Friday, May 29, 2015

Act Like Men, Be Strong

We have recently (probably sometime in April or so) started giving Cole chores to do for allowance each week. This is done as an effort to help him learn the value of money and to help him "save up" since daycare has so many activities that they do in the summer, often at locations that have little gift shops or snack bars, etc., that he is always interested in purchasing things at. Rather than just handing money over, we tell him that he has to earn it, and if he doesn't do his chores, he won't have money for that week. We did this last year and it seemed to work out well, so we started it up again this year (I really should continue it all year), but with a few changes. One, we started earlier so that he would already have a good base. Two, I altered his regular chores somewhat, so that there's a good mix of stuff he has to do anyway (brushing his teeth, combing his hair) and things he should do (keeping his room clean, making sure all of his toys are out of the car), as well as things that he can do to earn extra money that are a little out of the norm for him (putting all of his folding laundry away, vacuuming a room). Three, one of his chores, and the one that nets him the most money per week, is to learn a Bible verse by heart. Now, this is sort of a giveaway for Cole because he's great at memorizing verses. But I'm hoping that by starting this, we show him the importance of memorizing Scripture, and I hope that God will use these verses to help him grow in Christ and to help him to apply them to his life as he grows. It also encourages Nic and I to learn and memorize them as well, and to find ways to apply it both to our life and to point out to Cole where he can apply them in his.

All of that is sort of background for what I'm writing today. Cole's verses this week are 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, which say (in the ESV): "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love." When I first read this, I noticed that depending on which Bible version you're using, the verse can be different. Some say be on guard instead of be watchful, some say be courageous instead of act like men, etc. At first, I was wondering why the ESV version said "act like men" when so many others didn't. Also, we don't typically think of "acting like men" and "being strong" as being immediately followed with "Let all that you do be done in love". So, I wanted to know, what did this mean? How could I break this down for Cole so that he would understand all the richness of this verse? Me being me, I started pulling out all the resources/study Bibles that I had to break it down, and here's what I found:

  1. First, I reminded Cole of why Paul was writing the letter to the Corinthians. This is a church in a sinful city, a city that is a crossroads for trade and has new products and ideas being introduced into it almost daily. There is much opportunity for hearts to be drawn into sin and led to worship false gods and idols. Additionally, the Corinthians had stopped truly loving their brothers and sisters within the church. They had allowed sin to creep in among them, and were involved in many different kinds of sin and were divided within the church. So Paul is writing this letter to remind them of their first love (or what should be), Christ, and how they should be behaving as His church (united together, fighting sin, sharing the Word, being light in the darkness of Corinth).
  2. Be watchful: I felt like, based on the reasons why Paul was writing this letter, there were possibly two meanings behind this, one a bit of a better fit than the other, but still...
    1. Remember  your first love and Master, Christ. He is returning and you should live life in a way that honors Him and His death on the cross to pay for the sins that you are committing. Be watching for His return and live in light of it.
    2. But, sort of along the same lines, but possibly a bit of a better interpretation, so to speak - be on the lookout for sin in yourself first, and then within the body of the church. Be on guard against sin in yourself; allow no opportunity for temptation to sin, and no foothold for sin to enter in. Deal with your sin first, but then also, in love, guard your brothers and sisters in Christ as well. Come alongside them and help them fight in the same way they should be doing for you.
  3. Stand firm in the faith: Don't allow yourself to be drawn away from the truth of the gospel. You cannot alter the truth in any way, or it is no longer truth. Don't "tweak" it to make it fit what you want it to be at any given moment. Look to the day when Christ returns for His people and live in light of that fact. Go about His business, serving and loving as He did. Don't allow yourself to get drawn into the popular false religions around you, no matter how enticing. Don't give an inch on the truth.
  4. Act like men: As I looked this up, I really loved the note in my ESV study Bible for explaining this, so I'm going to share it here. "Andrizomai (Greek for act like men) is a frequent command in the Septuagint and is used in contexts encouraging people (especially soldiers) to act with courage and strength in obedience to the Lord and with confidence in His power" (emphasis mine). Isn't that beautiful (especially for those with feminist tendencies,  LOL)? It's the idea of being on guard for sin, while standing on and relying on the truth of the gospel, and knowing that when you find it, through the power of Christ's death and resurrection, you have the power to fight and defeat it. It's an exhortation to pour all you have into fighting the enemy with the full expectation of victory - and because we "stand firm in the faith", we have the confidence to know that we will win!
  5. Be strong: I think this sort of goes back to all of the above. If you are on guard against sin and you're fighting it in the power of the gospel (because you're standing firm on its truth), then you will automatically be strong - in your beliefs and in your faith. You will have the courage to share the gospel, you will be able to withstand the devil's snares, and he will flee from you.
  6. Let all that you do be done in love: I thought this was kind of a neat, somewhat unexpected follow-up to all that came before. You basically have this verse before that tells you that you are in a war, and that you must be fighting, but then the very next one says to love. Well, how do these go together? First, remember why Paul was writing to the Corinthian church. They had stopped loving one another, and quite possibly, the world around them. Also, he was reminding them of the truth of the gospel. Christ provided the ultimate example of sacrificial love when He gave His life on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. I believe that Paul was reminding them that they were to be Christlike in their behavior, particularly among the body. Christ never hesitated to eradicate sin or call it what it was, no matter what situation He was in or where He was, nor did He twist it to make it seem a lesser evil than it was, nor did He refrain from fighting it. But, He did it with love for the sinner and hatred for the sin. He didn't abuse the sinners, but He didn't allow them so stay in their sin. He confronted it, and the sinner than had to decide whether to accept Christ or reject Him - and I believe that Paul was calling the Corinthian church to do the same, first in themselves, and then within the body that was being so badly damaged by sin, both individual sins and corporate sins. He was calling them to fight sin in their own lives, and to fight for the gospel in their church; to lovingly rebuke their brothers and sisters who were still engaged in various kinds of soul-destroying sin; to show each other love, both by confronting the sin and by doing it in a way that reminded the sinner of who Christ is and His power over sin without passing judgment, so to speak, on the sinner, but only on the sin (if that makes sense).
Anyway, that's what I got out of the study and sort of what I passed along to Cole during our study time (although in a somewhat shortened format, of course). My heart has been stirred up because of these verses, and I thought it was amazing all of the richness that they held, especially when they're relatively short verses, and so I wanted to share them with you. I hope that you are as blessed by them as I have been.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Feeling My Look Today....;)

