When Love Involves Risk

quote on love

Relationships can be messy and confusing. We long to build bridges, to point others to Jesus, and really, to love others well. But sometimes it can feel crazy hard to live that out. If only Scripture provided a clear road map: When they say X, respond with Y.

I felt the tension between grace and truth most acutely a few summers ago when my husband and I fostered a troubled teenager. We’d gone through extensive training and felt certain, prior to placement, that we knew when and how to set boundaries and for what behaviors.

The black and white decisions we saw on paper muddled into gray when transferred to the real world. We weren’t working with hypotheticals anymore. This was real life, a human life—a deeply broken teen rapidly spiraling into self-destruction.

We knew we needed to address her behaviors, to hold her accountable for them. But we longed to do so in a way that built or at least, didn’t harm, our relationships with her. I can’t say I always did that well, nor that my actions and reactions were always Christ centered.

Relational tension often reveals my weaknesses and insecurities, but more than that, they provide an opportunity for me to quote pulled from text on a hazy blue backgroundpress into Jesus. Only He knows the right response to every situation.

My responses more closely resemble His when I intentionally set myself aside—my pride, will, fears, and expectations—and yield to the Holy Spirit within me.

I imagine the apostle Paul felt a similar tension when he addressed his brothers and sisters in Corinth. I don’t know what all was going on, but Jewish believers had attacked Paul’s ministry and division and sin had infiltrated the church. Apparently, he’d written the Corinthians a “severe” letter, which scholars believe has been lost.

The Corinthians may have assumed, based on Paul’s letter, that he didn’t care for them. That his heart had turned against them. Those fears may have been magnified when one of Paul’s previously planned visits were delayed. But in 2 Corinthians 2:4, he assures them this wasn’t the case. In fact, it was because of his love for them that he wrote the letter, delayed his trip, and was now planning to visit them again.

He said, “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love I have for you” (2 Corinthians 2:4, ESV).

Can you sense Paul’s anguish? Having had his ministry and character attacked, while facing ministry challenges, persecution, and the constant threat of death, he was in need of support and encouragement. Of community. The easiest and most self-serving thing he could’ve done would’ve been to simply allow the issues in Corinth to slide.

But out of His love for them, he wrote a rebuking letter, one where he anguished over each word. Perhaps you’ve been there, when the most loving thing you can do is address a behavior, even if it causes someone pain. Temporary pain. A pain that, by God’s grace, can lead to healing and restoration.

That was Paul’s goal. He wasn’t lashing out in anger, frustration, or indignation. He was pouring every part of him out in love.

Sometimes that love is quiet; other times, like when Paul wrote his chastising letter, that love is bold. But when it comes from Jesus, it is always pure and honorable and truth—focused on others and centered in Christ.

Let’s talk about this! Pause to think of the people in your circle. What is the most loving way you can respond to them today? How might “self-love” (self-protection, pride, feeling offended, etc.) get in your way? What can you do to move past self-love tendencies? Share your thoughts and examples with us in the comments below because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

Would you like Jennifer to speak at your next book club gathering, Bible study, or women’s event? Contact here HERE.

Trading Expectations For Joy

As a frizzy haired, awkward elementary student, I entered the beauty shop with such hopeful anticipation. A few snips and some deep conditioning, and my aunt would tame my unruly tresses, causing heads to turn the moment I entered my fifth grade classroom.

Oh, heads turned all right, but not in the way I’d expected.

Then there was the time, with a quivering heart and stomach, I stepped out in faith, fully expecting God to bring fruit from my obedience, only to hit a major setback that left me confused and broken.

And last Friday, I wrestled with our bike rack, heaved and grunted and fought to secure my husband’s bike in it, then headed out to visit him while he was away on business. All the while thinking about the wonderful, romantic time we’d have come Saturday afternoon. The weather was supposed to be perfect. My husband would be off by three, and we’d spend the afternoon enjoying one another and one of our favorite, shaded paths.

We’ve had a relationship of bike rides—of me lacing up my shoes and heading for a run while my sweet man pedals beside me. Those are some of my most cherished memories, some of our sweetest moments. Those were times I was greatly looking forward to repeating!

