Sister to Sister: Be Brave and Fear Him

You could name lots of enemies of a Christian’s boldness in our world today. One enemy is the overemphasis of tolerance. We’d rather be villains in almost any other category than to be labeled as intolerant or judgmental. (The most quoted and misapplied passage in this culture is Matthew 7:1.) So we stop speaking out about sin. We fear being ostracized. We fear confrontation. 

Another enemy of boldness to speak God’s truth is our busy-ness. Our schedules shout at us. Our commitments bulge in their time limitations. We simply over-commit and there is little time left to write letters to editors, show up at venues like gospel seminars or meetings that serve to inform and embolden, or take time to speak to individuals about the gospel.  We fill up our calendars and then allow them to control us. Their demands often make even the free moments of our lives full of anxiety or dread for the upcoming stress of deadlines and back-to-back responsibilities. They make us physically tired and weaken our spiritual stamina. We lose some of the will to do spiritual battle against wickedness in high places (Eph.6:12). It’s “wrestling”, as Paul put it, and we are too exhausted for that.

One more enemy is worldliness. This is a big one. We slowly become anesthetized, through entertainment choices, the news media, the public education system and governmental influences. We stop thinking very much about the societal departure from truth that is quickly becoming so complete. We start thinking like the world, instead of like the Lord. We are influenced, sometimes unknowingly, by pop culture’s psycho-babble and we become complacent—even ignorant—about the polar differences between the way God wants us to think and act and the accepted norms of society around us. 

Part of fearing him who is able to destroy body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28) is being wise to slow anesthetization by the culture. We simply cannot go to sleep in the devil’s gentle lull of  tolerance, busy-ness and the normalization of sin. See, ironically, those who fear are the brave. It’s those people who’ve developed a healthy fear of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell who are emboldened to stand against His lies in a culture of relativism.

Sister to Sister: Have You Been Anesthetized?

It’s really a daily challenge to be in this world and yet remain insulated from its spiritually destructive components. I cannot imagine going through a day without having to constantly remind myself of what conversations, media and relationships are appropriate for somebody who’s following Jesus and what Philippians 4:8 would filter out for me. I want His word to always be the filter in the nitty-gritty decisions of everyday living. I think sometimes it’s easy for me to say the big things like “I would give my life for Christ,” or “My favorite book is the Bible” or “Growing in Christ is my number one goal,” but it’s the all-day-long difficult and specific choices that make or break my big easily stated commitments.I don’t call into question the sincerity of somebody whose little choices don’t reflect the big professions of life. Sometimes I think we really do mean the big commitment statements found on our profiles on facebook. It’s just that the inconsistencies in the little decisions don’t sting because we’ve become environmentally and culturally anesthetized. What should really hurt us as His people doesn’t hurt at all because we’re breathing the fumes of the society in which we live. Once I accidentally made a pretty huge gash in my left hand; lots of blood and nausea, an eventual scar and a pain that was wretched. On another occasion a doctor made a similar gash in my foot to remove a piece of glass; lots of blood, a similar scar, but absolutely no pain. The difference was, of course, the presence of the anesthetic.

So how is it that we can sing “I am mine no more, I’ve been bought with blood,’ or “Purer in heart O God, help me to be,” or ” I surrender all” or “Lord take control,” and yet fail to even feel the sting of the destructive media influences that are in direct opposition to the themes we’ve stated for our lives? I think we just don’t feel the pain that should accompany spiritual wounds because we are anesthetized by the culture in which we live. As the world becomes more and more ungodly, we are lulled into a kind of comfortable moral drowsiness that makes us unaware of the effects of the tools in the hands of the devil. We find ourselves laughing at all kinds of wickedness as it is digitally welcomed into our living rooms, bedrooms and dorm rooms. We can listen to vulgarity and profanity and hardly be aware we’ve heard them even as they work to erode the values that we’ve professed all along. Pretty soon we start thinking through our days about the drama or the hilarity of some episode that really was pretty far removed from the “I want to grow in Christ” thesis through which we intended to filter our choices. We start talking about things that are in the Galatians 5:19-21 list with the same nonchalant tone with which we would talk about the weather. Without even really thinking about it, we spend more time concentrating on the works of the flesh as portrayed by Hollywood than we do in Bible study or prayer. Pretty soon, the gap between what we profess and our practical focus is a chasm.Perhaps we find that in our entertainment choices, we sometimes “rejoice in iniquity.” Perhaps we even encourage others to violate their consciences by encouraging them to love what God would identify as abomination. In short, we’ve just become numb to the sorrow we should feel as his children at the presence of sin in our media choices. The devil wants to devour us and he is much more successful when we start failing to feel the pain of the lion’s tenons and teeth.

