Knowing for Certain-

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth~ 1st Timothy 2:3-4

 We live in a time and place where it is blessedly easy to know the answers to a lot of life’s questions.

 Anyone with a laptop and/or a phone can know exactly how much money he or she has in the bank anytime—day-or-night. Even a person completely ignorant of history can discover in seconds who the POTUS was in 1926 (Calvin Coolidge in case you’re too lazy to Google). A small sample of blood will reveal all sorts of interesting things about a person. Including their general state of health, chromosomal make-up, nation of origin and whether or not they eat lead paint chips

 The modern era clearly has its perks.

 However, other questions remain unanswered. The brightest scientific minds of our day still cannot explain why we have turbulence or what make magnets work or how birds know to migrate or even how our brains store and retrieve memory. No one but God knows why we dream or even what a dream is or why we all get a little nuts-o if we go too many nights without dreaming.

 Sigh.

 Some spiritual questions are even tougher to answer.

 No one has ever been able to explain to my satisfaction why God sometimes feels distant and other times He feels close. No one knows why some prayers go unanswered and others don’t, or why some people suffer and others don’t.

But in my experience the most vexing question of all for many believers is whether or not they really are a Christian.

 Most of us know that becoming a Christian is not simply something that happens, nor is it something we are born into. Contrary to popular belief simply attending a church or a small group, serving on a ministry team, or even praying a “salvation prayer” does not guarantee that one has passed from a state of spiritual death to spiritual life.

 Knowing for certain matters for at least three reasons.

 First, assurance of salvation is not a subject that is discussed in many churches these days; as a result many have been left with questions. Secondly, Jesus warned his followers that on Judgment Day (yes, it’s a real thing, Matthew 11:24, Hebrews 9:27, Revelation 20:11-12) there will be many who mistakenly assume that they are Christians until it’s too late to do anything about it (Matthew 7:21, Matthew 25:31-46, Matthew 7:13-14). And finally, it matters because if the Bible is true (and I believe it is) then eternity will be long and it’s good to know where and how we will be spending it.

 Sadly, the signs of salvation tend to be subtle, but there are at least four clear indicators of an authentic Christian including…

 1. Authentic Christians hate to sin-

 One of the surest signs of salvation is a yearning to please God and do His will. This means that genuine Christians do not like to sin nor do they typically sin intentionally. This doesn’t mean Christians never sin (1st John 1:10). It does mean that for a Christian, sin is typically followed by remorse, repentance and a sincere desire to do better next time (2nd Corinthians 7:10).

 2. Authentic Christians do what it takes to grow-

 Attending a Bible study or a church service does not make anyone a Christian, nor does it make Christians “more saved”. That said, church and Bible studies are where we worship God, learn about our faith, become accountable to other believers, and are challenged to grow-up in our thinking and behavior (1st Corinthians 13:11.) Consequently, all Christians ought to attend church and Bible studies.

 3. Authentic Christians love people and care about their eternal destiny-

 Love for God and love for people is the identifying mark of a Jesus follower (1st John). However, authentic biblical love is more complex than the squishy, syrupy Hallmark Channel kind love we have all become accustomed to. Authentic Christian love is concerned for the feelings of others but it is also honest enough to tell people the truth about where their choices will lead.

4. Authentic Christians don’t quit- Hebrews 12:1

 Authentic Christians do not quit serving God, loving people, and going to church just because some nitwit said something hurtful or God did not answer a prayer the way they felt He should. Authentic Christians know that they are soldiers in a spiritual war and soldiers don’t desert over hurt feelings and petty disappointments (2nd Timothy 2:3-4). Perseverance is and will always be the surest sign of salvation.  

 

 

 

Lies We Believe about Words

Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing. Truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed~ Proverbs 12:18-19 NLT

 Words.

 There is certainly no scarcity of the little trouble-makers in our modern age. We are literally inundated with all kinds of words. I was recently reminded that the words we speak really do make a difference. Most of the words floating around today fall into one of two classifications:

 Life giving and soul sucking:

Life giving words are instructive, helpful and motivating. They are literally like honey to the soul (Proverbs 16:24). They build others up rather than tearing them down. Life giving words remind people in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways that we are the image-bearers of God and that our existence matters to Him. A life-giving word from a friend is sometimes all it takes to begin the process of healing a hurt or restoring a wandering soul. Life giving words make people feel cared for and confident about the role they play in this world. Life-giving words motivate us to become better versions of ourselves and propel us to accomplish more than we ever dreamed possible.