Things didn’t turn out as I’d expected. First, the straps on the rack came loose mid-drive, leaving his bike dangling by its brake wires, which had somehow become twisted around the handlebars. Then, once I’d managed to untangle the bike, I was left trying to  get the incredibly heavy contraption in the back of my already packed car.

I almost gave up, leaving my poor husband’s bike deposited along I-29, but I’m cheap and stubborn, and after a great deal of effort, managed to squish the thing in the back, front wheel cockeyed, and continue on.

Convinced, with some minor adjustments and tweaking, we could follow through with our plans.

I went running by myself that Saturday, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.

Life is full of disappointments. When things don’t go as anticipated. When friends or loved ones let us down. When our best efforts are thwarted or lead to naught.

Some of our deepest hurts come from unmet expectations. Sometimes those expectations have felt so certain, we never fathomed things could turn out differently, only to find ourselves sideswiped by life or rejection or betrayal.

Did Paul experience this? I know those he trusted abandoned him. I know God abruptly shifted his plans on more than one occasion. I know he spent times alone, cold, hungry, and beaten down–literally (1 Corinthians 11:16-28). But I also know he lived with unconquerable peace and joy—during incredibly dark circumstances, like imprisonment (Philippians 1).

How was that possible? I believe the answer is found in how he refered to himself in Philippians 1—a slave for Christ. This was Paul’s mentality.

Slaves have zero rights and zero expectation except to serve. They live to honor another more than themselves. Their every focus is on their master, alert to the slightest command. Ready to do his bidding.

That is what it means to live for Christ.

People and life will let us down. If we expect otherwise, we will be disappointed. The only expectations we can count on are those rooted in Jesus Christ. It’s when we live surrendered to that truth that we find lasting peace and joy.

Let’s talk about this! Do you agree? When have expectations left you hurt or disappointed? What are some ways we can replace our worldly expectations with those grounded in Christ? Share your thoughts in the comments below or join the discussion on Facebook, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

If this post blessed you and you’d like to receive more great content, including short stories, recipes, and craft how-tos, directly in your inbox, sign up for my quarterly newsletter. (You can do so HERE.) I’m working on it now and plan to release it at the end of this month, along with info regarding a fun give-away contest for subscribers.

You may also enjoy:

Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong by John C. Hutchison

Count it All Joy

Finding Joy in the Chaos 

Joy in the What?

The Faithfulness of God in the Middle of Our Uncertainty

 

Never Enough — The Insatiable Hunger of Discontentment

What temporary filler has distracted you from the One who truly fulfills and, as a result, has deepened your ache and left you hollow?

If we were to unpack greed and selfish ambition, I believe we’d find a host of fear, sorrow, insecurities, and emotional wounds beneath them. I’ve noticed my contentment meter shifts dramatically depending on my situation and who I’m with.

Most often, when we’re clamoring after stuff, whether that’s shiny gadgets, fancy clothes, accolades, or fame, we’re not really after the stuff. We’re seeking to find fulfillment and value outside of Christ, and as result, we end up empty and grasping for more.

It’s a depressing cycle.

Greed, at its core, reveals our core beliefs about ourselves and God. Do we believe we have value, not because of what we’ve earned, achieved, or how many likes we’ve accumulated on Facebook? Do we believe God is good, loving, and faithful and true?

Or do we suspect that He’s holding out on us, that He longs to see us miserable, or that He’ll forget about us all together?

This is what happened with Eve back in the Garden of Eden. Perhaps you’re familiar with her story. God had placed her and her husband in a literal paradise, with lush vegetation, beautiful flowers, and absolutely everything they could need or want. Every tree, rose, and softly chirping bird revealed God’s heart, like a thousand love letters scripted just for them. No good thing had He withheld from them.

But one day, Eve entertained an insidious thought, planted during what may have appeared to be a casual, harmless conversation.

The Serpent, “the shrewdest of all the wild animals God had made,” approached Eve and asked, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:2-3).

Nope. In fact, God had said the opposite. Eve and her husband could freely enjoy every nut, berry, and sweet mango. Surrounded by all this abundance, there was but one tree they were not to eat from. And this, rather than all the blessings she’d been freely given, is what Eve chose to focus on.