No, just kidding! However, I did blow up Instagram (and Facebook, by extension) today with eighteen (18!) photos of a field trip I went on with Cole to Natural Bridge Safari Park, so this post seems timely. :) (In my defense, I rarely post a lot of pictures, so eighteen in a day is out-of-the-norm for me, and will last me like two months lol.)

Anyway, it's been a while since our youth group did Renown (way back in mid-April), so this post may not actually be as "timely" as I said in the beginning, but it's one I've been wanting to write. Let me first say that a lot of this is not going to be "mine" - I'm basically going to be typing up my notes from a brief twenty minute session that Pastor Brett gave called "Living for Christ's Renown in My Social Media", plus maybe some added thoughts of mine. I think that this is so important - so many of our kids, grandkids, neices, nephews, etc. are or will be using various forms of social media. Teachers are even using it to communicate assignments, etc. sometimes. Not to mention how we use it as parents, teachers, leaders, and so on. I thought that Brett raised some really wonderful points about the dangers/benefits of social media and wanted to share them. I know that this changed, to some extent, how I view what I'm posting and liking - not because anything I was doing before was necessarily wrong or sinful, but simply because what I feel perfectly fine with may raise someone else's eyebrows, etc., and I don't want to ever be the cause of someone else stumbling in their walk with Christ. That being said, I do feel like this falls in the realm of personal conviction, and everyone is going to have their own opinions about what is okay and what is not, with some obvious distinctions (i.e., pornography is wrong for any Christian, at any time, to like or post; an e-card that I find humourous but someone else may look askance at - well, that's a little more up to an individual). Keep in mind that my thoughts on this are just that - my thoughts, and that doesn't make them true for everyone, nor am I judging anyone for how they use social media, on whatever platform.

So....why is this even an issue? Because Ephesians 5:15-16 says this: "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil."  Because Colossians 1:16 says: "For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through Him and for Him."  You see, we have to live for Christ in all things, in all areas of our lives. No part is excluded, and that includes how you blog, how you use Facebook, what you post on Instagram, or Snapchat, or Twitter, and on and on and on. As Brett put it so nicely, in a way I had never thought of before, if Colossians 1:16 is true, then it is true that Christ rules in the digital realm as well, and not only that, but the digital realm was created for Him. That means that it's really for His use - to glorify Him and bring honor to His name, to further His gospel.

Now, to me, that doesn't mean that I can't post pictures of my family, or blog about what's going on in my life, or share funny e-cards or quotes, etc. - all of those things can bring glory to God, too, even if I don't sign #blessed to each post or picture. But sharing the growth of my family and my joy in them brings glory to God by publicizing my delight in the blessings He has showered on me in them. It brings glory to Him when I show through various posts or pictures the active role I am taking in bringing my son up to believe in Christ, the fulfillment of my role as a wife and mother; the simple pleasure of the comfort of my pets; the fellowship of being with like-minded friends; the practice of humor (God created that, too) - especially when I can distinguish between appropriate/inappropriate humor. And the list goes on. So please believe me when I say that I don't believe that each and every post you publish must be explicitly about Christ in its entirety. I do believe, however, that when someone looks at the pattern, so to speak, of your posts, they should see someone in love with Christ and the life He has given them, in its entirety. In other words, the pattern of what you use social media for should point back to Christ in some way, even if you're not writing it over every Snapchat you send, or tagging His name as a part of every blog post you write. I should get a sense that you are a believer.

Brett made the statement that social media platforms can be a great tool. To paraphrase what he said, though, it all depends on how you use it and whose hands you're going to allow it to be a tool in. It can be a tool in the hands of Satan to hinder the purposes of Christ, or it can be a tool in the hand of God, to further Christ's purposes for your life and for the lives of those who view what you publish.

