5.31.2017

A letter to his sons - but fitting for everyone.

Every week Dennis sends a letter to our sons. The letters are meant to encourage, convict, push the boys to think about biblical truth and apply it to their personal lives. I love that he write to them! And I pray that Micah, Luke, and Caleb will take his words to heart, knowing that they come from a place of wisdom and fatherly love.

I wanted to share today's letter because it is not only applicable to young men but an excellent reminder for all who love the Lord and choose to follow Him.

Greetings My Sons,

John Wooden used to say, "Character is who you are when no one is watching."
What a valuable reminder that who we really are is laid before us when we are not under the performance spotlight of the opinion and approval of others.
However, who we are in private must be established by a proper foundation if we hope to act correctly in public as well as in private. 

These foundational principles are called values, and when they are based on the bedrock of Scripture they will serve you well, especially in times of storms of life. But, when they are based on the opinions of others or even our own opinion of right and wrong ("I gotta be me"), disaster could be lurking.
Please consider Matthew 6 today. Jesus desires that His children walk according to the drumbeat of the Heavenly Father - not the frail patterings of our own philosophies. However solid they may seem at the time, those thoughts will prove unreliable.
It is my great desire to see you become men who walk in truth because you know the truth. 

“If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31, 32
I love you.
Dad
Matthew 6
        
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

5.26.2017

Ministering to the suffering heart.

I am studying the book of Job with a sweet sister and the last few weeks of study have revealed a fascinating perspective about ministry which I have never noticed in previous readings of this wonderful book. (I love that God's Word is ALIVE and ACTIVE!)

When someone is suffering, there is not only “a time to speak and a time to be silent (Ecclesiastes 3),” there is a WAY to speak! As Ephesians 4:29 commands, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for EDIFICATION that it may bring GRACE to those who hear it.”

Jobs friends started well as we see in chapter two.
When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

This is a beautiful beginning!
But it did not last.

Once Job shows vulnerability, confessing his sorrow, frustration, and woe, his friends do not maintain their silence, their sympathy, or their comfort. They open their mouths, not to comfort, but to criticize. And often, they wrap their critique in biblical truth.

For example, Zophar replies to Job:
Can you search out the deep things of God?
Can you find out the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than heaven— what can you do?
Deeper than Sheol— what can you know?
If you would prepare your heart, and stretch out your hands toward Him;
If iniquity were in your hand, and you put it far away,
And would not let wickedness dwell in your tents;
Then surely you could lift up your face without spot;
Yes, you could be steadfast, and not fear;
Because you would forget your misery,
Though you were dark, you would be like the morning.
And you would be secure, because there is hope;
Yes, you would dig around you, and take your rest in safety. Job 11

Zophar spoke truth and his doctrine was sound. So what was his error? He spoke with judgment and condemnation instead of love. His words were as a noisy gong or clanging symbol. (I Cor 13)

If only Zohar had said, “Job. Brother! Friend! I cannot imagine the sorrow and pain you are experiencing right now. I have never suffered as you are suffering, so I do not understand. There is nothing I can say to make it better or restore what you have lost so I will do the only thing I can. I will pray for you, and I will encourage you with God’s promises.”

What a difference that would have made!

But alas, he did not approach his friend in this gracious manner, causing Job to respond like this:

Then Job answered and said, “No doubt you are the (only) people, and wisdom will die with you!
But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Indeed, who does not know such things as these? Job 12:1-3

I love this glimpse into Job's human nature. Do you hear his sarcasm?

He has been enduring the arrogant, less-than-helpful, and ignorant critiques of his friends since chapter four and he is running short on patience.

Job responds to his friends for several chapters, but this is my summation of what he said.

“Um, guys? Remember how God describes me? There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil. (Job 1)
I do not need a theology lesson right now. Everything I own has been stripped from me, and everyone I love, except my wife, is gone. 'I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.' I do not need doctrine. I need friends. I need you to listen … empathize … and pray for me. I am not asking you to fix what happened or diagnose me. Just LISTEN. Encourage me. Remind me of God’s promises and the truth in His Word. I know Him, I love Him, I trust Him, and I am counted as righteous before Him. He has allowed these trials for a reason, and though I do not like it, or even understand it, I know that He is God and I am not - so I will praise Him in the middle of the storm. He will take care of me as He has always been faithful to do. All I need from YOU - is friendship. Can you do that?”