She took that initial seed of doubt, so carefully planted, and worked it, until she became convinced God was holding out on her.

“She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it too” (Gen. 3:6)

And suddenly, that which initially looked so good, so beautiful and alluring, destroyed them, filling them with shame and shattering the intimacy they’d previously felt with God. By chasing after what God hadn’t granted instead of enjoying what He had, they lost it all.

That’s what greed does. It deceives us into thinking we haven’t been given our due and that what we have isn’t enough. It destroys our ability to enjoy the abundant blessings God has provided. It hurts others, destroys relationships and our integrity, and leads to isolation and ever-increasing discontentment.

“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth.”

Paul understood this. As a Pharisee, he’d probably seen countless men consumed with greed, who, like the elders in Ephesus, “showed” godliness merely as a way to become wealthy. The result—emotional and spiritual sickness, arguments, jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions. In other words, ugliness and a life of drama. These men acted godly but lacked the power to experience the abundant life Christ promised, and instead of turning to Him in order to receive it, they stuffed their hollow and decrepit heart with one empty filler after another.

But God had set Paul free from all that and had given him something deeper, more fulfilling to live for, making everything else appear as rubbish. “Yes, everything else is worthless,” Paul said, “when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

Can we say the same? If not, I suggest we ask God to help us love Him more. As we do, everything else will fade.

Let’s talk about this! How does our focus impact our contentment or lack of it? How does a right view of God—who He is, how He loves, and who we are in Him—enable us to feel content with what He’s provided?

Share your thoughts here, in the comments below or in our online Bible study group on Facebook. 

Local friends, join me next week at King of Kings Lutheran Church in Omaha as I share how we can find peace and refreshment in the middle of our crazy and replace anxiety and fear with a deep and abiding faith. You can register HERE.

You might also enjoy:

A Still and Quiet Soul: Embracing Contentment by Cathy Messecar

 

Learn to be Content

I love progress. I love to achieve, to dream, and to take determined and well-planned steps forward. Sometimes this is a great thing, other times my visionary thinking can cause me to lose sight of all the wonderful gifts God’s bestowed on me now.

Today’s post, written by friend and author Sarah Ruut, challenged me to… Well, I’ll let you read it for yourself.

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photo by David Castillo Dominici taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Graduation is such an exciting time! It represents a transition from youth to adulthood — the beginning of a new phase in life.

Most teenagers eagerly anticipate that wonderful day when they will be free to actually live their lives, because life begins after school, right?

That thought seems to last until graduation, and then a new thought works its way into the young mind. Wouldn’t it be nice to get married? To have someone special in your life who would happily commit to spending life together? Oh, how hard it is to wait for that big day.

Not long after the wedding, often thoughts of children follow. Babies are so sweet and so cute and so…

Once children are running through the house, the weary young mom can’t wait until they are all in school so she has a few hours of peace.

Those school years quickly lead to the potentially-tumultuous teen years, and the weary parents are anxious for the day when their children will leave the nest to make their way in the world, leaving the parents free to more fully pursue their own dreams.

Do you see where we are headed? The next promotion, the next house, even the next answered prayer…

When we focus so much of our thought-life on that next goal we want to attain, we forget to stop and enjoy the moment we are living. We forget that this spot, today, right where we are, is where God has us. He has us here for a reason, and we need to focus on the tasks at hand.Learn to be Content

Does that mean we shouldn’t dream or pray for something different? No, that’s not what I mean. Dreams and goals are good things, as long as we don’t allow that to breed discontent with our current circumstances.

The apostle Paul said, “I have learned to be content in any circumstance.” (Philippians 4:11b, NET)

Can we say the same? Are you content where you are right now, or are you chafing inside, anxious for that next step that you are hoping and praying is right around the corner?

I am not a big-city girl, but that is where the Lord has me right now. I have spent the past few years dreaming, hoping… and yes, complaining. I don’t want to be stuck here, but I don’t have any choice, and so I grumble.

But that’s not what the Lord wants us to do, is it? He has a purpose for every part of our lives (check out Jeremiah 29:11 if you doubt that…), and we need to be willing to do what He’s called us to do right here. Before we know it, the opportunities we have now will be gone.