So how do we make something seemingly so innocuous a tool for Christ? Brett gave us a lot to think about, so I'm going to list some of the questions and explanations, plus thoughts I might have had, below. Take them for what they're worth to you, but do take them into consideration. Don't just dismiss any of them out of hand or think they don't apply to you - because I was surprised how some did apply to me when I really took the time to think about them.

  1. How can I apply God's Word to this? Be mindful of what you're posting, liking, reading, subjecting yourself to. Don't take anything for granted, and hold all things up against the test of God's Word - if it doesn't match up, don't be tempted to fall into a trap of believing something just because a friend posted it, or to fall into a certain sin because everyone else is doing it on social media.
  2. What is this doing to my relationship with God? For me, this means: am I "liking" things I shouldn't? Am I allowing unbelieving friends to clutter up my wall with comments/photos/status updates that aren't glorifying to God and that are putting sin constantly in front of my face (sort of "trash in, trash out")? Am I so consumed with checking for updates from others or comments on my posts that I'm neglecting to spend time with God? Do I put social media before His Word? Am I trying to steal any of God's glory for myself by focusing on how many "likes" I get, or who commented on my post/picture/status and who didn't - do I want all of the attention? (This can be tricky - I don't think it's a big deal to be pleased that people like something you put a lot of work into, or your new haircut, or the fact that you got reblogged, etc., because those things are awesome and there is NOTHING wrong with being proud of it if you realize that anything you do, or any gifts you have come from Christ FIRST AND ONLY, but I think it can sometimes cross the line if you're consumed by this or if the number of responses you get becomes a point of pride. So there's a distinction - do NOT be offended by this; actually read my words. And if you do get offended, maybe think about why you're offended - sometimes I'm just a jerk, and sometimes it's conviction.)
  3. Am I too weak to use social media? Are some things on various forms of it just too tempting for me? Will they lead me into sin if I can't fight it? If that's the case, don't give sin a way in - we all know Satan will take advantage of every opportunity, every opening, especially if he can cause God's people to stumble. Determine if it's something that's all-consuming. Christ should be the only all-consuming thing for you. I check social media several times a day, typically; mostly this is to see what others have posted, and hopefully to rejoice or delight in the various activities they have going on. I think that's okay, because I also don't have to check it; if I don't get on it for a day or two, so be it. But if it's a compulsion, consider why this is, and if it's healthy for your relationship with Christ or not.
  4. Can I use some forms of it, but not all? For example, I don't have Twitter or Tumblr - to me, seems like too many nasty or inappropriate things are sometimes said on it. And I would have a temptation to follow certain celebrities, etc., that might post sinful things or further liberal agendas (yes, I just said that), that I don't agree with, and would either tempt me to sin or to anger, or whatever. I do have Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, this blog, and Instagram - I don't feel that these are tempations for me. As a matter of fact, there have been several celebrities that I have previously followed on Instagram that I stopped following simply because some of the things they posted were not glorifying to God and were not anything I wanted to see. The main point is to know yourself and your weaknesses and to be discerning. There is no shame in not having an account on any form of social media.
  5. Do I have accountability in this? More or less, see all of the things above. If I know that I may be tempted in something, I should have someone who can help monitor my activity as far as what I'm liking or posting, and call attention to anything that may be out of line (lovingly but firmly, of course). This person should also be willing to ask me in what ways I'm using the social media when I'm not posting or liking - am I secretly looking at things I shouldn't be? If you need this accountability, you may even consider giving your "accountability partner" your password to your account(s) so that they can access it and check on you every so often when you're not expecting it (everyone knows how to clear a history!). It's much less painful to endure being "caught" and called to repentance NOW than to face Christ and explain it later.
  6. Know that love has two objects: God and our fellow neighbor. Therefore, how is my social media usage helping me or others to love God more? Again, when I look back at my "feed" or past posts or whatever, am I seeing a person who loves Christ? Am I speaking of Him, showing Him, showing fellowship of the saints? Am I sharing trash or things that point to Him? Am I "liking" things that are sinful and thereby damaging my testimony?
  7. Am I setting myself up as a judge of what others post? Do I feel better than someone when I see a picture of their family, project, vacation, and believe that it's inferior to mine? Sort of as two sides of the same coin, do I feel pity for them because their stuff isn't as good as mine, or am I pleased that they are so happy with what they have and are sharing? Am I judging someone on how much or how little they post, or do I recognize that I can follow/unfollow as necessary to clear my feed if I feel they haven't hit it "just right"? Do I recognize that people have different interests than I do, and not judge them for having a different focus or interest than me?
  8. Does viewing what others post make me jealous, or am I trying to create jealousy in others through what I post? Okay, we get it, you have a gorgeous, immacuately clean house with a white picket fence, a ginormous pool, a model-level husband, 2.5 perfectly clean and well-behaved little angel children, a dog that can do tricks, and a cat that doesn't shed. No I'm just kidding! But consider when you post something, if someone who is maybe less fortunate is viewing it and whether what you have may stir up jealousy in them? Now, that is their sin, yes, and you cannot control their feelings, no; however, are you posting these things in a prideful way, to show off what you have, or with a heart of humble thankfulness for what Christ has given you? On the flip side, can you rejoice in other's good fortune and station in life, recognizing that Christ may have chosen to bless them in a different way? Or do you feel hatred and envy towards someone because they have more/better/newer stuff than you?