It’s been helpful for me to constantly remember and repeat the phrase “Entertainment is optional.” Being “optional” means it’s not a requirement for life. It means it’s not absolutely necessary. In fact, retaining entertainment in my life is probably less necessary than retaining my limbs or my eyesight. But Jesus said if your eye or your hand offends you, just get rid of it rather than allowing it to cause the loss of your soul. I can go to heaven without ever turning on the television, but I can’t go to heaven if I’m not “abstaining from the very appearance of evil” (I Thess.5:22).

Matthew 6:33 is not too difficult to understand when it comes to this abstinence from the appearance of evil. It’s not hard to understand when I try to conform my thoughts to Philippians 4:8. Where it gets hard is not in my ability to comprehend its meaning. It means when I have choices in optional matters I am going to make sure my allegiance is first to His kingdom and righteousness. Where it gets hard is in my willingness to apply it all day long. It’s difficult while I am watching the episode to stop and ask, “Am I seeking righteousness when I put this stuff into my head?” It’s difficult to just pick up the remote and say “I choose to seek first His righteousness.”

So many times, I can look back and know full well that a particular decision was completely out of alignment with the BIG profession I have made for my life. Those times are my biggest regrets. I want to adjust the practical part of my Christianity, because Christ can’t remain in my heart if He’s not affecting my agenda, dominating my calendar, making my choices, and shaping my plans. The remote should be controlled by Him.

“Awake. O sleeper, and arise from the dead and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph. 5:14)…”We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” (I Thess.5:5,6) . Let’s get out from under the power of the anesthesia and into a well-lit recovery room!

Sister to Sister: Can We Go to the Playground?

 

I smiled at  a recent conversation between my two-and-a-half-year-old grandson and his mother:

Ezra: “Can we go to the playground today?”

Ezra’s mom: “No…not today, baby.”

Ezra: “Can we go to the playground?” 

Ezra’s mom: “I said ‘Not today,’ Ezra.”

Ezra: “I’m going to give you oooone more chance, Mama. I said ‘Can we go to the playground?’”

Ezra’s mom: “Ezra, Mama and Daddy are the only ones who can say  ‘one more chance’”.

Ezra: “Oh…Well…Can we go to the playground?”

We do this sometimes with God. We wish for things and sometimes we even ask for things that we know are against His expressed will. He has already told us we cannot go to that playground, but we keep insisting that going there is what we desire, as if we are not listening to him at all. Sometimes we ask for material things, knowing all along that we already are much too obsessed with riches. We ask for promotions to other cities, not minding the fact that there are no faithful churches or Christian encouragers there. We ask for success on the corporate ladder without ever giving a thought to the stairway to heaven. This can also be described as the Balaam syndrome. (Read Numbers 22-24). 

Then we give God “another chance” sometimes. We act as if we are in control. We build our own little towers of Babel (Genesis 11) and begin to actually think we can make our own rules of philosophy and morality. We discount His absolute truth in favor of our relativism. We dismiss His power and talk about how we can save the planet. We even decide we can define things like life’s beginning point and marriage and even gender. We just kind of tell God that we’ll give Him another chance to get it right. 

James said it this way: 

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God (James 4:4).

All of our misguided ambitions and repeated pleas for things outside His will make  us His enemies and, ultimately separate us from Him eternally.

James also gives us the direct route to true success. It’s friendship with God. It’s spelled out in verses six through ten of the same chapter:

But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.


 

 

 

Christ Over Color–(Part 2): When the World Got into the Church

It’s hard for a patriot to look back at her country’s history and see the dark days when sinful practices were legitimized, both in the legal processes of the nation and in the minds of those who governed. I am, for instance, while thankful that Providence allowed for the founding of our great nation, aware that the revolt against British government in the late 1700s, no matter how tyrannical and unfair that government, was a movement that Christians could not support, according to Romans 13.

Certainly, the dark history of slavery is another painful era for Christians to contemplate. While the Bible does not specifically condemn slavery, certainly the kind of forced slavery that occurred in our nation’s history is implicitly condemned by multiple principles and passages beginning with the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12. There is simply no justification for the national sin that continued from prior to the birth of our country until the latter part of the nineteenth century. Much time could be spent on American slavery’s atrocities and the huge and multi-generational negative ramifications in our society. But that is not within the purview of this post.

