer? How should we remember in disconcerting times and seasons like this?
CS Lewis explains this brilliantly in Mere Christianity, "“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” I absolutely think it is important to remember the past and to keep before us the good things God has done. But I also think it is equally important to remember the future and what God intends for all of creation...
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
"Write this down, mark it - I am making everything new!" God is the One who encourages us not just to mark the past for remembrance, but also to mark the future. This world, as wonderful and amazing as it is, is not the end. There is so much more! This life, full of incredible moments and seasons as it is, is not all. We were all made to live forever with God! Knowing this and keeping this close in seasons of loss and change helps us remain unshaken as we keep moving forward.
One day soon, when the gospel of the kingdom is preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, the end will come, and eternity will begin. As we celebrate an anniversary, we look back and give thanks for all of the beautiful things God has done in each of our lives. As we begin this new season, we look forward and walk with courage towards the best that is yet to come.
My good friends Andrew and Krystopher recently invited me to be a guest on their podcast to talk about Kingdom Minded - please give this a listen!
Recently I have often found myself thinking of my grandmother, who has already been gone for more than twenty years. I am so grateful to know I will see her again in Heaven! I love to think about the many childhood vacations my sister and I spent with her here in Texas. Maybe it is the extra-hot weather we have been having that reminds me of those summer trips from coastal Connecticut to sweltering Fort Worth. I loved being with her, and have such a treasury of memories to cherish. One of my favorite things was that she absolutely loved game shows. Back in the day when there were just three channels to choose from, she loved watching those game shows every day, and she particularly loved the hosts. Bob and Pat and Vanna were like good family friends.
I always thought the best kinds of games were the ones where the contestant could trade their winnings in on a mystery prize with the hopes of getting something even better. Oftentimes, the risk would result in a terrible downgrade, like going from $500 cash to a sad, plastic model car. But every now and then, the trade would far exceed the original prize.
There is just one Master of Ceremonies who offers only excellent trades, and that is God Himself.
Many years before Jesus came to Earth, the prophet Isaiah foretold what He would be like and what He would do: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion--to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
Too good to be true? No - this is the way God is, and perfectly demonstrates what true love actually is. John 3:16 further promises, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God gave His Son so that we could have eternal life. Instead of our sin-tainted life which only leads to death, God offers us forgiveness and life with Him forever. His trades are never for selfish gain; they are always for the highest good of the whole Kingdom.
Ezekiel 36:26 also sites the kind of trade that God is in the business of offering. He says to Israel, and to all of us, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” What a beautiful offer!
The problem is that most of us spend a lifetime thinking like the people on the gameshows - we are unsure whether God’s trades are safe. We doubt His character, and think He might treat us in the same cold, uncaring manner that the rest of the world does. Instead of believing that He is true and that His motives are always pure, we hesitate at His offers, or fail to respond altogether, and settle for less when we could have had abundant life all the while. We worry about losing out on something, instead of trusting that He knows exactly what we need (and don't need!) to become the person He created us to be.
We can trust God for life and provision and direction. We can trust God to take our mundane, self-centered existence and trade it for something supernatural and far-reaching. We can know without doubt that when God offers a trade of any kind, we absolutely will be better off than before. Of course, the circumstances might not look exactly like we expected, but the outcome is sure. He does not take away without doing a deep work and replacing with something even more real. Even if things do not make sense to us at the time, we can trust Him to see and understand all that we cannot - He has an infinite perspective and is always working towards the highest good for everyone.
This is especially true of internal things we spend so much time wrestling with. God put in every one of us the capacity and creativity to make beautiful things with our lives. Sadly, our own sinful natures tend to take those passions and desires that God put in each of us and corrupt them into horrible caricatures of what they were intended to be. This is where most of our struggles come from. We do not want to lay these things down for fear we will be somehow less without them. As a result, we can stall out in spiritual growth and spend years struggling over the same thing with no personal change and very little positive impact on the people around us.