  9. Am I made angry or irritable by what others post? I think this kind of goes along with some of the other stuff I've elaborated on, so I won't belabor the point, but be mindful of your attitudes towards others and how they use social media, particularly your brothers and sisters in Christ. Who cares if they post eighteen times a day (haha - see my first paragraph)? If you don't want to look at all of them, either unfollow them or scroll through them (my choice - less hurt feelings if you just scroll through than if you unfollow someone with no explanation - not that I think that matters, either, but it's always better to err on the side of caution, unless they're posting inappropriate things and need to be confronted). By the same token, don't be made irritable by what others comment or don't comment, like or don't like; recognize that not everyone comments on every post, or likes every post, or even sees every post. Remember, if they follow you, they're probably a friend or admirer of you, and they love you, regardless of whether or not they "interact", for lack of a better term, with a specific post. I've had to watch this in the past, so I can say this wholeheartedly! Remember, the point of all social media (and everything, really) is to bring glory to Christ, so unless you're offended for Him, don't be offended.
  10. Am I promoting wrongdoing or truth? Again, this sort of goes back to everything above, but the short version is: don't share and like things that God would not be pleased by. If it's not a story/joke/picture/post you would share with Him, don't share it with others. Duh. (Yes, I just said that, too! LOL)
  11. Am I being unloving by constantly drawing attention to myself? I think that this goes back to the jealousy issue to some extent, but just a couple of things to say here. Don't be a braggart. For example, I post pictures of my artwork - yes, I'm proud of the work I did if it's something that I post, and yes, it's nice to get compliments on them. However, I am mindful of the fact that my talent is small in comparison to the Creator of the universe. I am mindful of the fact that I am created in His image, and so what I do is simply a faded copy of His talent. I post it, because I enjoy sharing the fun stuff I get to do, but I don't (I don't think - and call me out if I'm wrong!) brag about it. I'm not all like, "Look how awesome I am! Didn't I do a great job with this? Tell me how talented and beautiful I am!" (Okay, my beauty - or lack thereof haha - has nothing to do with art, but why not throw it in there? LOL) Another side to this, is the aforementioned eighteen posts a day. Sure, it's my account and my business, and I firmly believe that if I want to post eighteen pictures a day every day, people should be willing to scroll through it if they don't like it (love covers a multitude of sins, right?) - but you have to take into consideration why you're posting that many pictures a day (and I do recognize that we don't usually do this). For instance, today I may have been overly excited about the field trip (I've never been there, love animals, and loved seeing Cole interact with them), and wanted to share the awesome time we were having. I did not want to brag about where I was, make others jealous about not being there, get compliments on the way I look, or the way Cole looks, or so on and so on, and I think that's the distinction. That being said, it's again, not something I do every day, because that would be unlovingly drawing a lot of attention to myself and not giving others the chance to fill up their friends' feeds. :)
  12. Finally, am I posting a real version of my life or am I being phony? Am I only posting what I want others to see? I think this is a big one. In reality, we all go through struggles. No one's life is like the description that I put after the jealousy question all day, every day. So don't post that stuff every day and expect the world to believe it. This is kind of like the #iwokeuplikethis and #nofilter things. No, you did not wake up with flawless skin, hair and makeup, with the sun hitting you at just the right angle and your sheets perfectly mussed but strategically covering everything they need to cover. And we all know it. You woke up with raccoon eyes and lipstick smudged up the sides of your cheeks, your hair sticking in every direction, a pimple beside your nose, dried drool on your chin, your shirt twisted and your legs hanging out from under the blankets. Let's just be real - and if you did wake up #flawless, the rest of us mere mortals don't want to know, so just go back and read #8, ya jerk. And no, we don't want to see the pictures of you crying with mascara running down your face and snot bubbles coming our your nose because your life is actually a mess and you're sad about it, either. Save that for when we're actually with you to lend a shoulder to cry on and we've got a box of Kleenex to give you. Find the middle in your posts, please. If you're #feelingyourlook one day, sure post it. I'll enjoy your cute outfit with you and tell you how beautiful you are, because you are - but also because you're beautiful on the inside and I love you for that way more than for how you look on the outside, okay? Just don't fill up my feed with 82 selfies every day, because I WILL unfollow you. And don't tell me #nofilter when I KNOW you're trying out that new Lark filter just like the rest of us (filters are fun, after all!). In other words, just don't present yourself as someone you're not. I want to know the REAL you - even if you have acne and a messy house. I want to know who Christ made you to be, because THAT'S the most beautiful you - #nofilter needed. :)
Alright, so I know this was a long post, but did you make it to the end? Yes? Good for you! Really take into consideration each of these questions (and I'm sure a million more can be raised) and how you can use your social media as a way to glorify Christ. Then #thinkbeforeyoupost. Haha - social media humor. ;)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