 Conversely, soul-sucking words tear others down and crush the life out of people (Proverbs 12:18). Soul-sucking words can be either cruel and insensitive or deceptive and misleading. Cruel and insensitive words are spoken selfishly with little thought to how they will affect the hearer. Alas, cruel and insensitive words are sometimes the words that stick with us the longest and make the most impact on how we see ourselves. Insults, name-calling, cursing and general cattiness all fall neatly into the category of soul-sucking speech.

 Deceptive words are by definition tougher to spot; they can come in the form of outright lies, twisting truth, gossip and backstabbing. Deceptive words sometimes sound legitimately wholesome and innocuous, at least on the surface. Sometimes they even come across as wise and life giving. However, because any wisdom embedded in this type of speech is worldly (false). Deceptive words eventually lead all involved down a path of destruction.

 Christians typically place a high value on words, and for a myriad of really good reasons. God has quite a lot to say on the subject. The Bible contains hundreds of verses instructing God’s people on the correct and incorrect use of words.

 Nonetheless.

 There are some serious errors floating around Christian circles concerning the right and wrong use of words.

 Many believers have bought into some erroneous and rather absurd beliefs where speech is concerned. This flawed thinking is quickly becoming embedded in much of our Christian culture. Many are being deceived, discipleship has become compromised and, in some cases, our ability to share the gospel and communicate truth to the world has been diminished.

 The first lie says that in order for a message or word to be life giving the words communicated must be “nice”, “encouraging” or “uplifting” to the hearer or reader. Those who have bought into this lie reject out of hand any message or statement that causes the hearer of said statement to feel guilty or uncomfortable about anything at all.

 If we assume this ridiculous notion to be true then logically Christians need to get busy throwing out huge chunks of the Bible. This would include most of the Prophets, many of the Proverbs and vast portions of New Testament books. This would include parts of the Gospels, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, 2nd Timothy, Jude and Revelation based on the fact that these books contain warnings that are far from “nice” ‘encouraging” and/or “uplifting” (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:43-47, 1st Corinthians 6:9, Ephesians 5:5, Hebrews 6:4-6, 2nd Peter 2:4). 

The second lie is essentially the converse of the first lie, that it is somehow more “authentic” or “real” to say what needs to be said in the bluntest and in some cases rudest way possible. Those who have bought into this drivel confuse political correctness with respect and believe that the only honest speech is raw speech. In my experience “raw speech” or “honest speech” is frequently just a thin cover for intentionally aggressive and cruel speech.

 Truth lies somewhere in the middle and, as always, there is wisdom in striving for balance. Ephesians 4:15 is the gold standard of instruction concerning Christian speech, it instructs Christians to tell people the truth about their choices (truth can be unpleasant and hard to hear) in a loving way (which is incredibly tough to do) and that those two things are how we help people to grow into Christian maturity and the image of Jesus Christ.

Where We Went Wrong With the Millennial Generation

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things~ 1st Corinthians 13:11 NKJV

 Over the last dozen or so years a countless number of articles and blog posts have been written on the subject of the Millennial generation and their well-documented indifference towards organized religion in general and Christianity in particular.

 Most writers focus almost entirely on solving the immediate spiritual crisis. Concerned parties want to reach the eighty percent who have wandered from the faith, before the entire generation is irrevocably lost to secularism, humanism, and atheism. I truly care about reaching the millennial generation on a spiritual level. However, I believe its every bit as imperative we understand how we got into this mess in first place.

 History is always critically important.

 Unless we know where we went wrong in a particular area we will be doomed to repeat the same stupid mistake until we die. Sadly, a countless number of blunders were made with the millennial generation. Parents, schools and churches all carry a share of the blame.

It all began with how my generation was raised.

Few in my generation were ever told we were special or smart when we were kids. This was true even when we did things that were genuinely special or smart. We were seldom permitted to voice our opinions or encouraged to share our thoughts. It was NEVER okay to contradict an adult. So when we became parents we did what Americans do when they encounter a wrong.

 We overcompensated.

 We told our kids a hundred times a day that they were smarter, more special and better informed than any children in the history of forever. If they pooped we threw a party, complete with M&M’s and party hats. If they shared an opinion, we celebrated that opinion no matter how irrational or poorly thought-out it happened to be. We insisted every kid get a trophy and made certain no child ever felt less than AWESOME about his or her academic or athletic abilities, regardless of actual ability.

 Educators were quick to focus on feelings rather than facts and hop on to the self-esteem bandwagon. Discipline went out of fashion and subjects like history were taught from an extremely one-sided perspective. Kids were rarely expected to examine both sides of an issue nor were they taught to judge historical figures actions and attitudes in the context of the time period they lived in. Absurd viewpoints were rarely, if ever challenged in academic settings.