Which reminds me of a song. (Those of you who know me already know that most things remind me of a song…lol) Trace Adkins tells us, “You’re gonna miss this. You’re gonna want this back. You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast…”

Let’s not waste today pining for tomorrow. Let’s make the most of today, looking for the purpose God has in today. If we watch for His hand and His blessings, we too can learn to be content in any circumstance.

Sarah Ruut PicSarah Ruut is an avid reader who loves sharing about books and their authors on her blog. You’ll find devotionals as well as reviews of Christian fiction, interviews with amazing authors, giveaways and more at sarahruut.com. You can also connect with Sarah on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.

 

Let’s talk about this. Are you planner and what-iff-er? livingbygracepic.jpDoes your planning, worrying side hinder your ability to enjoy the present? If so, what are some ways you can learn to be content right where God has you at this moment? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

A Dying Daughter Asks a Question Her Mother Couldn’t Answer

TeresaPollardCroppedWatching your daughter fight for life must be unbearable. Hearing her gut-honest questions–questions that appear to have no answers this side of heaven–is unfathomable. So how did Teresa Pollard answer the heart-wrenching question–why do bad things happen to good people? Not with words, but with love. Today, after her daughter’s death, she addresses the question again. Not with anger or bitterness nor a raised fist at God, but instead, with the answer that can only come from surrendered faith.

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

By Teresa Pollard

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character, and proven character, hope.      Romans 5:3-4

There are several important themes in our novel Not Guilty, but possibly the main one is:  why does it seem sometimes that bad things rain on good people like monstrous thunderstorms, while (at least for a time) bad people keep getting away with their malicious and evil deeds?  Candi Pullen and I both lost our daughters at very young ages, so it’s a theme that’s become extremely important to us even though the novel was actually written before either death occurred.

When my daughter, Kara, lay dying of cervical cancer, 1100587_hospital_handthis was the question she kept asking me.  She wanted to know what she had done to deserve such an early death.  She knew she was saved and had a home in heaven, but she had a young son who needed his mommy, and she didn’t want to leave him.

I didn’t really have an answer for her.

All I could do was tell her I loved her, and that I knew that God loved her too.

I think one of the first songs I ever learned as a small child was Jesus loves me.  When Kara was born, her daddy sang it to her in the delivery room while the doctors worked on me.  She believed that Jesus loved her, but she didn’t really understand why a loving God would let cancer happen to her.  I’ve spent a lot of time over the last six years pondering the same question.

The Apostle Paul pondered it too.  He was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, hungry, thirsty, in danger from all directions, and in great emotional distress.  Was he some kind of a super Christian who could endure things that just aren’t possible for us normal folks?  No.  He was a man just like we are.  He admitted weakness.  In fact, he said if he had to boast about anything, it would be his weakness, because he knew that it is in our weakness that we find God’s strength.

In the thirteen months between the diagnosis and Kara’s actual death, I shed countless tears.  I ranted at God, and I prayed and begged Him to spare her life.  He said “no.”  I was helpless.  I would have given anything to be able to save my daughter’s life, but all I could do was entrust her to the Lord’s keeping.  And that’s where I found strength.  That’s the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian.   We have hope.

This earthly life isn’t the end or even a large part of our existence.  It’s a tiny speck of time.  But it’s the speck that determines where we will spend 248782_carnations_pink_2eternity.  Not only that, but it also determines our rewards in that eternity. One of Kara’s last deeds before she became too ill to go anywhere was to take 300 carnations with messages of hope to patients in the hospital where she had spent so many of her days.   The Bible tells us that God even rewards a cup of cold water given in His name.  I wonder what the reward is for 300 carnations given by a dying mother to bring hope to patients in great need of that hope.

In Psalm 73:3, Asaph said, “I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”  Then God gave him a vision of how the wicked will end—an eternity of destruction.  On the other hand, I know I will see Kara again someday, and we will spend eternity together in heaven.  If you haven’t read Randy Alcorn’s Bible study on heaven, I highly recommend it.

