12/30/09

Are You Setting Up for Success?

I’m not into resolutions anymore—unless they are life resolutions or commitments—because I function better with simple daily choices to glorify God and embrace His adventure for my life. But I’m big into mottoes for the New Year.

A motto is a positive, challenging, yet simple phrase we live by—with a constant reminder to check for progress. My motto for the New Year is: “Think Thin & Go for the Win in 2010!” I’m determined that this is the year I’ll slim down through healthy eating choices and regular exercise. It’s going to take steady, daily discipline. I also want to live like a winner in every area of life. It is one thing to know that we have victory in Christ and need fear no one but God. It’s quite another to live out that truth day after day (especially if one is naturally timid, like me).

So, along with my motto, I have two character traits to pursue in 2010. My traits for last year were “Joy” and “Courage,” and I can truly see the effects of focusing on those words throughout 2009. My words for 2010 are “Perseverance” and “Victory”! I plan to study these character traits, memorize scriptures concerning them (related to my motto), and make practical applications as often as I can. I already have two scriptures in mind to get started: “So we must not get tired of doing good...” (Perseverance, Gal. 6:9, HCSB); and “…whatever has been born of God conquers the world...” (Victory, 1 John 5:4, HCSB).

I envision lifting my arms to God in praise every day for the victory that is mine in Jesus!

It is common to set goals and create calendars to work through the months ahead, but it takes more than a few New Year’s resolutions and business tools to set up for and achieve success. It takes a workable plan, commitment, and discipline. I like this definition of success: “God’s measure of success involves our obedience and faithfulness to Him, regardless of opposition and personal cost.”

It’s a fresh year with new challenges and opportunities. I encourage you to create your own motto for 2010, and then choose dynamic character traits to pursue that will help you please God and achieve His goals for your life.

For more New Year’s wisdom, see “Before We Look Ahead” and “Colorful Goals.”

12/23/09

'I Heard the Bells'

We don’t hear Christmas bells often anymore—especially in California! But some of the fond memories of my childhood were the peeling of church bells in the Midwest, especially during this wondrous time of year. The bells called us to church, and they filled our hearts with joy. They reminded us of the power of Christmas carols to point us heavenward when overwhelmed by earthly struggles.

The text of one old carol by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow still have meaning for our day.

“I heard the bells on Christmas day,” Longfellow wrote, “their old familiar carols play.” We are so familiar with Christmas carols. We’ve sung them since childhood, and perhaps it’s easy to recite them mindlessly and lose their truth. But his words struck a tone in my heart this year. “And in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said. ‘For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men.”

How about you? As you look around at the economic upheaval, broken relationships, crime, corruption, and wars everywhere—is your heart at peace? Or does despair and hopelessness color your days? Where is the answer for times like these?

Verse four of Longfellow’s song offers the reason for our hope: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.” Christians know that God reigns; He is in control (1 Chron. 29:11-13; Psalm 47:7-8; 115:3; Is. 46:9-11). Beyond these days of despair there is coming a day of true, lasting peace, because the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6) will return (John 14:1-4; 1 Thess. 4:16-17) and His righteous rule will change everything. Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent Reigns! (Rev. 19:6b)

Have you heard the bells of hope, anticipating His return? I wish for you God’s true peace in the days ahead.

12/16/09

Beyond 'Ho, Ho, Ho'

One of the delightful sounds of the season in secular Christmas is jolly St. Nick’s “Ho, Ho, Ho.” Wikipedia says Canada Post uses the characters HOH OHO as part of the postal code for letters to be sent to Santa. The corpulent Santa’s "Ho, Ho, Ho" sometimes frightens small children — and a kindler, gentler "Ha, Ha, Ha" has been recommended — but the loud "belly laugh" always makes me smile. (Others laugh with a "Ho, Ho, Ho," including the Jolly Green Giant and Jabba the Hutt. But I digress.)

The laughter of the Christmas season isn’t relegated only to red-suited Santas. The joy of children on Christmas morning and the laughter that accompanies Christmas caroling are just two of the many opportunities for side-splitting laughter. And why not laugh? Doesn’t this holiday celebrate the most joyous day of the year? The Savior was born!

All of nature groans under the curse and burden of sin, but on that hallowed night, true joy was born into the world. One of our carols, “Joy to the World,” encourages rejoicing with the words, “Let heaven and nature sing.” Because of Jesus’ birth, hope for joy entered the world. Jesus came “to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

How can we know that joy and blessing? The first line of “Joy to the World” tells us: “Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room.” It’s a choice. We either prepare a place in our hearts for the King of Kings, or like the innkeeper in Luke 2:7, we say there is no room. He wants to dwell in our hearts, but also to change them. I pray that you know Jesus; and if you do, that you will always give Him free access to your heart.

If you do not know the Savior, these scriptures will help you understand who Jesus is, why He came, and how you can receive His free gift of salvation:
• Man’s Problem is separation from God, because man is sinful, and God is holy (Isaiah 59:2; Habakkuk 1:13a; Romans 3:23).
• Man deserves spiritual death, which is not only separation from God now, but separation forever in hell (Ephesians 2:1; Romans 6:23).
• God desires to give us eternal life with Him in heaven (John 17:3).
• Our good works are not sufficient to bring us into a right relationship with God (Romans 3:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7; Romans 4:4-5).
• God demonstrated His love through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus, on our behalf (Acts 16:31; Romans 4:25; 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 3:12; 1 Peter 3:18).
• We must receive God’s Son, Jesus, to receive eternal life (John 1:12; John 3:16-18, 36). God adopts us into His family (1 John 3:1-3; John 1:12; Ephesians 1:3-8; Galatians 4:6-7; Romans 8:17)

Evangelist John R. Rice once said, " You can never truly enjoy Christmas until you can look up into the Father's face and tell him you have received His Christmas gift." I hope you have.

If you have any questions, I’d love to help you find joy in Jesus that lasts eternally longer than a simple HO, HO, HO.