When in Doubt...

It's been quite a while since I've posted!! But I hope to give you a little something to chew on today. :)

I've taken lately to reading daily devotionals from She Reads Truth. Today's happened to spur some thoughts, so to prepare you for those, follow this link to read the devotional:

Did you do it? Okay, then here are my thoughts:

First, how judgmental are we of Thomas? At least, I know I have been. I mean, he's got his best friends telling him that they've seen the risen Christ, in addition to knowledge of the coming resurrection from Christ's own lips, and yet he still can't believe? We want to scoff at him and pretend that we would never doubt the word of the other disciples or the possibility of Christ being risen. Yet, we (fortunately) haven't been in his shoes. Remember, there were many times during the three and a half years of Christ's ministry that, though He explicitly told the disciples what to expect, they couldn't understand what He meant. Then, too, Thomas had seen Jesus beaten, mocked, and crucified. He'd seen the Christ hanging dead upon the cross. Thomas had seen the body anointed and laid to rest, seen the tomb sealed, seen Roman soldiers set to guard its entrance. He'd watched what was supposed to be the conquering king, the savior of Israel, seemingly be defeated. He was probably trying to connect the faith he had come to have in Jesus with the events of the last few weeks. How could any of it make sense to him? His world had come crumbling down around him. He was basically living as a fugitive, fearful for his life after seeing what they had done to his Master. And then, to be told that that very Christ had come and shown Himself bodily to His disciples while Thomas was elsewhere...Surely we can give Thomas a little grace here? It's definitely a lot to take in!

Besides, who are we to judge? We've all done the same. That's right, I'm making a big, sweeping statement here, ALL. And  I don't doubt for a second that I'm right. You don't think you've ever doubted? What about the time:

  • You watched someone you love sick or in pain, and you pled for healing, but that prayer wasn't answered with a yes?

  • You couldn't quite make ends meet, and you stressed out about your finances?

  • You lost your job and weren't sure what you were going to do now?

  • You were super busy with no time to catch a breath, and you wondered why God put so much on your plate?
We're all guilty of it at some time or another. Each of these things above (and I'm sure more I haven't thought of), is really nothing but an expression of doubt in God's provision and love and care for you. Wait, what? Yep, you heard me right. Sure, we should pray over our loved ones' health, our finances, our daily activities - absolutely. But when we cross the line into ungodly worry about it, we are expressing doubt in God's sovereignty, doubt in His plans for us, doubt in His promises to work all things together for our good, doubt in His power to handle every situation, doubt in His neverending love and mercies toward us. Convicting, huh?

Reading through this, I realized how many times I've been guilty of these and more, how many times I've been guilty of doubt in my Savior. That's an awful feeling and a terrible place to be. Suddenly, my contempt for Thomas turns to pity and compassion. I understand where he was when he wanted to see Christ face-to-face, to touch His wounds in order to believe. It certainly doesn't make it right; obviously, faith is better. But sometimes it is easy to forget Christ's promises and provisions for me. It's easy to want to see physical proof and forget to see that I'm looking at it every day - when I look at my bank account, and I see $0.69 cents left for the week, but I know all my bills are paid and that I don't need to purchase anything else for the week; when I see my great grandmother in sickness, but feel the joy of knowing that she is a woman of faith (a hero of the faith, to me); when I lost my job, but another was there before my time was even up at the first; when the things I'm busy with are Kingdom-building things and I see the fruits in the lives of those I teach and fellowship with. Do you see it? We have just as much reason to believe and to forbear from demanding evidence, because it's all around us, in just the same way it was for Thomas - and yet we still doubt. Why?

I think sometimes it's a simple lack of focusing on Christ. I think we get sidelined focusing on all of the earthly things, that we put our eyes on them and start to believe that they're so much bigger than they are, forgetting that Jesus is by far bigger. I believe that we allow our view of Christ to be diminished, and in doing so, our fickle, deceitful hearts are easily led astray. The answer isn't necessarily to throw yourself into more church-related things, et cetera, et cetera. The answer is to simply fall to your knees, repent of your doubt, ask Christ to realign your focus and your heart on Him, and to aid you in fighting the temptation to doubt. The answer is to turn over all of these problems to Christ (that doesn't mean inaction on your part, but a lack of worry on your part). The answer is to mine His Word for His promises to rely on in times of trial and tempation. The answer is to thank Him for His provision, His daily mercies and grace, His unfathomable love for you - and then to live based on that truth, instead of the devil's lies.

Christ, I humbly thank You for Your mercy that rains down on me daily. I beg Your forgiveness for the times I've listened to Satan's whispers and allowed myself to forget that You are sovereign, You are in control, and You are most definitely mightier than any trial I might face. I thank You that Your Word says You are working every situation for my good and Your glory. I pray that when next I face a situation where I am tempted to doubt Your power and love, that You would remind me of who You are, that You would keep my heart and mind focused on the truth of Your Word and the vast beauty of Your promises, that You would remind me there is a purpose to it, and that You would draw me ever closer to You through it. You are an amazing God, and I am awestruck at Your name. I love You, Lord, but only because You have loved me first. Amen.

Monday, February 9, 2015

You Can't Worship Wherever You Please

I was reading through Deuteronomy 12 this afternoon, and wanted to take the time to say something about it - just a little something, I promise!

There are a couple of phrases that are repeated throughout this chapter that bear dwelling on. One is "you shall not", which is usually followed by something along the lines of "worship God wherever you want in whatever way you so choose". Instead, we see the second phrase repeatedly popping up after this - "the place the Lord will choose".