The memory of learning the important difference between these methods of ministry when I was in college is vivid. I remember the class, the professor, the conversations, and the Scriptures used to teach us how to minister to someone who is suffering. I am incredibly embarrassed to admit that it took me well over a decade to fully embrace and apply the lessons learned, but the Lord has confirmed them over and over again through the many counseling experiences He has allowed me to be a part of through the years.

If I start banging the Bible over the head of a hurting sister sitting across from me, saying, “You know what Scripture says! DO IT!” I create an atmosphere that lacks compassion and grace. But - if I listen - seek to understand her pain - ask questions to draw out her heart - and tell her how sorry I am, I build trust. And once that happens, my sister is willing to hear me speak God’s truth, even when it is hard to hear.

Paul confirms this in I Thessalonians 2 when he says, For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

When we encourage and comfort a wounded, suffering, hurting person first ...
embracing them
listening as they express their sorrow
weeping with them
praying with them
serving them ...
we create trust - and connection - and THEN we can speak the truth of Scripture in a way that will be received with acceptance and grace. And this is always the goal! For without the beautiful truth of God's love, forgiveness, and mercy, our words are empty and without purpose. Hurting people need Jesus. It is our job to place them before Him - and then let Him do His work.

We are not perfect. Sometimes we wound and disappoint others out of simple ignorance, not malice. Other times it is our pride that causes thoughtless, ineffective, and hurtful comments to penetrate the heart of a suffering friend. Praise God that He offers to give us wisdom in abundance, without rebuke, as many times as we ask, so we may know when to speak and when to be silent, and when to speak words that edify and give grace. 

"Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips!" Psalm 141:3

5.24.2017

Quote. He gives us what we need!

Instead of a river, God often gives us a brook - which may be running today, and dried up tomorrow.
Why?
To teach us not to rest in our blessings - but in the blesser Himself.
Arthur Pink

"Hold me up - and I shall be safe!" Psalm 119:117

"So do not fear - for I am with you! Do not be dismayed - for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand!" Isaiah 41:10

5.22.2017

I found the answer.

Every Sunday morning my phone alarm wakes me up at 6:45 a.m. with the words of the song "Lord, I Need You" floating through the air. I am not sure why I selected that song out of a playlist of 100+ options, other than the fact that it is one of my favorites, but I did.
I have listened to it week after week (more than once each Sunday since I always hit 'snooze'), but it was not until yesterday that I realized that it is an absolutely perfect song with which to begin each day.

I fail as a parent. Daily. Hourly. And sometimes - before I even get out of bed.
I search Scripture, I pray, I read books on parenting written by godly men and women, and I seek counsel from mature believers in order to discover any blind spots in my parenting so I can be aware of my weaknesses, intentionally "put off" my sin, and replace it with correct thinking, attitudes, and actions.
And yet ...
I find myself banging my head against the same brick wall that I banged it on yesterday. And the day before that.
Why, Lord? What am I missing?!?

Yesterday morning, He answered that question.
The answer is in a line of the song ...
And when I cannot stand I'll fall on You, Jesus, You're my hope and stay.

When I CANNOT STAND.

How easy it is to think we can.
Life experience
Intelligence
Skills
Strengths ...
these fool us into thinking we are self-sufficient. That we can "do it on our own" because we have been successful in the past. Regardless of why we think we can do it on our own, or why we believe we are strong enough, the truth is that we can do nothing without Christ. And anything we can do, any success we have is because it is done through Him. Scripture tells us this in John 15:5. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

There is another line in the song that echoes this same thought.
Without You I fall apart, You're the One that guides my heart.