12/9/09

Seven Ways to Deal with Difficult People

I took a deep breath and whispered a prayer. “Melinda” (not her real name) was at it again, and I didn’t like it. A controller who enjoyed deflating my enthusiasm, Melinda was one person I started to avoid. But I knew God wanted me to be “Jesus with skin on” to her, and I couldn’t do that if I kept running away. I had to figure out how to deal with my “difficult” friend.

We all have them—difficult people, irregular people, people who rub us the wrong way. Some, like Melinda, are controllers. Others are chronic complainers, nit-picking perfectionists, backbiters, self-absorbed, or easily angered. Maybe we struggle with them on the job, in marriage, or even in the church. (And to someone, we may be a difficult person!)

God’s love moving through us can overcome many barriers. Our goal is not to change our difficult person, because God is the One who changes hearts. But we can study the person so we can relate better, and we can learn how to respond biblically—giving God more room to work.

I want to share some things God is teaching me. Perhaps they will help you, too.

(1) Pray. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies, so certainly we can pray for the one who rubs us the wrong way (Matt. 5:44-45).
(2) Relax. You can’t please everyone, and neither can anyone else—so give people space and grace! Learn to lean on God for understanding and guidance (Prov. 3:5-6). [Don’t think you’re the only one dealing with difficult people. Even Jesus had to learn to deal with them.]
(3) Allow people to be different. Choose to see beyond the negatives, because every negative trait has a correlating positive trait. (For example, a nit-picking perfectionist, controlled by God, would be a helpful detail person to keep a ministry running!) Look for people’s gifts, and try to see them from God’s perspective (1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12:3-8; Eph. 4:11-13; 1 Pet. 4:8-10).
(4) Speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Watch your heart motivation. (Sometimes, it’s better to be silent and allow God to work. Pray for discernment.) But especially with controllers and manipulators, truth with love helps them see you as a real person.
(5) Give your expectations to God. If your expectations are in people, you set yourself up for disappointment (Prov. 13:12a). People will fail us; God never will.
(6) Remember that you are accountable to God (2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 4:13). Sometimes Satan uses difficult people to rile us; but God wants us to respond biblically, regardless. Difficult people might also be God’s tool to shave off our rough edges or areas of pride.
(7) Keep a tender heart. Be quick to forgive (Matt. 6:14-15) and quick to ask for forgiveness. Don’t retaliate (Matt. 5:38-39).

God can do miracles when we choose to respond according to His Word, so don’t give up too soon!

12/2/09

A Better Focus on Prophecy

I write for a prophecy ministry, so my head and heart are fine-tuned to world events that point to the End Times. I love the predictions and prophecies of the Bible. It is a love instilled in me from youth by my mother, Patricia, who shared the truths she heard from great prophecy preachers in the past. But lately, though I still study the signs of Christ’s coming and other End Times themes, there is a subtle nudge in my spirit that there might be a better focus for my time.

I believe the Holy Spirit is reminding me that if I’m truly looking forward to Christ’s coming, I need to “stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model” for my own (1 John 3:1-3, the Message). The Bible says there is a special crown for those who “love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). If we love the soon-appearing of our Lord, we’ll continue to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith (4:7).

But what if we don’t love His appearing? How do we change our hearts? We love Jesus’ appearing more and more as we fall in love with Him (1 John 4:19), abide in His loving presence (John 15:9), and obey Him (John 14:23).

My husband leaves for weeks of ministry in foreign countries, and I miss him because I love him. It’s not really any different with Jesus—only magnified beyond our ability to express it. The more we know our beloved heavenly Bridegroom, the more we miss Him and long for his return.

When I was younger and immature in my faith, I prayed that God would delay His return and allow me to get married, to have children, to do so many things. Later, He did a work of grace in my heart, and today, though I’m sometimes distracted by the baubles and pursuits of earth, there’s really not anything else I long for in life. I’ve realized that I’m just passing through a short space of time, and nothing will last except my relationship with the Lord. I just want Him—I want to see Jesus! I want Him to snatch me up into His presence in heaven. The Bible tells me He will, and I believe it will be soon (1 Thess. 4:16-18).

The disciples knew Jesus in a precious, intimate relationship. They spoke often of their love for Him. Paul and James encouraged believers to keep working hard for Christ, and to establish and purify their lives until His return (1 Thess. 4:12-13; Titus 2:12-13; James 5:8). We don’t know when Jesus will return for His Bride. Even Jesus, while on earth, did not know the exact time when that would occur (Matt. 24:35-36). But the promise of His coming is powerful—an encouragement, comfort, and incentive toward holiness and faithful service.

It’s not hard to imagine the Apostle John, saying, “Yes! Come, Master Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20 The Message). That’s my prayer, too.

See: "Anticipation," a Christmas message that focuses on the return of the Lord.

11/25/09

How to Create a Harvest of Thanks

Generosity yields greater thanksgiving. Paul told the saints in the Corinthian church, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us, your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (in 2 Corinthians 9:11). In other words, as you are generous, God will bless, and then you can be even more generous, and as you continue to give, people will start thanking God for your generosity.

Paul went on to say, in verse 12, “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people, but it is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.”

Your generosity—whether financial, social relief work, the gift of our time, supplying of needs, etc.—can result in abundant, joyful cries of “Thank you, God!” Isn’t that what we want? We talk about giving thanks to God for who He is, what He has done, and what He has given us, but this is another way to create a bountiful harvest of thanksgiving. We plant seeds of generosity! The resulting harvest is a triple blessing. We are blessed in the giving, the recipient is blessed, and God is the ultimate One receiving the blessing of gratitude.

In 2 Corinthians 9:7 we learn that God loves a “cheerful giver” (rather than one who gives out of duty). We can develop a greater spirit of cheerful giving as we realize that the end product is an explosion of praise and thanksgiving to God. We know that God, who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will continue to supply and increase our resources and enlarge the harvest of our righteous acts (2 Cor. 9:10).

This Thanksgiving—and all the year through—make the powerful choice to bless others with your generosity. Then watch for the sprouting harvest!


More Thanksgiving! Read "Priming the Pump."