I think this should provoke a little bit of discussion amongst professing believers and here's why. Too often in this day and age, people call themselves Christian, but they forsake the fellowship of their brethren, in direct contradiction to God's Word in Hebrews 10:24-25. We're too eager to sleep in on a Sunday morning or get home and rest on a Wednesday night. We can make up all sorts of excuses for it, too.

  • We're tired from work.

  • We almost never miss a Sunday, so if we want to sleep in just this once, surely God won't mind!

  • I can listen to the sermon online later, so I'm not really missing anything.

  • I don't have to attend church at all; I can watch a sermon on television and worship and get fed that way.

  • I can worship God wherever I am, be it in the car, fishing on the lake, at home or at church.

  • I feel closer to God in nature, out enjoying His creation.
You see? Have you ever heard any of these excuses? Have you ever made them yourself? (Ouch, right?) The truth is, at least as far as I can tell from Deuteronomy 12, that we can't worship God however and wherever we please. Instead, we do it where, when, and how God chooses. He is the sovereign God after all, so doesn't it make perfect sense that He would ordain something as important as His worship?

For most Christians I know, this means meeting with a local (not on television, not hearing their "amens" recorded on the podcast) body of believers, who will encourage you and help you to grow in Christ, sharing their spiritual gifts with you as you share yours with them, all to the glory of Christ. It means that you attend ONE church REGULARLY with this local body, AT LEAST on Sunday mornings (and from personal experience, I highly recommend Wednesday nights, too). You don't have a hit-or-miss philosophy on attendance, you don't make it optional for yourself, or men for your families), and you don't hop from church to church every time  your nose gets out of joint or the preacher steps on your toes (that's usually called conviction, people!). Why? Because this is the means that God has ordained for our worship of Him. It is a gift of grace by which fellow believers come together to encourage and aid one another in a sin-riddled world.

Just read Deuteronomy 12:4-5 if you don't believe me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Good Article

So, I was reading through January's issue of HomeLife magazine (we get it for free at the daycare), and saw an article that I really wanted to share with my girls, although it's thought-provoking and important for everyone. Since I can't seem to find it to copy it online, I'm typing out the whole thing here but want to give credit where credit is due. It's written by Michael Easley and is called:

Renewing Your Mind
Don't let the world teach you theology.

     After high school and into college, I worked as a mechanic. While I loved working on cars and trucks, the environment was rough. Among shopworn mechanics, you will find some pretty gritty ideas about life
     As a young believer, it was an inteesting challenge. Pornography was out in the open,the vocabulary that was used in the garage included "colorful metaphors" to describe anyone and anything, and the subjects they talked about all provided quite an education.
     I have a vivid memory of working on a very frustrating repair. I lost my temper and blurted out a "colorful metaphor." The shop went quiet. The mechanic in the bay next to me said, "Well ... the preacher-boy has finally lost it." After a few seconds of silence, they all roared in laughter.
     At one level, it's a silly story. What's the big deal if a "colorful metaphor" rolls off our lips? But at a deeper level, it illustrates the imperceptible influence of listening to the wrong messages over a period of time. It shows how our thinking, attitudes, and actions can be affected when we are surrounded by the wrong kinds of influence.
     We are all exposed to an endless stream that shapes our philosophy, opinions, and views of life. We are not immune to the barrage of misinformation or sinful influences. We may think, "Blurting out a cuss word is no big deal", but that's not the point.The point is, the world is heavily influencing us in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
     To "think theologically" takes a bit of training. It seems to begin by being aware of the world's messages. Let me suggest you keep three things in mind to start thinking theologically:

     Listen to the World's Messages
     It is hard to overstate that we are constantly bombarded with the culture's views of modernity, relativism, tolerance ... anything goes, just as long as it's not biblical Christianity.

     Know Your Presuppositions
     Why do you believe what you believe? Where did you get that idea? How did you arrive at that conclusion? We all have a truckload of presuppositions. Without knowing, we bring these suppositions to the table. But we may not have thought about them carefully, or we are unsure how to give a defense of why we believe what we believe. The result can be one of two extremes, we hold fast to something not knowing why, or, when challenged, we give up. As you grow in your understanding and confidence about what God's Word teaches, you will find the strength to be gentle, firm, loving, and kind to those with whom you disagree.

     Be Mindful of Your Worldview
     Our intimacy with Christ frames our worldview. We cannot live a "Christian life" apart from knowing Christ intimately. Getting to know Christ is not a five to ten minute devotional. I liken this to having a best friend. A best friend requires two things: time and a common interest. Do you spend time with Him, in His Word, and in prayer? There is no short cut, nor substitute. The overflow of this is huge. The more you know the Savior, the more you want to be like Him.
    Now, there is one caveat here. I do not recall who said it, or where I read it, but in essence, the closer to Christ I walk, the more of my sin I see. The good news in this is that our intimacy with Christ, through His Word and in prayer, exposes our sin, but also enables us to keep short accounts. Again, just like a friendship, staying close, asking forgiveness, apologizing ... only deepens our relationship.

     Learning to think theologically is a great - and even fun - journey. It moves from a check-list of do's and don'ts to "being." Who am I in Christ? Beyond being saved and forgiven, what is this relationship like? Do I know the mind of Christ? Am I living for Christ, or simply wanting Christ to make my life easier?