Why do bad things happen to good people?  God isn’t finished with me yet, and I still don’t have all the answers.  I know we live in a fallen world.  I’m still not to the point where, like Paul, I can “exult” in tribulation, but I do know God promises in Romans 8:28 that “all things,” both the good and the bad, “work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”   I can understand that somehow they’re for my good and for the good of others.  What we don’t really understand when we’re in the middle of things is that it’s not really about us at all.  It’s about Him.  It’s about the kingdom.  If even one person spends eternity in heaven instead of hell because of our suffering, isn’t it worth it?  Suppose that one person were your son or daughter?  Wouldn’t it be worth it then?

NotGuiltyFrontCover3x4-5Not Guilty by Teresa Pollard and Candi Pullen:

It’s 1974 and Carrie Shepherd, daughter of the minister at Windspree Community Church, is a college senior with plans to be a missionary in Africa. Raped by a masked assailant, Carrie is so traumatized she tells no one until she realizes she’s pregnant. Refusing to have an abortion, she must find the courage to face her family, her fiancé, her friends and a gossiping, angry congregation, which may include her attacker.  Can Carrie find the strength to cope with the secrets, silence, and shame?  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1938708067

Teresa Pollard is from Richmond, Virginia, and was saved at a young age. She has a Masters degree in English and Creative Writing from Hollins College, and has served as a Sunday School teacher and children’s worker for most of the last forty years. Married for forty years, she was devastated by divorce and the death of her youngest daughter, but God has blessed her with a new home and another grandson, and she now resides in Dacula, Georgia.

  ***

I love the song, Blessings, by Laura Story.

In it, she sings about some of our greatest blessings coming through pain and trials. I’ve never lost  a child and can’t imagine the pain those who have must feel on a daily basis, but I have experienced trials. And I’ve found, it is often during my moments of greatest pain that I sense God the most. And it is often following intense periods of struggle that I experience my greatest freedom. But more than that, when I look at our world with all it’s pain and suffering, I’m reminded, and grateful, that this is not my home. No, God has something much better planned for those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. But while we are here, through trial and triumph, what He longs for most is that we point others to Him and His life-saving gospel. For this time is short, and often wrought with pain. But eternity? That will be glorious, my friend, if you know the Lord. For those who don’t? Well, there’s still time to send out invitations. 🙂

Let’s talk about this. Are you or a loved one going through a difficult time right now? How might your response to pain reveal the depth of your faith? And what might that say to a watching, hurting world? Pause to think of what Teresa’s daughter did, shortly before her death. She used every last possible moment not to grow bitter or isolate, but instead, to reach out with the love that had taken hold of her, to spread hope.

Share your thoughts and stories in the comments before or on Facebook at Living by Grace.

Fan Into Flame

When we lived in Southern California, a massive fire ravished the San Gabriel mountains, destroying 1,000 homes and forcing many to evacuate. Rumor had it the fire was started by a cigarette casually flicked. Others said the fire was started by an arsonist. Regardless the source, the initial spark turned exponential until it devoured 90,000 acres, becoming the largest fire San Bernadino County had ever seen.

Fire is a powerful thing. When fed, it grows to unquenchable proportions, its heat radiating for miles. We’ve all heard stories of raging forest fires started by a single match. I’m sure we’ve also all experienced the frustration of trying to set kindling ablaze.

I’ve been on a handful camping trips, and try as I might, I can barely ignite a few measly twigs. I’ll use matches, gasoline and crumpled paper. I’ll blow and fan the air. I’ve tried leaves and straw, which initially catches only to smolder into a puff of black smoke. What’s the difference between my efforts and the 2004 forest fire that raged through Southern California?

Both started with a spark, yet one grew while the other dwindled. The difference, I believe, is the forest was ripe, ready to combust. We’d had little water and intense heat, so it didn’t take much to set the trees ablaze. Then came the wind, fueling the flames with a steady supply of oxygen until the entire forest blazed.

This image came to mind when I read 2 Timothy 1:6. “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”

Paul tells Timothy to “fan into flames” the spiritual gift God gave him.

In essence, Paul was saying, “Lay it all on the line, Timothy. Don’t let anything hold you back from full surrender. When others pull away, step up. Burn like a wildfire!”