11/18/09

Ripping Out the Truth

Don’t like a Bible passage? Just rip it out! That seems to be the mindset of some. Most anti-Bible folks just rip the thoughts of God or His “rules” from their minds; but some take it a step further. In fact, Lord of the Rings star Ian McKellan says he routinely tears out the Bible page with Leviticus 18:22 when he finds a copy of the scriptures in his hotel room, apparently attempting to make the scriptures more gay-friendly. The passage condemns homosexuality, saying, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” (NIV). The Contemporary English Version says it plainly: “It is disgusting for a man to have sex with another man.”

According to Popeater.ca (Canada) and reported in Prophecy News Watch (Nov. 6), the openly homosexual McKellen asserted in an interview with Details magazine that his actions have inspired others to follow his example. “I got delivered a package of 40 of those pages that had been torn out by a married couple I know,” he said. They put them on a bit of string so that I could hang it up in the bathroom.”

Not only is McKellan defacing property that doesn’t belong to him, he is badly mistaken if he believes that the ripped out pages change one smidgen of God’s Word. Matthew 24:35 tells us that God’s words will never pass away. Paul says we are not to pervert the gospel (Galatians 1:6-9) and John, in Revelation 22:18-19, said we are not to add to or take away from the scriptures.

I don’t know whether McKellan claims to be a believer, but he sounds like a “natural” man. In the Amplified Bible, 1 Corinthians 2:14 describes the natural man: “But the natural, nonspiritual man does not accept or welcome or admit into his heart the gifts and teachings and revelations of the Spirit of God, for they are folly (meaningless nonsense) to him; and he is incapable of knowing them [of progressively recognizing, understanding, and becoming better acquainted with them] because they are spiritually discerned and estimated and appreciated.”

McKellan says he is “not proudly defacing the book,” because his choice was “between removing that page and throwing away the whole Bible.” It seems a better choice would be to heed the Word of God!


What would you tell Sir McKellan, if God gave you an opportunity to share the truth of scripture?

Want to read more? "Exposing the Devil's Work" (on Christian worldview), or "Lorem Ipsum" (on biblical discernment)

11/11/09

7 Questions to Examine Entertainment Biblically

Evaluating our entertainment involves a lot more than the simple movie and television rating systems or family-friendly book, magazine, and music guides. It’s not simply a question of “too much violence,” “too much bad language,” or “too much sex”—although those certainly are good places to start!

Christians must use biblical principles to evaluate and discern the worth of entertainment. We are called to a higher standard than the world uses. A higher standard doesn’t mean we have a “holier than thou” attitude, but it does mean we are called to holiness, integrity, and good character. Believe me, I struggle with this as much as anyone, and I sometimes fail in my “free time” choices. I’m not calling for legalism, but for honest evaluation. I know that I do better when I ask myself the following questions—and I offer them for your consideration.

1. Will this make me more or less sensitive to the things of God?
God does not want me to conform to the world, but to be transformed; and that is hard to do if I call evil “good.” (Rom. 12:2; Isa. 5:20)
2. Will this help me glorify God and grow spiritually?
Will it help me “walk worthy” of the Lord, fully pleasing Him? Will this dishonor God in any way? (Col. 1:10; 1 Cor. 10:31-32a)
3. Is this pure, healthy, wise input?
I must be careful what I allow into my mind and view with my eyes. Wisdom avoids even the appearance of evil. (Phil. 4:8; Ps. 101:3; 1 Thess. 5:21-22).
4. Will this change my worldview?
I will eventually become what I think about. God wants me to have a strong biblical perspective, not a worldly, ungodly, or self-absorbed mindset. (Prov. 23:7a)
5. Am I using my resources wisely and well?
I say, “I am not my own; I am bought with a price,” but do I live like that is true? God gives me a brain to think and plan, but I need to pray about my choices, because Jesus is my Lord. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
6. Is this a good use of my time?
There’s nothing wrong with relaxation and wholesome recreation—in fact, I need that—but God wants me to be careful with how I use my down-time. (Eph. 5:16)
7. Do I understand that I am accountable to God?
(2 Cor. 5:10; Phil. 1:10) And others may be watching—will this cause someone else to stumble into sin?

The choices we make about our entertainment have consequences. I’m grateful for God’s forgiveness when I choose poorly, but I want to become more sensitive to His leading, not less. Don’t you? May we guard our eyes and thoughts as we ask tough questions and build stronger safeguards into our lives (Prov. 4:23; 1 Peter 5:8).

For more help in making wise choices, see "Seven Cs for Making Wise Choices," "Reasons, Not Excuses," and "Not Choosing Blindly."

11/4/09

God Is Sovereign ... So Why Pray?

A friend told me recently, “Ok, I’ll pray, but I’m not sure why. God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do.” Her words made me think (and study)!

I have no problem believing that God is sovereign. All things are under His rule and control. Nothing can happen without His direction or permission, and nothing takes Him by surprise. I believe this, because the scriptures are clear (Ps. 115:3; 135:6). God decides what He will do, and then He does it.

God is sovereign because it is part of who He is, but He also is sovereign in practice. God does or accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11). We might make plans, but God’s counsel still stands (Prov. 19:21; 2 Kings 19:25; Dan. 4:35); and there is nothing that can thwart His will (Isa. 46:11b).

So if God is sovereign, why should we bother to pray?
(1) We pray because God instructed us to pray; it is His will that we come to Him with our praise, requests, and intercession. Jesus taught His disciples to pray (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-8; 22:40); and the apostles taught the early Church to pray (Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2; Eph. 6:18-19a; 1 Thess. 5:17; 1 Tim. 2:1). Prayer is a matter of obedience.

(2) We pray because God uses prayer to accomplish His eternal purposes. Our part is to pray in confident faith. An example of this is shown in Genesis 20, when God told King Abimelech, “[Abraham] is a prophet, and he will pray for you, and you will live” (Gen. 20:2, 7, 17). God used Abraham's prayers. God also promised to restore His people in response to their prayers (Jer. 29: 11-14).