 Churches and youth ministries focused on having fun, forming relationships and making kids feel good about themselves. Learning the Bible was dropped in favor of “service projects” and “doing life together”. The whole notion of sin was marginalized. Youth ministries focused on transforming children not yet out of puberty, including some who exhibited no indications of salvation into “leaders” who would “reach their generation for Jesus”. Do not judge, lest you be judged (Matthew 7:1) was the one Bible verse every high school student memorized.

 The end result of this collective madness has been devastating to our culture.

 Many millennials never let go of childish ideas about life and reality. It’s appallingly common for grown people to think that feelings are more important than facts and that if you believe something to be true then it must be. Many become anxious and overwrought when a flaw is pointed out in their thinking or when a viewpoint that differs from their own is presented. That is why we now have “safe spaces” on college campuses and in workplaces, to shield people from words or ideas that make them uncomfortable.

 Sigh.  

 The most tragic consequences of our folly have manifested themselves in the realm of the spiritual. Many millennials believe that if a Bible verse FEELS wrong to them then the Bible got it wrong on that subject. Because teenagers were placed in positions of spiritual leadership long before they were actually converted, acquired any wisdom or knew much of anything about the Bible; many are prideful and will not tolerate correction, even when the correction comes directly out of the Bible.

 Sadly, that is the root reason many millennials have left the church to “work out their own spiritual experience”. They simply cannot tolerate the fact that there is a higher authority than them, be it God or the Bible.

 We must change the way we look at life, God, parenting, and the nature of reality. It’s time to put away childish thoughts about such things and think like adults, this is especially true for Christians.

 It is time to acknowledge some basic truths: facts are more important than feelings, believing something does not make it true and only children shield themselves from ideas that challenge their thinking or hurt their feelings. While we’re at it we need to get back to the understanding that God is real and due to His position as Creator and Sustainer of all things He really does have a fundamental right to tell us what to do.

 Before it’s too late.

Dealing with a Creep Problem

For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been~ 1st Kings 11:4

 Our home is currently on the market. Having a house up for sale is a little like being in the final weeks of pregnancy. Each morning dawns with optimism and hope, and the sense that today could be the day. Every evening ends in despondency as you wonder if anything is ever going to actually happen.

 Daily despair aside, by far the toughest thing about having a house on the market is the level of vigilance that must be maintained regarding cleanliness. Realtors will tell you that items a family uses on a regular basis should be kept out of sight and every surface should be tidy and dust-free at all times. The whole idea is to create the illusion that nobody actually lives in your house so that buyers can envision themselves living there.

Maintaining this absurd illusion is even more challenging than it sounds.

 As the process has dragged on, I have learned a few sanity-saving tricks. I keep the ceiling fans running so buyers won’t notice any dirt on the blades. I hide items I don’t want people to see in my husband’s workbench in the garage. I have also cut back on the time I spend doing laundry. I stash our dirty laundry in the trunks of our cars before showings.

 My lack of attention to the laundry has resulted in a rather foreseeable consequence. We are all running a bit low on clean clothes. This has got me searching the darkest regions of my closet for clothing I quit wearing and should have donated ages ago.

 Recently, I pulled out a pair of shorts I hadn’t even looked at in at least two years. They were clean, not horrible looking and all I had left, so they met all the essential criteria. It didn’t take me long for to recognize there was going to be a problem.

 The shorts were, well, a bit snug. However, at that point I was running critically low on options and feeling desperate. So I persevered. I tugged and yanked and sucked in my gut and held my breath and finally managed to get them zipped. After some more effort I even succeeded in getting the button fastened.

 I stood in front of the mirror for a good while debating whether or not I should put on a long shirt to cover my hind-end or go back to my closet for a more suitable option. Just as I concluded that a long shirt would do the job, the button I had labored to fasten popped off with such force that it ricocheted off the bathroom wall.

 I was not a happy woman. And not just because I was faced with needing to do laundry; I also realized I needed to lose weight. Fast.  

 As I pondered my new eating plan (fewer greasy carbs, no more late night nibbles with the dog) I realized that sin and weight gain have more than a few things in common.

No one wakes up fat; weight gain is a process.

 It starts with choosing fries instead of salad. Next you throw caution to the wind and order deep-fried everything and a big messy dessert with one fork every time you go out. The routine of sharing a little nibble with the dog before bed slowly devolves into a carbo-loading frenzy for both of you every night of the week. Before long, your adorable little dog is wearing a jumbo size harness and your buttons are ricocheting off the bathroom wall.

