Prosperity vs. Repentance

That might seem a strange title. Prosperity and repentance aren’t usually seen as conflicting ideas. But let’s take a closer look at how these two ideas appear together in God’s Word. In the book of Jeremiah, we read that God came to Jeremiah and commissioned Jeremiah as His prophet. God put His own words into Jeremiah’s mouth and sent him to God’s own people, the Israelites living in Judah. Jeremiah’s task was to warn the Israelites of their impending destruction at the hands of enemy nations as a consequence of their idolatry. Jeremiah implores Israel to repent of idolatry (13:15-16), but the people refused to heed his warning.

In Jeremiah 14, we find Jeremiah praying to God for mercy for Israel, but God will not listen or relent in His plan to destroy the land of Judah and send the Israelites into captivity because of their idolatry. Judgement on His people is part of His ultimate mercy for them. Experiencing the judgement of God will eventually turn Israel back to God in repentance. It is only in repentance that God’s people will experience His mercy. The false prophets and teachers, however, are preaching peace and denying the coming calamity out of the futility of their own minds (v. 14). These false teachers never talked about repentance for sin and obedience to God’s commands, only about God giving peace and prosperity. In chapter 15, God makes it clear that judgement must come because of the sin of the nation. Those listening to the false teachers will be woefully unprepared when they stand before the living God. They’ve pursued the wrong things. Their lives are only about themselves and God is their “genie in a bible.” In their minds He is only there to give them what they want, they are idolators, loving what God can give more than they love God Himself. They have listened to the toxic message of the false teachers, and it is deadly.

Is the current soft prosperity gospel not a living picture of this same denial of the reality of God’s holiness, commandments, and judgement? Today’s false teachers promise their hearers empowerment, recognition, self-confidence, peace, and strength to do their own thing. Of course, this softer prosperity “gospel” is not so crass as to ask for, demand, or claim cars, houses, and lottery winnings – that’s why it’s called the soft prosperity gospel. But the heart of such idolatry is no different than that of Israel’s heart in Jeremiah’s day, and so the consequences will be no different because God looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). We may give Him praise with our lips, but He who reads hearts knows exactly who we love most. And others who can’t read hearts CAN read actions, and they see the same disordered loves in our character. We love ME!! And we pursue anything that will give ME what I want. We ignore the fact that God says we will each reap what we sow as did Israel in Jeremiah’s day. The apostle Paul spoke clearly to the church in Galatia, “Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit will reap a harvest if we do not give up,” (Galatians 6:7-9). No wonder the world scoffs at pop culture “Christianity.” They can see right through it. False teaching never pays out what it promises.  A self-centered gospel will never bring anyone to the real Christ, nor will it ever satisfy the desire of our hearts. Peter described such false teachers: “These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness has been reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for people are slaves to whatever has mastered them,” (2 Peter 2:17-19).

The good news is, we don’t have to be captivated by the false teaching so popular in American churches today. God tells us how to avoid such entrapment. Acts 17:11 describes the Jews from Berea, as those “of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” The Bible gives us what we need to become wise and discerning about what we hear from our teachers. It is up to us to apply ourselves to learning God’s Word, to check what we hear against the Word of God, and to submit to the Holy Spirit as He applies God’s Word to our lives. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Diligence to understand and obey God’s Word will guard us against false teaching and give us true spiritual prosperity.

Let us who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ become frequent repenters, grateful and satisfied with God’s abundant mercy, forgiveness, and lovingkindness. Let us face the truth of our sinfulness and abandon the false teachers preaching a false gospel filled with false promises. Jesus didn’t come to give you your best life now and fulfill all your self-focused, earthly dreams. He came to buy you back out of the slave market of sin. He paid for you with His blood. He lived the perfect life you can never live so that His perfect righteousness can be credited to you. Jesus didn’t preach empowerment or prosperity, He preached repentance (Matthew 3:8; 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 24:46-48; 5:31-32). Repentance and faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross is the basis of your salvation, not getting everything you dream of on this earth.  If our purpose on earth was to be empowered for self-actualization and have our dreams fulfilled, God would not have left us on earth after salvation! God would have immediately taken us to heaven because He knows that our earthly desires and dreams are rubbish compared to what we will experience with Him in heaven. No. We are His, He owns us. We are here for His purposes. We are here on earth to love, enjoy, submit to, and serve Him. True believers in Jesus don’t chafe at that thought. True faith believes and embraces what Jesus said about trial and hardship in this life and peaceful ease in the next. True faith believes and embraces what Jesus said about humility here and glory in eternity. True faith believes and embraces what Jesus said about living as a servant here and being rewarded in heaven. If that’s not what you’re hearing from your teachers, you need new teachers (including your reading list). Let us live for what Jesus said is true, not what the popular but false teachers say is true. They are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds (Jeremiah 14:14). The only promises they can offer their followers are perpetual discontentment in this life and eternal destruction in the next. Jesus said repentance is now and glorious life is later. Let’s wait for that.