(3) We pray because we are to be imitators of Jesus (1 John 2:6), and Jesus was a man of prayer (Matt. 14:23; 26:39-44; Mark 1:35; 14:35-39; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:28; 22:41-45; John 17; Heb. 7:25). God desires to conform us to the image of Christ, and part of that conforming is to follow Jesus’ example in prayer for the Father's will.

(4) We pray because God has the authority and power to answer us, and furthermore, He does answer prayer. He tells us to ask, see, and knock because He responds (Matt. 7:7)—we can expect Him to respond (James 5:16b; 4:2b). God rewards our perseverance in prayer (Luke 11:5-10). Prayer is a precious privilege, and the Father delights in blessing His children as they pray (Luke 11:11-13).

So then, God may prompt us to pray in His sovereignty, but we must choose to pray as a matter of submissive obedience, faith and rest in His purposes, following the example of Christ, and fervent expectation for God to work.


Are you a bold warrior of prayer? Andree Seau's words made me examine my prayer requests: "Two Obstacles to God-Honoring Prayer".

11/3/09

Tethering

God showed me that one of my attitudes was deadly to my spiritual health.

But He also showed me how to change. Read about it in my post at True Woman*, 11-2-09, titled "Tethering."

*True Woman is a ministry of Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Revive Our Hearts Ministries. For more information about this women's movement, go to TrueWoman.com. True Woman will hold three powerful conferences in 2010.

10/28/09

Facing Scary Financial Predictions

What do we do when we hear predictions of crashing stocks, bonds, and real estate, or that the explosive national public debt will spark deflation? How do we handle predictions that the deficit will reach about $3 trillion by 2011?

“The sky is falling” predictions instill fear and panic. There are financial advisers at both extremes—some predict dire days ahead; others scoff at the fear-mongering. I like my Christian sister-in-love’s balanced approach. As a highly-successful financial adviser, Janice Thompson (Strategic Financial Solutions, Inc.) has seen the uptrends and downfalls in the financial market. I talked with her recently about a scary report I read.

Janice replied: “Ultimately, do we know that global economic challenges are going to become so severe that only the Antichrist will be able to solve them? Yes. Is that now? I don’t really know. I’ve reviewed the historical data from all the recessions that have occurred during the past 60 years. They all had a common theme—a sense of hopelessness. In reality, while circumstances leading to this economic collapse have been unprecedented, this recession has actually behaved quite normally. In perspective, however, we are still nowhere near the financial devastation of the Great Depression.”

So what did Janice suggest we do in the meantime? “Approaching financial matters without fear is a good place to start,” she said. “Fear is a dangerous emotion. I encourage everyone to be selective about the types of media sources they listen to and how much of it they allow into their lives. I am not suggesting people pull an ‘ostrich’ move, but it is very difficult to remained balanced and be at peace with the mind of Christ (Phil. 4:8-9) when you feed on a steady diet of sensational ‘noise,’ strategically designed to consume your emotional focus.”

Just a few years ago, she noted, it was a challenge to rein in greed-filled emotions with the tech market bubble and booming real estate frenzy. Now the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, with fear-filled emotions driving the decision-making process.

So what is the wise choice? Janice said it is wise to get our house in order and stay in balance, regardless of whether we’re in a depression, recession, or a period of economic growth. She lives by and shares foundational financial counsel that transcends any economic condition—boom or bust:
(1) Spend less than you earn.
(2) Avoid the use of consumer debt.
(3) Build up a solid emergency reserve. (and she recommends one year’s reserve these days)
(4) Set long term goals and keep working on them regardless of market conditions.
(5) Keep God first in your finances.

“There are no market conditions that take God by surprise,” she said. “Matthew 25 still works!”

Janice believes people should have short-term money in savings or money market accounts, but, “Long-term money can appropriately weather economic challenges," she said. "Purposeful allocation must always precede asset allocation, or you will never be content in any economic environment.”

The wise choice is to be neither greedy nor fearful, but, as Jan says, “Remain content and emotionally balanced as you implement God’s wisdom in your financial affairs.”

Are you still struggling with fear? Perhaps this recent post will help: "Power and Might, in His Hands," ... or these, concerning the "fear" of Halloween: "Kick Out Fear!" and "No Fear of 'Fright Night.'

Focus on the Scriptures to help you conquer your fears: Deuteronomy 31:6; Psalm 27:1; Psalm 27:14; Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 26:3; Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 41:13; 2 Timothy 1:7; Hebrews 13:6; and 1 John 4:18.

10/21/09

Exposing the Devil's Work

By the very fact that Christians hold a biblical worldview—or they should—they make powerful enemies. There are some in the culture who simply will not tolerate a Bible-believing Christian. Christ-followers are too radical. They take God at His Word. They do not apologize for standing on the truth of scripture, and they refuse to bend the scripture to fit any chosen lifestyle.

I teach a class of women on Sunday mornings, and lately, we’re seeking to become “Courageous Women with a Christian Worldview.” We’re touching on discernment, apologetics, theology, and biblical perspectives on current issues in the culture. We’ve discovered that one of the consequences of studying the truth is that Satan’s lies and work are exposed (John 8:44).

(We probably won't recognize lies if our Bibles are collecting dust on the coffee table!)

My heart grieves that our nation is so quick to believe Satan’s lies, whether they are told by government officials, financial advisers, university educators, or preachers in our pulpits. Anything contrary to the Word of God is the playground of the enemy.

Just one example—Satan has had a field day with people in the area of finances. Materialism has become our God, and the devil loves it. A.W. Tozer once said of Satan, “Oh, what a cheat the devil is! What a deceiver and what a confidence man he is! I think of the cheating devil when I think of the sly confidence men who have sold the Brooklyn Bridge to poor people, grinning as they have taken their last dollar, leaving them to find out too late that the Brooklyn Bridge was never on the market. The devil is a liar, I say, and a deceiver. He is busy leading people to spend the best years of their lives laying up treasures for themselves, which even before they die will begin to rust and rot and decay.” (A.W. Tozer, I Call It Heresy! p. 96)

Satan tries to bind and imprison us with his lies, even though Christ came to set us free (Hebrews 2:14-15; John 8:32). Our enemy hates God, and he hates the faith, prayers, and works of the children of God. The more we resemble our Heavenly Father, the more Satan will try to destroy us; but we must remember that the ultimate battle is already won (John 12:31; 16:11; Colossians 2:15).