One of those lasting ramifications was the culture of segregation that persisted for much of the twentieth century. The U.S. military was legally segregated, as was the public education system, as well as many public and private community and social facilities all over our nation. This was particularly true in the South.  At first, of course, it was a legal separation mandated by the Jim Crow laws, giving African Americans a “separate but equal” status in southern society. Let me once again emphasize that Christians—people who are called to adhere to the principles of the Word of God—have to constantly examine the culture around us and reject the ideas of culture that are sinful (Romans 12:1,2).

Sadly, there’s considerable evidence that the prevalent societal norm during the early to mid-twentieth century was far too influential in the thinking of many Christians. When I read statements such as the following, from men who were powerful and prominent preachers among us, I  can hardly believe it. The devil must have been very happy when he could succeed in getting men who were loudly proclaiming the gospel to make statements such as these:

…From a well-known preacher in the Bible Banner:

Reliable brethren in the Valley have reported the definite inclinations of the negro man and his wife in charge of the orphan home for colored children at Combes toward social equality. They are supposed to be members of the church, and some of the white brethren are apparently encouraging them. It is said that these two negroes have privately stated that they favor social equality and are working for it. The young editor of “Christian Soldier,” in the valley, admits that he roomed with the negro preacher, R. N. Hogan, and slept in the same bed with him two nights! And he seemed to be proud of it! Aside from being an infringement on the Jim Crow law, it is a violation of Christianity itself, and of all common decency. Such conduct forfeits the respect of right-thinking people, and would be calculated to stir up demonstrations in most any community if it should become generally known.”

…Another excerpt:

When (well-known preacher) held the valley-wide meeting at Harlingen, Texas, some misguided brethren brought a group of negroes up to the front to be introduced to and shake hands with him. Brother (preacher) told them publicly that he could see all of the colored brethren he cared to see on the outside after services, and that he could say everything to them that he wanted to say without the formality of shaking hands. I think he was right. He told of a prominent brother in the church who went wild over the negroes and showed them such social courtesies that one day one of the negroes asked him if he might marry his daughter. That gave the brother a jolt and he changed his attitude!”

I could include other quotations. It is a painful process to read and print such. I confess that the above quotations from men who preached the gospel in the 1940s were, to me, shocking and disturbing. How could these men, who studied their Bibles diligently, be so very calloused and hardened to the teachings that permeate its pages, from the golden rule of Matthew 7:12 to the treatise of James in chapter two?  Where was the disconnect?

I believe it was in the same place as it so often is today. We, without even recognizing its power, allow the thinking of society around us, to affect our own thinking and the result is that our words and actions are corrupted by the world.

The lesson for me is obvious. It is a parenthetical lesson as we travel through a study of race relations, but it is still important: May I never get comfortable accepting the ideas of the world around me without carefully and honestly scrutinizing them in the light of the Word. This has got to be true for me even in examining legal mandates. It must be true for me even with reference to the ideology of the leaders of society or the community’s respected voices. It must be true for me when examining messages from the pulpit. I am, at all times and in all ways, accountable to the Word. It is the Word that must guide me in matters of race relations and indeed, in all relations. If men who spent many hours weekly in the Word could be so affected by the world, surely I must  constantly be on guard, to be sure my mind is constantly being renewed by the Word (Romans 12:2).

Next Time: Lingering Fears in the 2017 Church

 

Sister to Sister: Give Him the Remote

It’s a daily challenge to be in this world and yet remain insulated from its spiritually destructive components. I cannot imagine going through a day without having to constantly remind myself of what conversations, media and relationships are appropriate for somebody who’s following Jesus and what Philippians 4:8 would filter out for me. I want His word to always be the filter in the nitty-gritty decisions of everyday living. I think sometimes it’s easy for me to say the big things like “I would give my life for Christ,” or “My favorite book is the Bible” or “Growing in Christ is my number one goal,” but it’s the all-day-long difficult and specific choices that make or break my big easily stated commitments.I don’t call into question the sincerity of somebody whose little choices don’t reflect the big professions of life. Sometimes I think we really do mean the big commitment statements found on our profiles on facebook. It’s just that the inconsistencies in the little decisions don’t sting because we’ve become environmentally and culturally anesthetized. What should really hurt us as His people doesn’t hurt at all because we’re breathing the fumes of the society in which we live. Once I accidentally made a pretty huge gash in my left hand; lots of blood and nausea, an eventual scar and a pain that was wretched.On another occasion a doctor made a similar gash in my foot to remove a piece of glass; lots of blood, a similar scar, but absolutely no pain. The difference was, of course, the presence of the anesthetic.