CS Lewis explains this brilliantly in The Great Divorce, which I hope you will find the time to read. One character is plagued by a struggle with lust, represented by a small red lizard on his shoulder - lust which is a twisted, selfish use of God-given desire. An angel comes and offers to deliver him of the lizard, and the conversation between the three is fascinating. Getting rid of the lizard will be painful and the character fears that killing the lizard will kill himself as well. After much debate, the angel is finally granted permission to kill the thing, which dies in agony only to be promptly reborn into a majestic horse. The ugly corruption had to die in order to become the beautiful thing it was intended to be. The horse then sings to his owner,
“The Master says to our master, Come up. Share my rest and splendour till all natures that were your enemies become slaves to dance before you and backs for you to ride, and firmness for your feet to rest on.
From beyond all place and time, out of the very Place, authority will be given you: the strengths that once opposed your will shall be obedient fire in your blood and heavenly thunder in your voice.
Overcome us that, so overcome, we may be ourselves: we desire the beginning of your reign as we desire dawn and dew, wetness at the birth of light.
Master, your Master has appointed you for ever:
to be our King of Justice and our high Priest.”
What is it that you are holding on to? It may be anything - a stuggle, a sense of security, a dream, a habit - anything. God is inviting each of us to come higher up and further in. He invites us to taste and see that He is good, and to trust Him with our life and hopes. God's trades are wonderful and powerful, and they can change not only your life, but also the lives of many around you. He wants to help each of us to be the person He created us to be, which is a person of far greater character and Kingdom influence than most of us realize. Let the Master of Trades work in you - life for death, beauty for ashes, joy for mourning. peace and praise for despair.
One of my favorite fictional characters is Father Brown, the humble priest who also happens to be an incredible detective, and who lives in dozens of short stories from the unmatched mind and imagination of G.K. Chesterton. There is a modern take on the stories right now on television, but as I refrain from making any sort of public commentary on how true to the character the new shows are, I do encourage you to read the original Chesterton short stories. They are brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable.
Father Brown always knows who is guilty of the crime for two reasons. First, he is invariably able to put himself into the shoes of the guilty party. He knows that all of mankind suffers from the same fallen, sinful nature, therefore he can always imagine what the miscreant did. Without God’s love and nature in his heart, the priest knows he also could be capable of every awful, evil thing. The second reason is tied to the first - he has already heard all there is to hear in the confessional. In one story, Father Brown points out, ““Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?”
This is an interesting part of the ministry. Eli and I are coming up on thirty years as university campus pastors, and in that time we have had the honor of knowing and ministering to many hundreds of young people. A significant part of this is that we have helped people walk through some horrible and difficult times, sometimes due to accident or illness or losing a loved one, but many times because that person has made a very poor decision and must suffer the consequences. There is a singular thread that connects all of these poor choices - acting on feelings rather than truth and reality.
lf there were a single, defining characteristic of this age, it could be said that this is an era which worships feelings. Society tells us that we should pay close attention to our feelings - they are the very thing that should guide our relationships, plans, and actions. This line of thinking says that if something feels right or good, we should do it, no matter what; conversely, if something feels wrong, then we should just walk away, regardless of what it costs anyone. The pressure is now building that we should encourage everyone to follow all of their deepest feelings, no matter how wild, though the bitter end of this path is yet to be seen in full. Feelings rule the day.
But what are feelings? They seem so powerful and sometimes almost overwhelming, but they have no substance at all. They are very difficult to describe or categorize, and so many things can impact them. We might eat too much spicy food late at night, and wake up the next day feeling rotten and melancholy right out of the gate. We might receive a bad piece of news and feel that the world is coming to an end. A loved one might treat us differently than we expected, and we might feel that the relationship is lost. But none of these things is reality. The rotten day is actually packed with promise and potential; the bad news is truly not the end of the world; the family relationship cannot be lost.
All of these scenarios prove what our friend Winkie Pratney has said...
Feelings are never the true test of reality. Feelings are just feelings, and will change frequently with time and circumstance.