God calls us to choose courage—to fear Him alone. Greater is He who rules within us than he who rules in this present, evil world (1 John 4:4). It’s not a time to cower in our homes or even huddle in churches, but to get into the Word and make strong defense for truth in our culture, no matter the cost.

10/14/09

Marriage 'Breakthroughs'

One of the wisest choices in marriage is the foresight to plan ahead for success. My friends, Bill and Pam Farrel, talk about this in their new book, The Marriage Code. They write (p. 26): “Our experience is that most couples are one step away from a breakthrough that will make their marriage a very enjoyable partnership. Every time the marriage code is activated in your love, a breakthrough happens. You cannot force the breakthrough to happen, because it involves a change of heart in both you and your spouse. You can, however, set up all the elements that make it likely that a breakthrough will happen.” (Emphasis mine)

Their emphasis on a code is timely: “Codes are all around us: access codes for banking accounts, to make reservations for travel, or to gain entry into buildings or our own computers.” With humor, solid wisdom, and practical illustrations, the Farrels—relationship specialists—teach couples about the “secret code to unlock love” in marriage. The book is available at their website, Farrel Communications. They will also be on Focus on the Family radio, October 21-22, discussing the book.

In a related vein ...

I am thankful to the Lord that Bob and I had incredible marriage training during the 1970s when we served with Life Action Ministries, years that prepared us well for the natural struggles in marriage. As we sat through a new church "revival" every week or so, we heard—over and over again—the powerful principles that encourage strong marriages. I learned the importance of showing my husband respect, and Bob learned what it means to truly love a wife. I know that, even today, those truths we learned from the scriptures bind our hearts to our biblical roles and each other. Our love is stronger than ever as we experience fresh "breakthroughs" in our relationship.

I'm also thankful for the True Woman movement, which began in October of 2008. True Woman continues the efforts of Life Action and their women's ministry, Revive Our Hearts, in reminding women about biblical roles and so much more. I'm excited about the three True Woman conferences that are coming up in 2010 in Chattanooga (March 25-27), Indianapolis (September 23-25), and Fort Worth (October 14-16).

Though now living in California, I'm going back to my Indiana roots to attend the Indianapolis conference. I hope you'll find your way to a True Woman conference, too. Do it for your marriage!

10/7/09

Lusting for a Jacuzzi

I confess. I was lusting for a Jacuzzi this week. It consumed my thoughts for two days. The struggle went something like this:

“Father God, you know I like to enjoy life, and you know I have achy muscles. I’d love to have a Jacuzzi.”
Nothing wrong with a Jacuzzi, I heard, but why don’t you long for heaven with that much desire?
“What do you mean? I’m serving you, and didn’t you promise to give us abundance in life?”
No, I promise abundant life. But it’s not all about you, anyway. Don’t you care about what is in My heart?

It’s my constant struggle. I love our comfortable home, but know my home in heaven is beyond compare. I want creature comforts, but know there’s more to life than the things I accumulate. I want what I want, but know that it’s not all about me. Do you feel that tension?

It’s a good tension. We need reminders that we only pass through this short span of time once, and we’re destined for eternity. Whether we long for a Jacuzzi, or a shiny red convertible, or a Mediterranean cruise—and there’s nothing wrong with any of those things—we also must remember that there’s a battle for souls going on all around us, and we need to stay strong, alert, and committed in the battle.

In the midst of my lusting for the Jacuzzi, I read something by John Piper. He got it right when he wrote in Desiring God (p. 200), “There is a war going on. All talk of a Christian’s right to live luxuriantly ‘as a child of the King’ in this atmosphere sounds hollow—especially since the King himself is stripped for battle.” Piper spoke of living a simple “wartime” lifestyle, because there is a huge, “worthy cause” to consider. In these Last Days, the battle for souls and the struggle for personal holiness must occupy more and more of our time and money. A wartime mentality will help us achieve victories and guard against loss.

Without the Bible, we wouldn't know the strategies of our enemy; but I’m so thankful God revealed an invisible world with an enemy who wants to destroy us. The Scriptures say Satan deceives and blinds us (John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 4:4), and uses our fallen nature and the culture (1 John 2:16) to tempt us to drop our guard. The battle is spiritual, and our enemy is fully engaged and determined. More than ever before, we need to prepare for battle with the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-18).

We are not helpless; our choices can make a powerful difference (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we surrender to God, He will transform us through His Word and the Spirit (Romans 12:1-2); so we don’t have to surrender to the enemy’s devices. It’s so easy to be sidetracked by our “stuff” and the call of this world. We must be vigilant against our enemy's attacks (2 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Peter 5:8-9; James 1:14-15).

I’d still like that Jacuzzi (and I may get one someday), but “I get it, Lord.”

9/30/09

Civility, Yes ... but Courage, Too!

When Mark DeMoss launched The Civility Project, I have to admit that I had mixed emotions. The Christian public relations expert said, “I decided to launch a project where I would talk not about unity, not about tolerance, not about getting along, not about compromise, but just about civility.” According to the project’s website, The Civility Project [is] a collection of liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites, and people of various faith—or no faith—who agree that even in sharp disagreement we should not be disagreeable.” So far, so good. I agree that we need to be civil in our general interactions in society. We need to show respect. We need to show love. [The photo above shows how not to act!]

That is difficult when the motives of those who call for civility are maligned. Some groups point fingers at the project, suggesting DeMoss and his group embody “bigotry with manners.” The problem is, some people simply don’t want a civil debate or even a nice discussion. They are hell-bent on pushing an unbiblical social agenda. To suggest anything short of agreement with their agenda is to be accused of “hate speech,” intolerance, and disrespect.