Father God, help us gain a heart of wisdom. Please meet with Your children and teach us as we study Your Word. Help us obey what You command. Grow us into good repenters, quick to confess our sin and live in Your forgiveness. And help us be joyful and content to wait until heaven for glory. Amen.

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Failing the Test

Have you ever had something you said, or worse say often, come back to haunt you? I got a little taste of that a couple of weeks ago. The statement I have made multiple times in the past is this: “Laying down my life for Christ in John 15:13-14 is obedience to Christ’s commands TODAY, not just allegiance to Christ at the point of martyrdom. If I am in the habit of dying daily through reverence and obedience to Christ, I won’t have to worry about allegiance. I’ll be well-practiced at at dying for Christ if that day ever comes.” So how am I doing at dying daily? Well friends, not very well. I failed the last test. And I didn’t just fail it, I made a royal hash of it. Here’s what happened.

A few weeks ago, my husband was diagnosed with COVID-19. This precipitated daily calls from the state health department, beginning with instructions that I needed to quarantine for 14 days from my last day of exposure to him. To get my quarantine completed as soon as possible, we were instructed to sleep in separate areas of the house, use different bathrooms, wear masks, and stay six feet apart when in the same room. We had to take our temperatures twice daily and keep a written record. I had to sign a statement that I would voluntarily quarantine and acknowledge that I would be under mandatory quarantine if I refused. Every day the health department called to ask if either of us had fever or other symptoms. All of this felt very invasive to me. Just informing us of the state guidelines would have been sufficient. We had no intention of exposing others to the virus, but it seemed like government nannies were treating us like disobedient five-year-olds. In addition, the health department ignored my husband’s statement about the onset of his symptoms and set his onset date four days after his symptoms began, which extended our quarantine period. I felt violated in my health privacy and in my own home. And I responded with anger. For several days I felt unsettled, irritated, and resentful. And my behavior was rather prickly. My sinful self was in control.

Then the Lord reminded of about my own admonition about dying daily, considering every trial as coming from the hand of God, and an opportunity for practicing faith, all the while considering it all joy as James exhorts us. Really, Lord? How did this sneak up behind me? I, the preacher of dying daily to self and being prepared to give up everything for the name of Christ Jesus, discovered I am not as prepared as I thought I was. Why did I fail to recognize this as an opportunity to practice reverence and obedience to my Lord? Two thoughts come to mind. First, my thoughts were more on my circumstances than on my Lord. And second, is the warning, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Because I wasn’t on guard, I had failed to heed the warning light of rising internal stress over the 2020 election and the future of our country, coupled with the disappointment of canceled trips to celebrate our anniversary and to visit my mom in another state, missing friends and family, and interrupted ministry due to the pandemic. I didn’t take all those stresses to the Lord, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ when they first appeared. I wasn’t tending my confidence in Jesus to keep it growing and strong. I needed to re-center my heart and mind. I needed to remember the promises of God: that though Christ’s followers would have trouble in this world, Jesus Christ has already overcome the world; promises that Jesus will never leave or forsake us; promises to provide everything we need; promises to shepherd us through our deepest valleys; and the reminder that our citizenship is in heaven, not here on earth. I also needed to remember that when I bowed my heart to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, I gave up all my rights, including the “right” to be offended.

So what to do? How could I grow my confidence in Christ and His promises? How could I be more willing to give up my “rights”? How could I move my preparations from theological theory to theologically-driven actions? After taking these questions to the Lord, I realized there are no new answers to these questions. God has already given me what I need in what are often called, “the ordinary means of grace”- the Word of God, prayer, and the sacraments. The Word reminds me of God’s promises and His faithfulness to fulfill them (2 Cor. 1:20). Prayer brings me boldly before the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper remind me of my identification with both the death and the resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3-5). But these ordinary means of grace must be intentionally practiced. Thinking further about turning my heart’s focus to my Lord, I have found that the music of hymns helps plant rich theology deep in my heart and then brings it to mind and tongue again and again (Eph. 5:17-20). Corporate worship and fellowship encourage me through the faith of sisters and brothers in Christ and remind me that I am not alone (Heb. 10:24-25). I can ask the Lord to help me recognize opportunities to practice death to self while waiting for His eternal kingdom, and I know that when I ask according to His will, He will give me what I ask (1 John 5:14-15). Finally I can remind myself often that nothing comes into my life without my Father’s sovereign oversight, and I can say with my Savior, “Not my will, but Yours, be done,” (Luke 22:42).

I suspect there will be many opportunities in the coming days to practice trusting Christ’s promises, opportunities to submit to government authorities without grumbling or being resentful, and opportunities for many other little daily deaths. Practice makes better. Thank You, Lord, for Your grace when I fail. Help me lay down my life today.