An interesting thing to note about feelings is that they can become just as much a habit as anything. If we give into them enough, feelings - no matter how unreasonable - can dictate our lives. Say you live in Huntsville like I do, but you work in Houston, which is 70 miles south of here. Without consulting a map, you might feel like going west to College Station and then turning south to Houston. This gets you where you need to go, so you do that every single work day for a year, and that becomes your habit. If you had only taken the time to consult the map, you would have clearly seen that your habitual route was adding at least an hour and half of driving time to work for just one way. If you had simply taken the interstate south, you could have cut off three hours of driving time every day. This silly example serves to make the point that living by feelings is a horribly inefficient way to live. You can let them direct you, but feelings are very unreliable guides.
When my girls were young, and occasionally misbehaved, I noticed that I would often say, “Please act right.” What an interesting thing to say! It is essentially saying, “Look, you are not behaving the proper way. Please stop doing what you are doing and, even if you do not feel like it or want to, behave this other way instead. Pretend and go through the motions if you must.” Of course, we say that because there is a standard of conduct that we expect and strive for. As Christians, we all aspire to live like Jesus lived - a beautiful, sinless, unselfish life lived entirely for the glory of God. In 1 Corinthians chapter 11, Paul says this plainly and urges the church, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”
Even if we do not feel like it, we should live like Jesus lived and do the things Jesus did because it is the right thing to do. I think it would be proper to say, especially if we do not feel like it, we should choose instead to act like Jesus would have. Jesus always chose unselfishly; His life consistently pointed people towards God and eternity with Him in Heaven, and that is how our lives should look. We can know the way Jesus lived by studying the Word of God consistenly. We can know what is real and true by knowing and memorizing the Bible, and by heeding the voice of God.
-Tomorrow, if I wake up feeling full of doubts and fears, I can remind myself that the Bible says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
-If I feel like a failure and a mistake, I can remember that Psalms 139 tells me, “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.”
-If I feel like doing something really selfish and wicked, I can recall what Galatians 5 informs, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
-If I feel like blowing up and letting someone else just have it, I can recall what Jesus said again and again, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
-If I feel like I cannot possible bear the circumstances in my life without the help of some other substance, I can recall the truth of 1 Corinthians 10, "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." Instead of using a crutch, I will start looking for God's help.
After all, going forward and acting on my feelings of gloom and despair will not help anyone know God better, least of all myself. Acting on my feelings of selfishness or anger will likely lead me to do or say something I will regret, and might cause pain to someone else. Numbing myself when I feel overwhelmed will make me miss so much in life. Giving in to feeling that myself or anyone else is unworthy and unloved will not lead anyone at all towards eternity with God. Feelings certainly seem powerful, but they have no power in the face of truth.
Our society is trying in vain to live by feelings, which is all you have left once you throw away truth and reality. Christians used to be called People of the Book, and this is something we should strive to become again. We do not have to be lead by ever-changing feelings. We can be guided by truth and love, which never fail.
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
-2 Peter 3: 18
I hope that you are having a wonderful summer so far - we really are! It has definitely started to feel like East Texas summertime in the last few weeks. We have a bit of a jungle-feel here in Huntsville, and it is difficult to adjust back to such sultry conditions each year. A few days ago I was grocery shopping, and noticed the family at the register across from me having a heated argument. A few moments later, I heard the father and two kids behind me all snapping angrily at each other. On my way out the door, even the two workers stationed there were exchanging unpleasant words. I wondered what in the world was going on until I pushed my cart all the way across the broiling parking lot, and then I understood. It is difficult to be very positive or kind when you are so hot and sweaty.
Also this week, I resumed lap swimming for the first time in too long, and have been humbled by how out-of-swimming-shape I have become. It is going to take some real time and effort to get back in condition. Many of you have heard me say at one time or another that I was a swimmer as a young person. It was definitely the thing that my world revolved around, and by the time I was in college, it was pretty normal to spend four to five hours a day in the pool. This may sound like a lot, but I really enjoyed it. I loved the sport, and was glad to put in the training so that I could swim faster every year. I had some great coaches through the years, and they knew how to train us so that we could excel.