The biblical principle for believers is to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), to let love guide our conversations. What I’ve mulled over these days is how to balance that with some of Jesus’ actions as he walked and talked in the culture of His day. The Pharisees were committed to their understanding of truth, but they entirely missed the greatest commandment of all—to love God and others. Jesus called the Pharisees “whited sepulchers,” or whitewashed, stinky tombs (Matthew 23:27). We don’t call Jesus uncivil for His words, but rather, courageous and sensitive to holiness.

Another example: in righteous anger, Jesus overturned the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple (Matthew 21:12-13). I imagine that He did not speak quietly to the moneychangers as he condemned them for making the Temple a “den of robbers.” No doubt the money-changers (and probably the priests) condemned Jesus’ action, but He was passionate for and protective of the things of God. Over and over in the scriptures, we see Jesus rebuking, exposing, and using pointed sarcasm—actions and words born in holiness and love, not wickedness and hate.

In the flesh, civility vs. courageous confrontation is often a tough call; I often struggle with where to draw the line. But when I’m in tune with God, there are times that I feel God’s Spirit nudging me to speak up and confront—to share the truth, come what may, to take a stand for righteousness even when misunderstood. Other times I sense I’m to give a gentle answer so as not to stir up wrath (Proverbs 15:1); and God’s prompting in some circumstances is simply to stay silent and pray. Making the wise choice requires continuing intimacy with God. It requires learning how to fear God more, and fear the opinions of man less. Love must rule, and holiness must guide. We certainly need to listen more and interrupt less. Actually, the core values DeMoss espouses for the Project sum up all of these thoughts.

I admire Mark DeMoss for extending a hand of civility, even when it gets slapped. Civility, coupled with courage, will serve us all well in the continuing discourse with our culture. May God give us much-needed humility and wisdom.

What are your thoughts? How do you show civility? When is civility a struggle for you?

Related posts: Standing Alone in the Fear of God, Guts, Not 'Goo,' and Eagles or Turkeys, We Need Courage!

9/23/09

Marriage: The Daily Choice to Love

My husband and I have been married 35 years. (Whoo Hoo!) That’s quite a ways before we reach our 50th anniversary, but it’s something to celebrate, nonetheless. Like all marriages, Bob and I have had our share of tough times, exasperating days, and puzzling interactions. But we made a decision in 1974 that we were married for life—a vow for a lifetime. On the other hand, it’s not been a one-time decision.

I identify with what Lysa TerKeurst of Proverbs 31 Ministries said on her blog on July 2, 2009 about her relationship with her husband: “…love becomes a choice. A choice to step outside selfish perceptions, ongoing frustrations, the self-centered right to be right, and make the choice to love even when our feelings beg us not to … Most days, our love has been a choice to get up everyday and retie the knots that bind us. The beautiful thing about making the choice to love is the feelings often catch up rushing in, taking us by surprise.”

If you’ve been married a long time, you understand Lysa’s words. On the days when I’ve been most ugly toward my Bob, he chose to love me. On the days when he upset and angered me, I chose to love him. We’ve loved each other in days of passion and tenderness, but we’ve also loved each other when the vows we made seemed restricting and hurtful. We’ve learned to submit ourselves to one another in the fear of God, and to follow his pattern for healthy marriage (Ephesians 5:21-33), and God often surprises our marriage with fresh, surprising doses of love.

Granted, there are many difficult and even abusive marriages—and there are biblical ways to deal with abuse—but by and large, the choice to love in marriage is the choice to obey God’s Word and regularly “retie the knots that bind us.”

Reflection: What "knots"might you need to "retie" today?
For more about Christian marriage: see "Six Ways to Divorce Selfishness from Marriage," "Romance in Marriage--Yes!" and "Intentional Ministry in Marriage."

9/16/09

Seven "Cs" for Making Wise Choices

A few years ago, a young woman (I'll call "Jennie") asked me how I made choices. She explained that she felt making choices was like throwing options at a wall and seeing what would stick – in other words, watching to see what God would bless. In the process, she made many bad choices. I told Jennie, "The Bible gives some clear principles that can guide us in making big decisions and everyday choices." I said I’d get back to her with some helpful information; and after some research, I made a bookmark with seven principles and gave it to Jennie to keep in her Bible. I’d like to share those concepts here (expanded a bit) to encourage you, my readers:

The Principle of Conscience. Does it bring glory to God? (1 Corinthians 10:31) Would this embarrass the Lord? (Matthew 24:44) Can God bless this choice? (Proverbs 10:22) Can you openly thank God? (Colossians 3:17)
The Principle of Counsel. Does God’s Word give direction or confirm His will? (Psalm 119:105) Have you prayed about this? (Proverbs 3:6; 19:21) Have you sought godly counsel? (Psalm 1:1) Am I getting the same direction from a number of sources? (Proverbs 11:14b; 15:22)
The Principle of Convictions. What are your beliefs and values? (Romans 14:1-9) Are you walking in integrity and godliness? (Psalm 25:21; Proverbs 11:3)
The Principle of Cause. What is your motive? (Colossians 3:23)
The Principle of Control. Is this Spirit-led or fleshly? (John 16:13; Galatians 5:16; 22-23) Do I have peace in my heart from the Spirit of God? (Isaiah 26:3; John 14:26-27) Does God seem to be leading? (Isaiah 30:21; Proverbs 2:3-6; 3:5-6) Would Satan be the victor? (1 Peter 5:8-9a) Who is your Master? (Matthew 6:24).
The Principle of Consequences. Are there any potential consequences? (Galatians 6:7) Does it edify you and others? (1 Corinthians 10:23) Is it worldly or carnal? (1 John 2:15) Is it a hindrance? (Hebrews 12:1) Have you counted the cost? (Luke 14:28) What account will you give? (Matthew 12:36)
The Principle of Concern. Is it a stumbling block? (1 Corinthians 8:9) Does it encourage love and unity? (Romans 13:8, 10)

There are, no doubt, many other possible principles to consider. For example, my friend, Pam Farrel, has another list that she calls “C’s for Clarity.” Her list will help a person decide whether something is God’s dream, or whether it’s time to refocus (see Woman of Confidence, Harvest House Publishers, 2009, p. 184). The point is, we are wise to consider many factors before we move ahead with our decisions and dreams.