Friday, December 19, 2014


So, for those of you who haven't already seen the Instagram picture or the Facebook post, Cole wrote a super sweet letter to Santa that was in the Salem Times (I just found out about it today, but the paper came out yesterday). Anyway, here's what it said:
"Dear Santa, Have you had a good day? I did! I already have everything I could wish for. Wish #1, wish #2: nothing. Cole"
OK, so the spelling might not have been that great in his version, but still - I was quite proud of him! And not for being in the paper, but for genuinely being appreciative for all of the wonderful things he already has. This, of course, is certainly not to take away from any other kids who have written letters asking for things - regardless of your opinions on it, it's pretty much the norm around this time of year. And hey, if they don't ask, how are we to know what they want (which is the conundrum I have now!)?
Anyway, his letter got me to thinking. I haven't really asked for anything this year either (although I guess I did come up with a few things), but more because I can't really think of anything I need that I couldn't just go get if I wanted it. Cole, on the other hand, has told me numerous times (gotta get those gift ideas!) and now written it in a letter to Santa (cheesy grin here), that he already has everything he could want. You see the heart difference there? It's truly amazing - and convicting. I'm frantically wracking my brain trying to think of something I don't have that I can tell people to get (in my defense, they're asking and won't accept no for an answer, but still), and my 6 YEAR OLD CHILD is saying he doesn't want anything because he's already been blessed enough to have everything his little heart could desire.
God, change my heart to be like Cole's!
Again, this is not to try to talk Cole up or brag about my kid (because we all know he is a little sinner for sure), but because it genuinely made me stop and reflect on the nature of my own heart and desires, and to recognize that I genuinely do have everything I could want, and even if I didn't, Christmas isn't about that anyway. I should have everything I could wish for because Christ was born to give me eternal life; even if I received nothing else, ever, this would and should be enough for me.
So, thank you Cole, for teaching Mommy a lesson, and thank You, Father, for giving me this sweet blessing in my little boy and for giving me the only present that matters - You.

Friday, December 12, 2014

'Tis the Season

Lights. Presents. Trees. Sales. So much is going on at this time of year. 'Tis the season, alright - the season for stress. I had a good reminder of this yesterday. I got overwhelmed thinking about everything I still needed to do - making presents, wrapping presents, buying presents, events to go to, etc., etc., etc. See where I'm going with this? I got so caught up in all of the things that go along with the season, that I had forgotten what the whole holiday is really about. Luckily, I have a wonderful mother-in-law who (very politely) basically told me to get it together and get my perspective right. Thank God for her! After much prayer, I realized that I had lost focus on Christ, the whole reason I celebrate Christmas in the first place. So, I've made a conscious choice, with God's help, to look at this differently.

I am so blessed to have so many people in my life to give gifts to. Friends, family, students (who still sort of fall in the friends category, too - love you girls!), teachers, mentors... Sure, the list does go on and on, and that can get stressful sometimes, but what a joy that God has blessed me with so many wonderful people surrounding me. I might not have to worry so much about making or shopping for gifts without them, but I would be much poorer if they weren't in my life.

I am blessed that God has given me the ability to be able to make gifts for those that I am doing that for. Any small talents any of us have come straight from God, not ourselves, so I have to thank Him for that.

I am blessed to have a job where I can financially afford to be able to purchase gifts for my family and friends. There are so many people out there that aren't able to do that, so what right do I have to complain that I don't have enough money to buy an over-abundance of gifts for the over-abundance of family and friends I have?

I am blessed that I have people in my life who want to invite to me to their gatherings, where they celebrate Christ's birth and His love for us, and enjoy being in fellowship with one another. Who cares if the calendar is packed? It just means I'm loved!

But most of all, I'm blessed that there is a Christmas season to celebrate. And I'm blessed that Christ loved me first, so that I could love Him in return and have a greater purpose in this season - to glorify Him rather than myself. I'm blessed that I am His, and nothing can change that.

So, when you're stressed out in this season, remember Who it's about and remember that you just need Jesus. Everything else is just fluff. If all the lights, trees, presents, gatherings, etc., were taken away, it wouldn't be any less Christmas, because that's not what it's about - it's about Christ. And though our nation seems to be trying sometimes, you can't take Christ out of Christmas. Hey, and guess what? Even if you're one of those people that thrives during this season, and you're not the slightest bit stressed out, you need Jesus, too.

If you have nothing under the tree and a meager dinner on the table, you need Jesus. If you have presents overflowing out the front door of your house and a pony in your backyard, you need Jesus.

If you don't have a family or friends to celebrate Christmas with, you need Jesus. If there are so many, you're having to send some to stay at a hotel because your house is already full, you need Jesus.

If you celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or nothing at all because none of it matters to you, you need Jesus. If you celebrate Christmas and don't believe in all of this "season's greetings" and "holiday tree" nonsense, you need Jesus.

If you're still lost in your sin, you need Jesus. If you're already a believer and recognize the beauty of this season comes not from the decorations, but from the Decorator, you still need Jesus.