Both of these experiences in the same week got me thinking. Isn’t it so interesting and even surprising how much we dislike unpleasant circumstances in life? How intriguing that a few more degrees on the thermometer can make us all act so differently; the same with a frustrating situation, or an unexpected bill, or a relationship problem. Difficult things bring out all kinds of actions and reactions from somewhere deep within each of us, oftentimes leading us to do or say things that we soon regret.
I think that if we had our choice, most of us would opt for a care-free life, one with no stress or unpleasantness or trouble. My husband has preached an excellent sermon about spiritual growth, and in it he points out that people with stress-free lives would likely be called Marshmallow Christians since they would have no spiritual muscle at all. Spiritual growth is just like growth in physical fitness. If you want to grow something, be it a muscle or godly character, you must have real resistence, repetition, and then rest. Without these things, there will be no growth. Yet, resistence and discomfort in life are the very things we fail to embrace.
As an athlete, it honestly would have made me very frustrated if our coach had us just float around for a little while every day for practice. I did not want to float, I wanted to swim fast when race day came! Being ready when the time comes always requires putting in the daily work. A good coach knows how to see the potential within each person and bring it out of them with proper, disciplined training. They know how to stretch the athlete enough to help them achieve more, but not too much as not to inflict injury. And, assuming the athlete puts in the effort, a great coach knows how to take them further than they ever thought they could go and become better than they ever thought they could be.
Now, think about the greatest Coach in the universe; imagine what could He help people become. God made each one of us. He knows us better than we know ourselves and knows exactly what we are capable of becoming through Christ. We are all created in the image of God, with tremendous potential for world-changing good. Even more than that, Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life when He walked this earth, and left us a wonderful example to follow. He never reacted poorly, even when people were doing awful things to Him. He did not run from the daily annoyances of life, even when He knew what road was ultimately before Him.
It is so interesting to consider what we might have been like if the Fall had not happened, and then to think what life might be like in Heaven. We can suppose what it would be like to live as a people and in a place untouched by sin, but we cannot know for certain. What is certain right now is that we live in a fallen world, each of us with a fallen, sinful nature to contend with - which means frustrations and annoyances are bound to occur daily. We often have many carefully cultivated bad habits of selfishness, and too often let our circumstances dictate our actions. And we are far too content to let time roll by without taking advantage of the great training ground this fallen world provides.
Remember what Jesus said in John 16:33, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We do not have to let circumstances or feelings rule our lives. The truth and power of Jesus helps us to become people who look and act like He did - astonishingly different from everyone else, and full of joy and hope even in the midst of trouble.
If I have surrendered my life to Christ, yet continue to react in anger every time someone or something frustrates me, then I am not growing. If I take the opportunity and attempt to react with grace and patience instead, then I am moving in the right direction towards Christ-likeness. If I continually withdraw and check out every time a situation becomes difficult or when my feelings become too strong to manage easily, then I am not moving in the right direction. If I learn to face the unpleasantness and find joy and peace even in the midst of it, then I am growing to become more like Jesus.
God is the great Coach. He knows what we are made of, and gives us everything we need to grow. He will never give any of us more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), and He will help us navigate this fallen world with strength and grace. You can trust the training regimen He has for you. Make full use of it each day to become what you were created to be. There is a watching world, and we have a responsibility as Christians to represent Jesus well. When we know that frustrations are sure to come daily, we must meet the challenge to learn and grow to become like Jesus - full of grace and peace, and ready to bring hope and healing in every situation.
How different we could become if we stopped seeing everyday annoyances as stumbling blocks, and instead saw them as stepping stones along a path to growth in godly character. How strong we could be if we stopped being surprised by frustrations and embraced them as an opportunity to stretch and grow in our faith. How much further we could go if we did our part to grow in the grace and knowledge of God - and how many more people all around us would see a clear and magnetic representation of Jesus through our lives.
Spiritual growth is vital for every Christian. Spend some time this summer learning more about how to walk with God - please click below to order your copy 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!)