Reflection: What is the hardest principle for you to follow regarding choices?

Related Blogs: Reasons, Not Excuses, Not Choosing Blindly, and Of Paper Clips and Proactive Choices

9/9/09

Wheat Fungus - Will It Steal Your 'Daily Bread'?

I recently wrote a prophecy article about wheat fungus. Crop scientists fear that a terrible fungus could wipe out more than 80 percent of worldwide wheat crops in the years ahead. The scourge, known as Ug99, produces reddish-brown flakes or blisters on wheat stalks, killing them. The stem rust fungus began in east Africa in 1999 and has already jumped the Red Sea, showing up in Iran in 2008. It now threatens India and Pakistan, and will inevitably be carried by winds to Russia and China.

Jim Peterson, a professor of wheat breeding and genetics at Oregon State University in Corvallis, said the fungus can move in clothing on an airplane. “We know it’s going to be here [in the United States],” Peterson said. “It’s a matter of how long it’s going to take.” If the fungus does make its way to U.S. wheat fields, plant experts anticipate $10 billion worth of wheat would be destroyed.

The morning I wrote about Ug99, I made toast with honey for breakfast and deliberately prayed, “Thank you, Lord, for my daily bread.” I so easily take simple foods for granted, while millions—perhaps billions—of people around the world struggle with famine, and millions more have crops in danger. Scientists are working feverishly to develop new wheat varieties that are immune to Ug99, but the fungi like these keep mutating and evolving.

Again, I’m reminded that our security and provision comes from God alone. Everything on this earth can be taken from us, even our daily bread. There is always the possibility of drought, flood, pests, and disease destroying our crops. We dare not think we are immune in America; those old enough to remember the drought in the 1930s can testify to that. We can expect famine to increase in the “Last Days” (Matt. 24:7).

What choices can we make? (1) We must continue to trust in God for all things. Jehovah-Jireh is our source—the Provider of all good gifts, our Shepherd (Gen. 22:14; Ps. 23:1, 5a; James 1:17). (2) We can remember to ask Him for our bread (Matt. 6:11). (3) We are not to worry about what we’ll eat but rather, remember the Lord and how He provides (Deut. 8:1-6; Ps. 33:18-19; Matt. 6:25). (4) We can say thanks, to take time to express our gratitude for breakfast toast and all the things God so bountifully supplies (Ps. 107:8-9; 136:2).

Has God provided “bread” for you in some powerful way? I’d love to hear about it!

If you don’t feel grateful, read “Priming the Pump.”

9/2/09

Invading My Space

Facebook, MySpace, Twitter ... there’s a lot of social networking going on. But that’s not what I’m talking about today. I’m talking about the invasion of my space by a little black and white dog! When we first got Bailey, our Jack Russell, he dove under our bedspread and slept by my feet, keeping them cozy warm on cold nights. A couple of years ago, he took over the center of the bed, stretching his long legs into my back and my husband’s stomach. “You are so spoiled,” we told him. But we did nothing. Lately, I wake up with him breathing in my face, his head propped on my pillow. He thinks he owns the whole bed!

“I’ve got news for you, Buster,” I scold as I scoot him onto the floor. Like the proverbial camel who insinuated his nose into the tent—then his head, his shoulders, his back, and finally his tail—Bailey’s invasion of my space was gradual and subtle. Now it’s overwhelming and uncomfortable!

You no doubt know where I’m going with this. It’s the little things we don’t deal with that eventually take over our lives, whether an attitude or a habit. Perhaps it’s the little personality quirk that grows and becomes bothersome. More often, it’s some little sin that is sure to find us out (Numbers 32:23b) and bring consequences we might not foresee (Galatians 6:7).

Sin invades our “space” in many ways. The first source of sin in our lives is the world with its counterfeit wisdom and anti-God system (1 Corinthians 3:19; James 3:15-17; 4:4; 1 John 2:16). The second source is our flesh (Romans 7:5, 18; Ephesians 2:3a; 1 Peter 2:11; 1 John 2:16). The third source is our enemy, Satan—the tempter, schemer, and deceiver (Luke 4:1-13; John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 2:11, 14; Ephesians 6:11).

We need to be alert on all fronts! Allowing any sin to stay, unchecked—unconfessed and rejected—is foolish. The wise choice is to deal with sin at the root and quickly, before it can grow into something more serious.

What “little sin” have you allowed to invade your life? No sin is ever "little." Fast forward to how that little sin might grow and destroy something that is important to you, or to God.

For related posts, see “Tenacious Temptation” and “Faces Harder Than Rock.”

8/26/09

An Actor's Confession

As I rested on June 14, recovering from a long struggle with bronchitis and pneumonia, I read my newspaper’s magazine, Parade. One article in particular, "The Mixed-Up Life of Shia LaBeouf," pp. 4-5) gripped my heart. The 23-year-old star of Transformers and Holes told interviewer Dotson Rader about his insecurities and disillusionment; but this part of his transparent interview revealed his heart: “I don’t handle fame well,” he said. “Most actors on most days don’t think they’re worthy. I have no idea where this insecurity comes from, but it’s a God-sized hole. If I knew, I’d fill it, and I’d be on my way.”

A God-sized hole. The concept isn’t new. The philosopher Pascal wrote, “Where else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” (Pensees, 10.148). The Church Father Augustine wrote (Confessions, 1.1.1), “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”

People stuff alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, food, compulsive spending, thrill-seeking, personal “goodness,” and many other things into the emptiness of their lives, but when the fa├žade cracks, they instinctively know that there is “something more.” Without God, our hearts are deluded and sinful (Jer. 17:9; Eccl. 9:3). In fact, the human heart and mind are hostile to God until He comes in to fill the void with Himself (Romans 8:7).