So how is it that we can sing “I am mine no more, I’ve been bought with blood,’ or “Purer in heart O God, help me to be,” or ” I surrender all” or “Lord take control,” and yet fail to even feel the sting of the destructive media influences that are in direct opposition to the themes we’ve stated for our lives? I think we just don’t feel the pain that should accompany spiritual wounds because we are anesthetized by the culture in which we live. As the world becomes more and more ungodly, we are lulled into a kind of comfortable moral drowsiness that makes us unaware of the effects of the tools in the hands of the devil. We find ourselves laughing at all kinds of wickedness as it is digitally welcomed into our living rooms, bedrooms and dorm rooms. We can listen to vulgarity and profanity and hardly be aware we’ve heard them even as they work to erode the values that we’ve professed all along. Pretty soon we start thinking through our days about the drama or the hilarity of some episode that really was pretty far removed from the “I want to grow in Christ” thesis through which we intended to filter our choices. We start talking about things that are in the Galatians 5:19-21 list with the same nonchalant tone with which we would talk about the weather.Without even really thinking about it, we spend more time concentrating on the works of the flesh as portrayed by Hollywood than we do in Bible study or prayer. Pretty soon, the gap between what we profess and our practical focus is a chasm.Perhaps we find that in our entertainment choices, we sometimes “rejoice in iniquity.” Perhaps we even encourage others to violate their consciences by encouraging them to love what God would identify as abomination. In short, we’ve just become numb to the sorrow we should feel as his children at the presence of sin in our media choices. The devil wants to devour us and he is much more successful when we start failing to feel the pain of the lion’s tenons and teeth.

It’s been helpful for me to constantly remember and repeat the phrase “Entertainment is optional.” Being “optional” means it’s not a requirement for life. It means it’s not absolutely necessary. In fact retaining entertainment in my life is probably less necessary than retaining my limbs or my eyesight. But Jesus said if your eye or your hand offends you, just get rid of it rather than allowing it to cause the loss of your soul. I can go to heaven without ever turning on the television, but I can’t go to heaven if I’m not “abstaining from the very appearance of evil.” (I Thess.5:22)

Matthew 6: 33 is not too difficult to understand when it comes to this abstinence from the appearance of evil. It’s not hard to understand when I try to conform my thoughts to Philippians 4:8. Where it gets hard is not in my ability to comprehend its meaning. It means when I have choices in optional matters I am going to make sure my allegiance is first to His kingdom and righteousness. Where it gets hard is in my willingness to apply it all day long. It’s difficult while I am watching the episode to stop and ask, “Am I seeking righteousness when I put this stuff into my head?” It’s difficult to just pick up the remote and say “I choose to seek first His righteousness.”

So many times, I can look back and know full well that a particular decision was completely out of alignment with the BIG profession I have made for my life. Those times are my biggest regrets. I want to adjust the practical part of my Christianity, because Christ can’t remain in my heart if He’s not affecting my agenda, dominating my calendar, making my choices, and shaping my plans. The remote should be controlled by Him.

 

Recipe Catch-Up! [Read more…]

Plastic Snowmen

Getting in my two miles in the morning is a contemplative exercise. Yesterday I kept noticing the signs of winter and Christmas and snow. My neighbors have been busy decking the halls. But the snowman in the yard seemed to be wearing a forlorn kind of store-bought smile sitting there in the pile of musty brown leaves. I heard music as I passed Mrs. Jones’ house and it was hard to tell if it was a cd of “Silver Bells” playing through the bedroom window or the stirring of the wind chimes in the autumn breeze. And my own wooden snowman hanging beside my kitchen door was snuggled in his festive green woolen scarf…but it was at least sixty degrees out there and, with weights on my ankles and two miles behind me, I was burning up in my shirt sleeves. Walking in the house to my own music blaring about the fire being so delightful, I looked over at the Keurig and all the ciders and chais and cocoas…and then opened the refrigerator and grabbed an ice cold bottle of water. It was an exercise in irony.

Sometimes, we as women let our lives get a little mixed up like that. It’s the December of our lives. We’re getting wrinkles and gray hair, love handles and age spots. But inside we feel like we’re thirty, so we pretend it’s July and get highlights and buy concealers and start shopping for Spanx products. Though these things are not wrong in themselves, the finished picture is often a little like the snowman sitting in the pile of leaves. Sometimes we don’t look (or feel) very real.