Do you see where I'm going with this? No matter what, in every situation, we all need Jesus - and that's it. Nothing added to Him. Okay? Not good works, not your belief in some nebulous afterlife or reincarnation, not your belief that everyone goes to heaven no matter what, not your belief that you can save yourself or that you have your own deity inside of you, not your determined belief that there is nothing after death, not following every rule laid before you, not tolerance, not Allah, not Buddha, not a pantheon of false gods, none of that is what you need. All any of us needs is Jesus. And I don't care if that offends some people. Too bad - the truth is offensive sometimes, but it is no less the truth.

And we don't just need Jesus now, during a holiday that bears His name. We need Him each and every day. Why? Because we are lost without Him. We are hopeless without Him. We are dying without Him. We are sinners in desperate need of a Savior. And when I say desperate, that's not just a word that's used lightly, to add emphasis. No, I mean desperate like you just got dropped in the middle of the Sahara with no water, no food, both legs broken, AND you just got bitten by a venomous snake - that kind of desperate. Earth-shattering, painful, I'm-going-to-die-without-help desperate. Because without Someone to save us, we will die. As a matter of fact, we're already walking dead men (and not the kind from the TV show, either). What do you do? When you're that desperate, you obviously can't save yourself. I guarantee you've tried. Whether or not you believe in anything after death, you live by some sort of moral code, even if it's just your own. Why? What drives us to do this? Because we know there's something greater and bigger out there and we're compelled to reach for it, but we're always going to fall short of the mark. Our sin keeps us from perfection. And perfection is what is required by God. One seemingly insignificant infraction of the Law, and we're condemned - and I'm here to tell you, we're breaking the rules from birth! But how can something so tiny, one little broken rule, justify death? Because God is holy, perfectly holy. He is our Creator, and truth be told, He can demand anything He wants of us, and be perfectly justified in doing so. See, that's the thing about sin - it doesn't seem like that big of a deal to us, until we realize that it's not like we just did something wrong against another person who's just like us. It becomes a big deal when we fully grasp Who God is - perfectly holy, perfectly just, and perfectly SOVEREIGN. Sovereign. That means He has the right to rule, and He owns everything because He created it. He made it! It's His! So when we sin against Him, we're sinning against a being that we can't even fully comprehend the depths of. We're sinning against the very person who made us. You know how awful you feel after you've done something bad to your parents (and we've all done it, so don't act like you haven't)? Okay, it's that times infinity. So yes, one tiny infraction is enough to condemn you to eternal death and hell. And it's just and right - there's nothing you can do to rail against it, because it's right.

So what do you do? You can't save yourself, because you're already condemned, and it's not like there's any heavenly Get Out of Jail Free cards coming your way. You need Someone to save you. But that Someone can't just be anybody - He can't be like you, because then He'd be condemned, too. No, you need Somebody perfect, Somebody who hasn't sinned, Somebody more like God the Father than like you. And that's where Jesus comes in. On a night long ago, God the Father sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to be born in a manger, into hardship, into poverty, and He did it for <i>you</i>. That's the miracle of Christmas. That's the reason for the season. But why? How does His birth affect you?

Jesus willingly laid aside His glory, His place in Heaven at the right hand of His Father, to be born into nothing to save you. Because get this: since He's God (this is the mystery of the Trinity), He couldn't (and didn't) sin. He was able to live the perfect life, fully God still, but also fully man, that you and I cannot live. He maintained a record that was pure and spotless, unblemished by any taint of sin. Can you imagine? In the 33 years that He lived, not once did He sin - not against anyone else, and ultimately, since all sin is against God, not against God. And then, He willingly allowed Himself to be beaten, mocked, spat upon, flogged, have a crown of thorns pushed into His brow, nailed to a cross by His hands and feet, lifted high for all to see, suffer an agonizing, terrifying, brutal death, have His Father turn away from the sin that He bore upon the cross (not His own sin, but the sins of those who would believe on Him for salvation), and a spear thrust into His side - all to save you and me, if we will believe in Him. To save those of us who yet hated Him, even we who were not yet born, hated Him because we were already tainted by sin. Jesus died to save sinners.

He exchanged the ceaseless praise of the angels for the mocking cries of a bloodthirsty crowd. He exchanged unblemished, powerful hands for ones that would work hard as a carpenter before having nails driven through them. He exchanged a crown of gold for a crown of thorns. He exchanged a throne of glory for a cross of wood. He exchanged the ceaseless praise of the angels for the mocking cries of a bloodthirsty crowd. He exchanged the light and glory of Heaven for the darkness and sin of this world. And all for the love of those who yet hated Him. He exchanged everything He was worthy of, all the glory that was His due by right, to save me - a dirty, filthy sinner - so that, when I believe on His work on the cross as being sufficient for salvation, and I repent (turn away from my sin and turn to God), one day, when God looks on me, He will see not my works, but Christ's. Not my wickedness, but Christ's righteousness. He will see me, not deserving of death and eternal separation in Hell away from His presence, but as a precious daughter, a fellow heir with Christ.

And so this is the biggest blessing of the season, and where I needed to get my perspective back to. Because Christmas, and really every day, is not about the things that fill it, but about Who is filling it. It's about Who I'm living for. About the reason that I have life - my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.