Note, he wrote this letter to Timothy, a man Paul loved like a son, from a prison cell. During a time of extreme persecution, when many might’ve been tempted to slip into hiding, Paul told Timothy to step it up.

I believe God is calling us to do the same. If we’ve accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior, we’ve got the spark of the Holy Spirit burning within us. But our heart is much like the trees in a forest. We share the same flame, but some trees are more combustible than others. Some are doused in flame retardants (sin, distractions, and all those temporary fillers that steal our time and dull our hearts), others are ready to ignite.

What’s your heart like? Is it prepared to be set on fire or have you allowed it to smolder? If the latter is true, will you fan your heart and your gifts into flames?

Each time we draw near to God, each time we dig into His Word and spend time in heart-felt prayer, each time we use the gifts He gives to serve others, our flame grows. Every time we squelch our flame with sin, selfishness, and those temporary fillers that distract us from our true need, our tiny flame smolders.

The match is lit. Let it burn, my friend!

Let’s talk about this!

Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about fanning into flame our gifts and our heart so we can live on fire for Christ.

I’d love to hear from you. What do you think it means to fan our spiritual gifts into flames? What are some practical steps we can take to ignite our passion for Christ? What are those things that “douse” our passion?

Oh, and I almost forgot! Barbjan (who entered by subscribing) won a free copy of Eileen Rife’s novel, Second Chance! I’ll contact you by email to get your address soon!

Is Your Attitude Holding You Back?

Six years ago, we faced a period of unemployment. As my husband saturated online career sites with his resume, and we scrambled to sell our house before landing in debt, I prayed fervently for aid. I didn’t care where we lived or where he worked so long as we could make ends meet. A few months later, when a job came through, and we headed to a 500 square foot, rent-by-the-month apartment in Texas, I praised God for His provisions.

The move was tough. Everything we owned, minus what we’d crammed in our apartment, was packed in storage. Our daughter’s bedroom was the tiny living room, her bed the couch. And yet, we were happy, content. Why? Because God had come through. More importantly, having so much of our “fluff” stripped away reminded us of what was truly important. We had each other, and we had our Heavenly Father standing beside us.

Two years and another move later, I sat in the basement of our house, three times bigger, miserable. Because I wanted more. Discontentment had settled in, and it started to steal my joy.

In Philippians 4:12 Paul says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Contentment doesn’t come naturally. In fact, the opposite is true. But it can, must, be learned and practiced.

I believe the secret lies in our focus. When we focus on ourselves, our situation and problems, we only become more miserable. But when we focus on others and on God, seeking to turn each day into a fragrant offering to Him, we find joy, peace, and fulfillment.

Ecclesiastes 6:3-9 reminds us to enjoy life, to focus on what we have, not what we don’t.

3 A man might have a hundred children and live to be very old. But if he finds no satisfaction in life and doesn’t even get a decent burial, it would have been better for him to be born dead. 4 His birth would have been meaningless, and he would have ended in darkness. He wouldn’t even have had a name, 5and he would never have seen the sun or known of its existence. Yet he would have had more peace than in growing up to be an unhappy man. 6 He might live a thousand years twice over but still not find contentment. And since he must die like everyone else—well, what’s the use?

7 All people spend their lives scratching for food, but they never seem to have enough. 8 So are wise people really better off than fools? Do poor people gain anything by being wise and knowing how to act in front of others?

9 Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind.

Don’t spend your days chasing after the wind. Instead, spend them chasing after a righteous God.

Paul experienced some horrendous trials. He was beaten, slandered, abandoned by friends, imprisoned, and yet, he found joy and contentment, because he focused not on his problems but instead on his mission. He had an eternal perspective and understood life here was but a blip. He also understood God was sovereign. Not only sovereign, but loving and faithful. This means everything we go through, the good and the bad, has a purpose.

Ecclesiastes 6:10 says, “Everything has already been decided. It was known long ago what each person would be. So there’s no use arguing with God about your destiny.”

Psalm 139:16 tells us, “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”

God’s in control, even when life feels crazy. He’s working out His plan even when we hit a roadblock. And it’s a good plan, a loving plan, one that will result in hope.