Why do we spend our childhoods wanting to be adults and then spend the majority of the adult years willing ourselves in the other direction? While perhaps, in part, it’s our yield to human nature, I believe, for Christian women, it’s often a yield to the desires of the flesh. The allure of outward beauty and all of its attendant pursuits is glamorized in the media and in our peer groups. It’s on every aisle at WalMart. It’s in your pantry and in your cosmetic case. If your daughter is beyond the age of four, it’s invading every part of her world. And it is just so very oppositional to God’s definition of true beauty.

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised, (Proverbs 31:30).

I wish I could tell you that there are some easy answers–some shortcuts– to being more about the Spirit and less about the flesh. I wish there was a pill I could take to hone my will; to anesthetize me to what the world thinks is important and fertilize my heart for the cultivation of the fruits of the Spirit. But, alas, the Spirit has revealed the mind of Christ through the Word of God (I Cor. 2:16). It’s only by getting into the Word, regularly and diligently, that I can dilute the fierce delusion that there’s great honor in outward beauty. The Word of God is the anecdote to depression about wrinkles and arthritis. The Word of God is the secret to eternal youth for the most important part of you and me. Hear it:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (II Cor. 4:16-18)

If you’re about a great physique, toned muscles, great skin and all of the trappings of the flesh, your dreams will abruptly come to a halt, for all flesh will die just like the brown grass under the store-bought snowman (I Peter 1:24). But if you’re about love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, meekness, faith and temperance, then you’re all about what the years can never take from you. You are about the Spirit. In fact the very next verse after this list of fruits say you have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24). That intense desire to maintain the standards of beauty that characterize the world is already dead. You already nailed that woman to the cross of Jesus. Let’s be sure she’s dead. If she, like Scrooge said, “is dead as a door nail,” then you can be free from the insufferable quest for youth and beauty. You can enjoy July when it’s July and you can feel just as spiritually exuberant when it’s December and the joints start to ache a little. In fact, when your knees pop or your neck disappears (or worse), you can actually rejoice a little because you know that you’re getting closer to the incorruptible never-grow-old body that the Lord will give the righteous.

For some of my friends who read this blog, it’s April. Be patient. Enjoy April’s blessings of godly friends, parental guidance. Spend time in prayer. Read the Bible and other great books to help you prepare for your amazing adventure with God. Spend less time watching television and more time getting to know elderly people. The’ll be gone soon. Stop looking at your phone all the time and look into the eyes of your parents, if you are blessed to have them around. Ask them for advice and heed it. God’s preparing an unbelievable life for you. There’s a Christian man somewhere, in all likelihood, who is getting himself ready for someone just like you. And, when it’s May or June, he will come and find you and, in God’s perfect time you will move to the beautifully hectic summer of life.

If you are in the summer already and those babies are tugging at the strings of your apron and your heart, bask in this summertime. Treasure every fleeting day. Know that, where you are living, summer is the shortest season. Fill those babies with the Word. Love your husband passionately and protectively. Stop wondering what life is like on the outside and start wondering at what He’s doing with it right within the walls of your house. You are right now, multiplying your potential for the Spirit through those little lives you influence. Live in this moment!

If you are in the autumn, like I am, find the beauty in the changes. You are wondering, “How did I get to be fifty, all of a sudden?…What are these spots popping up on my hand and did that doctor just say ‘arthritis’?” If you’ve done your child-rearing job already, you know you are excited about those grandchildren. You are going to watch the exponent factor of the grace of God at work as your family grows. How fun! If things didn’t go as well as you now wish they had, see those grandchildren as the challenge of your lifetime. Make it your mission to put the Lord in their hearts and pray fervently that you may reach their parents through the seed you are planting in those babies. Love your husband if you are blessed to have him still and fill the empty nest with the bustle that evangelism inevitably brings…a bustle of hospitality and benevolence. Stay in the Word.

If you are in the winter, may I say once more…”Stay in the Word.” I have friends who can no longer see the print, so they listen to the Word on cd. I have friends who can no longer hear, so they spend hours in the written Word. I have friends who evangelize at the retirement home and I have friends who spend many hours grading correspondence courses for Bible students in foreign lands. My winter friends are the best card senders and some of them are the best cooks for the sick. Many are amazing bread bakers for our visitor’s basket in the foyer and some are the most amazing greeters and huggers in the church. I think they are practicing for the amazing reunion they are awaiting where age will no longer be a limiting factor. They truly live as if they are closer to a great destination. They spend time in prayer and praise for the journey they will soon be taking.

Wherever you are, be there…and be real.