 Sin works much the same way.

Nobody wakes up one morning blindsided by an addiction or just decides to begin an affair. It all starts fairly innocently with a seemingly inconsequential moral compromise here and a teensy little concession to sin there. Before you know it, you are stuck in a shame-spiral due to a deep-rooted habit you can’t break or a relationship that is clearly not God’s best for you.

 Thankfully, issues with sin and weight gain are solved in much the same way. Begin with acknowledging that there really is a problem. Denial is the enemy. Owning the problem is the next step; don’t pretend sin isn’t wrong or fool yourself into believing it won’t eventually kill you.

 Confess it, first to God, then to a friend who cares enough to hold you accountable. Then change as quickly as possible. Cut ties to toxic relationships, go to church this week, sign-up for a Bible study, and reach out to people who want to help you.

 Most importantly of all, remember that the situation, whatever it might be, does not need to define you. You are so much more than a series of bad choices to God. He is ready to forgive and give you the new beginning you so desperately need; all you have to do is repent.

 If only weight loss were that easy.

 

 

 

 

Five Mistakes Even the Best Mothers Make

Having a young child in our home for the first time in nearly a decade has driven me to do and think about things I haven’t thought about or done in a very long time. Things like chore charts and discipline methods, dance lessons, parent teacher nights, Disney movies, themed birthday parties, homework, sleepovers (ugh), and the social politics of fifth-grade girls (more ugh).  

I read parenting books compulsively and am far more attuned the parenting I see going on around me. I will shamelessly ask anyone I meet who has adopted or fostered an older child for advice. My hope is that I will glean some wisdom and insight that will empower me to maneuver this latest challenge God has placed in my life.

One question I typically ask Mothers of older kids is:

Is there anything at all you wish you could do over?

 Even the Mothers I have admired most confess at least a few things they wish they had done differently. After countless conversations I have concluded that even the best mothers would like a second chance in at least some areas. Following are five mistakes even the best Mothers make:

 Failing to become a student of your child-

 Many of the older Mothers I have spoken with deeply regret not understanding who their kids really were and imposing their own goals on their kids. I am convinced that the number one responsibility of a Mother is to assist her child in knowing and understanding him or herself. Kids need to be aware of their strengths as well as their weaknesses.  It is not a Mother’s job to decide what a child should do and then guide them toward her goals for their lives, but rather to observe her kids and help them to dream dreams and form goals based on their own unique talents and abilities.

 Thinking bad behaviors are cute-

 Intense competitiveness, smart mouthing, nitpickiness, precociousness with the opposite sex, melodrama and enhancing the truth can be oddly charming on adorable little children. Those same actions become less charming and even offensive when you’re dealing with an older kid or an adult. The next time your little cutie gets cozy with the boy or girl next door, saunters out in a skimpy ensemble, demands they win for the hundredth time, tells you a whopper of a tale, or says something saucy, try and imagine what that behavior might look like on a fourteen-year-old. Any seasoned Mom will tell you that it’s easier to break a habit in a child than in a teenager

Disregarding the spiritual-

 Every human being has a dark side. It’s our nature. Belief in the God of the Bible has helped keep the ugly side of humankind in check for eons. Taking your kid to church and teaching them to apply Christian principles to their lives will go a long way in helping to keep narcissism, greed, violent tendencies, and self-interest from spiraling out of control in future years.

 Not finding out what they really think-

 Even the best Moms can be guilty of telling kids what to think rather than finding out what and why they think what they think. When we push our views without listening to theirs we drive wrong thinking underground where the wrong thinking becomes embedded in their character. Ask questions to discover what your kids believe about issues. Don’t jump to correct every little thing they say or they will shut down and stop talking. Instead, ask them further questions about why they think what they think and then gently help them see the eventual end game of a faulty belief system.

 An unwillingness to change your mind or admit wrong-

 Admitting we got something wrong and changing course in front of our kids is one of the most uncomfortable and humbling things in the world. We have to do it on occasion because it is extraordinarily prideful and foolish not to. It’s not as if they won’t figure out on their own that we don’t actually know everything. Kids desperately need role models who are willing to humble themselves, apologize when wrong and change course when necessary.

 One truth I am relearning is that good parenting is not really about being perfect (whew!). Good parenting is about loving our kids enough to help them discover who they really are and what they might be good at. It’s about modeling grace and humility. Good parenting is about looking ahead at what present behavior might eventually become and loving our kids enough to educate them about the God who loves them even more than we do.