When we face a difficult time or disappointment, we have two choices: spend our short time bemoaning our situation and arguing with God or get busy doing what He’s called us to do.

Each day the choice is ours. We can make ourselves miserable or we can grab hold of the abundant life God promised by focusing on our blessings, His nature, and the work He wants to do through us. The former leads to misery, the latter to joy.

When I get bogged down with discontentment, I’ve found relief by serving others, in getting over myself and joining in God’s eternal plan. What about you? We all struggle with discontentment on occasion, with disappointments and regret. When you’re going through a dark time, what’s helped you find and hold tight to joy?

For me, God used a hot, afternoon run through a very poor part of town to change my perspective. (You can read about my story in Cathy Messecar’s A Still and Quiet Soul)

You may also find the following resources helpful:

The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence

Finding Contentment: Lessons For Daily Living

 

Releasing the Past to Live in the Now

In 2009, our family moved from the west coast to the mid-west (after a short stint in the south) and our first year felt like a culture shock. Especially in the church. In Southern California, where we lived for seven years and plunged our roots, you expect diversity, struggle, change, and quite honestly, authenticity. It’s like everyone’s messed up, or from a family that’s messed up, so we’d come to expect Christians with baggage and hang-ups. This wasn’t a judgmental stance but instead an understanding of the fallen condition of humanity.

Then we moved to the mid-west and everyone appeared to be a multi-generational Christian, apparently without baggage and hang-ups.

But now that we’ve been here a while, and gotten to know other Christians on a deeper level, I’ve come to realize we’ve all got issues, past sins, regrets. Some of us just hide them better and bury them deeper.

But our past isn’t meant to hold us in bondage or keep us in shame. In fact, it’s a glorious marker of how far we’ve come! It’s an opportunity to demonstrate the transforming grace of God.

When we’re hiding and angsting, clinging to padlocked suitcases, it’s not God who’s holding us back. This one’s all on us. I think we need to drop the self-righteous piety–the Pharacitical tendency to pretend like everything’s a bowl of holy water, and move toward authenticity. When we do that, we free others to do the same and send a message that it’s not about us–what we’ve done or haven’t done, but instead, about Christ and His death on the cross.

This morning as I read through 1 Timothy chapter 1, I thought about Paul’s testimony and what a man like Paul might look like today.

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

If you’ve read Acts, you know the story. Paul was a murderer who hated Christians with a homicidal rage.  He was the Timothy McVeigh and Hitler of his day.

Stop and think about this for a moment. How might you respond if one Sunday morning Timothy McVeigh walked into your sanctuary and sat  beside you.

That’d be tough! How could God save men embodying such evil? How could these men in turn live transformed lives?

Only it’s not about them, remember? It’s about a merciful, all-powerful, radically loving God who poured all that He was as a drink offering for you and I, bearing our sin and dying a sinner’s death (though He knew no sin) so that we could be transformed.

He did it with Paul and He longs to do it with us.

But we’ve got to grab hold of it. He’s already done the work. He’s paid our debt, set us free, and washed us clean. Our past is not an inciter of shame, but a reason to rejoice. May who we were serve as a continual reminder of the grace of the God who has made us who we are.

Love this verse:

Philippians 3:13 “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,”

I’ve heard it said, God’s not interested in where you came from so much as where you’re going.

Notice, Paul said he’s straining forward. Healing and growth is rarely easy, but it is possible for all things are possible with God.

What faulty thinking do you need to release, what wounds does God need to heal, what shame do you need God to wipe away, in order to fully embrace the abundant life God has for you?

Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about ways to unpack our suitcases, rejoice in our past, and in the God of our future.

What’s Your Point???

Have you ever had a conversation that started out great only to take an immediate nose-dive? Even worse, those that ended with division, distrust, and harsh feelings? Not productive, especially when we’re sharing our faith. And when we’re there, in the moment, armed with truth and righteousness, it’s easy to give in to pride and turn what should be a gentle act of love into a verbal arsenal. We may even tell ourselves we’re doing the right thing. We’re speaking truth, after all. Taking a stand for Christ, only somewhere in the mix, we lost our focus–to build a bridge, and we’ve begun to build a barrier instead.