We were made for eternity (Eccl. 3:11), and nothing else completely satisfies our souls except eternal life with our Creator. He places His fingerprints around us and within us to point us to Himself (Psalm 19:1-2; Romans 1:20). All religions try to connect man with God in some way (through traditions, rules, and works, primarily), but in biblical Christianity, God connects to man through His Son (1 John 4:19; Luke 19:10). My prayer is that Shia LaBeouf will come to know life in God—the security he seeks.

What do you try to stuff into the place where only God belongs? Is God your Best Friend? See "Better Ways to Connect with Your BFF."

8/19/09

Are You a Flirt?

Ever been to a pig farm? Not a pretty sight. Never once have I seen a filthy sow sporting finery and bling. It’s incongruous. Dress them up; pigs are still pigs.

This incongruity is noted in Proverbs 11:22: “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” Proverbs has much to say about the seductive woman, the woman with no discretion. The seductive woman is a flirt. She uses her words, ways, and wiles to cause men to lust in their hearts. In the Old Testament, God warned about the women of Zion—His chosen daughters—who pranced around, “flirting with their eyes” and using the bling of their day to get men’s attention; and God brought judgment on these women! (Isaiah 3:16-17)

We tend to think of seductive women as flirtatious single women who are on the prowl for men, but Proverbs 6:23-25 and 7:4-5 speak of the “wayward wife” who uses seductive words. Women, no matter their position in life, must be careful not to practice flirtation or seduction with the men around them. It is not “innocent flirting.” Some women feel they must flirt to validate their worth. Single women may feel they have to flirt to communicate their interest in a man. But flirting is an attempt to play around with someone’s thoughts and emotions—and that is always wrong. [By the way, it’s not just women who try to flirt and seduce!] 1 Timothy 5:2 instructs all believers to treat each other as family members—with absolute purity. There are plenty of ways to communicate our thoughts, emotions, and interest to others without resorting to seduction.

In contrast, the godly woman knows that true beauty comes from within—from a worthy spirit that is feminine, gentle, and quiet (1 Peter 3:3-6), a spirit controlled by the Holy Spirit. A woman with a gentle, quiet spirit does not insist on personal rights or demand her own way. She is not pushy or manipulative. She clothes herself with Christ, and doesn’t think about ways to gratify the desires of her sinful nature (Romans 13:14). She guards her purity of mind and body, not wanting to cause men to stumble into sin (Matthew 5:28). A godly woman chooses wisdom and discretion. Remember the pig!

What do you think about this topic? Where do you draw the line between having fun around men and not-so-innocent flirting? How do you know when you've crossed over into a dangerous area? We're talking about wisdom here.

For more help, see Pursue Wisdom with Passion.

8/12/09

Faces Harder Than Rock

Have you ever seen a set jaw—the sign of a stubborn heart? In the Old Testament, God’s people stubbornly rejected His call to repentance. Jeremiah wrote, “…You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent” (Jer. 5:3). Isaiah wrote similar words when unbroken Israel continued partying and reveling while God urged prayer and repentance (Is. 22:12-13). When God’s people refused, the Lord had no choice but to proclaim judgment (Jer. 5:6; Is. 22:14).

While there is, in the church, a greater awareness of America’s culture sinking into an abyss of sin, there is little discernment about how the church has sunk to the culture’s dismal level. Christians today are toying with truth, and playing around with purity. Peter wrote, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Pet. 4:17a); and Paul reminded us that if we would judge ourselves, we would not be “condemned” with the world (1 Cor. 11:32-32). God desires that we hold our lives up to the absolute standard of the Word of God, and respond in brokenness and repentance where our lives do not measure up. The cost of refusing to repent is too great.

Brokenness is the sacrifice that God will never despise (Psalm 51:16-17). Tears of brokenness are treasures in heaven, preserved by the One who loves us (Psalm 56:8). True brokenness brings healing to the soul. Jesus illustrated this well in Luke 7:37-50; Mark 14:3-9—the story of a woman with a shattered heart who broke her alabaster box and poured its precious ointment on Jesus’ head. She set aside her pride, not concerned about others’ opinions, and Jesus praised the simple, loving act that flowed from her contrite heart.

What a contrast: unbroken Jews with faces set harder than rock versus a woman poured out in repentance, with tears streaming down her face. Body of Christ, we always have a choice—stubborn refusal or repentance. God help us to grieve over our sin, broken before Him.

8/5/09

God Never Blinks

As I read Regina Brett’s 45 Life Lessons in a time of personal distress, I had to smile. “Everything can change in the blink of an eye,” she said, “But don’t worry; God never blinks.”

As a college student in Pennsylvania, I often listened to the late-night radio programs coming from Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute. As I drifted off to sleep each night, I loved a particular theme song on one program. The words of that song are still with me: “He never sleeps. He never slumbers. He watches me night and day. He never sleeps. He never slumbers. He keeps me safe along the way.” What an awesome thought! The same God whose eye is on the sparrow watches me all day, and all night. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells,” says, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep; God is not dead; nor doth he sleep….”

Psalm 121 in the Message describes our never-sleeping Father God: “… your Guardian God won’t fall asleep. Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian God will never doze or sleep” (vv. 3-4). Because God never sleeps, we can lie down in peace and sleep in safety (Psalm 4:8; 121:5-8). God did not need to rest in creation because he was tired, because God never gets weary (Isaiah 40:28). He merely paused in His creative acts. But we humans need rest, and God offers it to us in Jesus (Matthew 11:28; Hebrews 4:9)

The fact that God never blinks is reassuring, but it also reminds us that He is the Sovereign God—in control of His creation, 24/7. Because God does not sleep, He is the only one who can be our true guardian.

When my boys were very small, I walked into their room as they slept and stroked their hair. They rested securely, knowing that Mom and Dad were there to protect them; but they could not imagine the fragility of human protection. God, on the other hand, stands steady watch over His children; He never lags in attention and He is all-powerful. He is our rock and fortress (Psalm 62:1-2).

When we choose to not rest in God, what does that say about our faith in His control?