"Without ME you can do NOTHING," Jesus said.
So why do I try?
Without spending any time thinking through the past week I can tell you that I parented with 90% of my own strength. My own abilities. My own intelligence, problem-solving skills, and wisdom. Does the Lord give us these gifts, having created us with a purpose and in His own image? Absolutely! Mankind is able to accomplish great things because of the way the Lord allows our minds and hands to work. Including parenting our children. But we cannot take the credit.
"Rejoice IN THE LORD," Scripture says.
"Every good and perfect gift comes from ABOVE."
"I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST, who gives me strength."
"Trust the LORD with all your heart, and lean NOT on your own understanding."

The brick wall that I continue to bang my forehead against was built with my own pride.
Every time I thought I had the answers, every time I thought knew best, every time I searched through my personal pool of shallow wisdom instead of seeking the Lord ... another brick was added.
Thankfully, the wall has been destroyed many times after the Lord revealed my pride and showed me that I was trying to parent my children my way rather than His. He kicks the first hole in the middle of it and then lets me join Him as we pull the entire thing down to the ground. But slowly, one brick at a time, I always rebuild the wall.
And I am exhausted.

But praise Him - He is a gracious God!
Every time He helps me pull apart the bricks, I look at Him with tears in my eyes and say, "I'm sorry, Lord. Again. I know I cannot do this without You, but still, I try. It's not worth it. I work too hard in my own strength, failing because I went ahead of You, and then waste more time demolishing the very wall that I created with my own hands. When will I learn, Lord? Teach me how to recognize my need for You. I am weary and worn and cannot keep doing things my way."
And that is when He leans down, with His arms stretched wide and says, "Come, Michelle. You are weary and heavy-laden, and I promised I would give you rest. Your burden is heavy and your yoke is choking you, but Mine ... Mine is easy. You can learn from Me because I am a gentle teacher, and you will find the peace and rest you long for."

And the words of this song roll through my mind as I settle in the comfort of His embrace.

Lord, I Need You (← click to listen)

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You're the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

Teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I'll fall on You
Jesus, You're my hope and stay

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

5.08.2017

EXCELLENT Quote.



It is tragic to go through our days making Christ the subject of our study 
but not the sustenance of our souls
- Vance Havner

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. Matthew 22

Lord, teach me how to make You my EVERYthing, I pray.

5.04.2017

Quote.

The church should be a safe place for sinners
without being a safe place for sin.
- Justin Taylor

5.01.2017

Thankful not to be alone!

Do you ever feel like you are being pulled between the Lord and the enemy like a piece of taffy?
The enemy's purpose is evil, of course, but the Lord has a plan that is for His glory and your good?
I feel like that now.
At war within myself, not doing what I should do, and doing what I should not - just like Paul expresses in Romans 7. That dizzying passage where he reminds us that though our heart and mind want to live righteously, we continue to dwell in a sinful body that will always seek to have its own way. And that way always pulls in the opposite direction of the Lord.

Today, I met a friend at the park while twelve children ran around us. After settling into our chairs, I looked at her and asked, "So, how are you, friend?"
Long silence.
I tipped my head to one side while glancing at her oddly, fully understanding that feeling of having no idea how to answer such a vague question because there are too many things going on at once when she looked at me and started laughing.
"I have no idea how to answer that question!"
She started to unravel the answer, and by the time she finished I said, "Wow. I totally get that! I feel like my prayers don't even count right now."
She turned her head to me quickly, eyes large, and replied, "Yes! That is EXACTLY how I feel!"

We engaged in an encouraging conversation after that, loosely following the Romans 7 outline, confessing our struggles, and sharing our frustration with our flesh. Later, we traded texts promising to pray for the other one when apathy creeps it's suffocating fingers around our spiritual throats. 

How thankful I am that the Lord does not ask us to walk the Christian life alone!
The enemy may drool over me every morning seeking to devour me, but because God created the body of Christ, that lion will never find me without a fellow soldier willing to draw her sword on my behalf.
Thank You, Lord, for such a wonderful promise!

Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor. 
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up. 
Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm;
But how can one be warm alone? 
Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12