About eight years ago, while gathered with a dozen or so women, I began to teach some basics of the Christian faith. The women were excited, and asked countless questions about creation, the fall, and the flood. But one woman in particular wasn’t so enthralled, and soon popped off with questions of her own. I started to answer her questions, but my answers only seemed to add fuel to her fire, and she soon dominated the conversation. It took me a moment to clue in, but I realized how counter-productive things were becoming. Although her questions on the surface appeared legitimate, they were smoke-screens and stood in the way of my initial purpose, to lovingly share the gospel with the other women.

I believe this may be the type of situation Paul talked about in 2 Timothy 1:3-8 (NLT)

3 When I left for Macedonia, I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth. 4 Don’t let them waste their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees. These things only lead to meaningless speculations, which don’t help people live a life of faith in God.

 5 The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. 6 But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions. 7 They want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently.

 8 We know that the law is good when used correctly.

People in Macedonia taught false doctrine, and sucked others in endless discussions, thus robbing the others of learning and teaching time. These discussions had zero value because they failed to help people live a life of faith in God. I can sense Paul’s frustration in the above passage.

The whole purpose of his instruction was to help believers be “filled with the love that comes from a pure heart, clear conscience, and genuine faith.” But some people missed the point and got so focused on the argument–the facts and details and being right–they’d forgotten their purpose, to bring glory to God, demonstrate Christ’s love, and be an instrument of grace.

And that, I believe, should be the deciding factor in all our discussions: Does this conversation, article, or blog post help my listener/reader live a life of faith in God?

We know all Scripture is beneficial for teaching, correcting, and rebuking (2 Timothy 3:16), so, when talking of Scripture, it’s not the “what” but the “how.” As 1 Timothy 1:8 says, “We know the law is good, when used correctly.”

This is where it gets tricky, for knowledge puffs up–feeds our pride–but love builds up, which means, whatever is not spoken in genuine love has the potential to create barriers instead of bridges. Therefore, when sharing our faith, we need to do so prayerfully, with a steady eye on our listener. Our goal must never be to win an argument or fill the head, but instead, to reach the heart.

Are You Teaching Fear or Faith?

About a month ago, while prepping me for a root canal, the dental hygienist and I began talking about youth group mission trips. Our family had recently returned from El Salvador (you can read about our trip here) and were anxious to go back. After listening to me share all the things my daughter learned on our trip, things she couldn’t have learned any other way, the woman said, “I’d love for my daughter to go on a mission trip, but…” Then she went on to explain all the reasons she felt her child couldn’t go. Basically, she expanded on fears every parent feels before releasing their child into God’s hands.

While reading 2 Timothy, I reviewed our conversation and thought about my own parenting. Thinking of all the fears I have as a mom, of all the ways I try to shelter our daughter, I had to ask myself a difficult question: Am I teaching fear or faith? Because as I shared a while back in When is Helping Hurting, everything we do as parents forms attitudes and creates habits. We can tout the verses, verses like “offer your body as a living sacrifice…” and “carry your cross daily…” or “but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it…” But if our actions don’t mirror our words–if we create barriers instead of launching pads–they mean little.

In 2 Timothy chapter 1, Paul, Timothy’s spiritual father, demonstrated what it means to train faith, not fear. Writing from a prison cell, with scars, and perhaps even open wounds, marring his body, having been beaten again and again for his faith, he told Timothy to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave him. Not to hide out in fear and self-preservation, but to be bold and courageous, moving forward in the power, love, and self-discipline God provided.

Now take a moment to place yourself in Timothy’s position. You and Paul parted in tears, not knowing if Paul would be brutally murdered, beaten near death, or released. And now, during a time of extreme persecution, Christians are hiding in homes to avoid martyrdom and your leader, the man you’ve come to love as a dear father, sits in a dark, damp prison cell. And what does Paul tell you to do?

“So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” 2 Timothy 1:8

Timothy, do not be ashamed. Don’t be afraid, but be prepared to suffer with me. Lay it all on the line, even your very life, for the sake of the gospel and the One who defeated death when He died on the cross.

And now I ask you, are you teaching fear or faith?

Join us at Living by Grace where we’re talking about tangible ways we can train faith, not fear, in our children.