Don’t Waste This Crisis!

red stop sign
Photo by Pixabay on

There is a little phrase that has occupied my mind in recent days, “Don’t waste a good crisis.” We usually hear it in a negative connotation, in reference to someone taking advantage of the opportunity a crisis affords to push one’s agenda, whether it be in relationships, the workplace, politics, or another arena. The phrase is frequently used by those who feel such a move is dishonest or underhanded and that they are being manipulated. Using a crisis to further your own plans seems selfish. Unless you are God.

God knows that a crisis is often the thing that drives His apostate children back to Him. The theme of rebellion, retribution, repentance, and restoration runs through the Bible from beginning to end. It is the discipline, or retribution, of God that brings mankind to the end of his rebellion and to repentance and restoration. The book of Judges is a good place to see this sin cycle. Psalms 79 and 80 declare Israel’s plea for mercy and willingness to return to the Lord in worship and obedience after He has punished them for their apostasy.

God also uses crises for other good purposes. Philippians 3:10 tells us that God uses suffering to conform us to the image of Christ. Romans 8:28-30 and James 1:2-4 also describe God’s use of suffering to make us like Christ. Suffering can help us gain a greater understanding of God and His ways and bring us into deeper relationship with our heavenly Father (Deut. 8:3). Crisis can teach us to depend more fully on God (2 Cor. 12:8-10). And God uses suffering to testify of His greatness to a watching world (Hebrews 11).

Crisis and suffering are not just to be endured, but embraced. At the end of a crisis, we say, “It’s over!” God says, “It worked!” Those are two very different perspectives on suffering. Escaping suffering is the natural response of humans. But God’s perspective is the one we need to adopt and pursue, because in the end it produces godly character in our lives (Romans 5:3-4) and brings eternal reward (2 Cor. 4:17). We triumph over suffering when we work with God to accomplish His purposes in our trials.

With that little glimpse into God’s purposes for suffering and crisis, what next? How do we actually pursue the goal of cooperating with God in His efforts to rid us of sin, conform us to His image, build into us godly character and perseverance, and make us true witnesses of His glory?

First, it takes intentionality. This isn’t the normal response to hardship, friends. This isn’t the easy way, this is going against the flow. Think about it. The internet is suddenly awash with ideas for “surviving” the current social distancing guidelines and shutdown of our economy. There has never been such a deluge of suggestions for how to escape this pause until life is back to normal. I’m talking about suggestions for adults, not ways to engage with our children. Lists of movies you’ve forgotten about, series to binge-watch on Netflix, hobbies to take up, and projects to pass the time. Not that all of those things are bad, or should even be avoided. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling the pull of all these suggestions. But this time-out from the normal frenzy of life is a gift of time for other things, important things. And God has a purpose for this time-out in each of our lives. Don’t miss it. Use this gift of time carefully.

Second, take your cue from God. Spend some time in prayer and consider how to use this gift of time to pursue Him. What areas of life, what spiritual disciplines, are suffering from neglect? What has God been saying to you that you have allowed to disappear into the noise of life? What issues of life need clarity in the light of God’s Word? What part of God’s Word have you been wanting to learn or memorize? What would God have you journal to help you remember what He is teaching you?

Many ministries have stepped up to provide resources to help Christ’s followers seize this gift of time for His glory and our good. I’ll list a few:

Ligonier Ministries
All their group learning resources free through at least June 30, 2020.
The entire library of hundreds of teaching series are free to stream, with free downloadable study guides.
And other offers available on their website.

Revive Our Hearts
Podcasts especially helpful in this uncertain time:
The Truth About God – Mary Kassian
Series: A Mighty Fortress is Our God
Prayer in a Time of Crisis

Tim Challies
Thought-provoking and encouraging blog posts at
Lots of links to trustworthy free offerings for God’s people while we wait:
All the-free and discounted stuff for these difficult times

John MacArthur and Grace to You
Always free at, watch, listen, read.

There are many more resources available from solidly biblical ministries, just too many to list here. The U.S.A. has just received word that our shutdown and social distancing will be extended for a month, until the end of April. This isn’t good for our economy, I know. But I pray it saves lives and relieves pressure on our healthcare providers, and turns people to God. And in the meantime, I intend to make the most of the time for God’s glory and my spiritual growth. I’d love to hear how you’re spending this gift of time God has given us. This time it’s a good thing – don’t waste this crisis!

What We, Us, and Our Would Do for the Church

Pray-Chris & Jamie Crop

God used the terms “us” and “our” when He created man (Gen. 1:26), and rightly so. Scripture reveals that all the persons of the Trinity worked together to create image-bearers: God the Father is referenced throughout the creation account, the Holy Spirit is named in Genesis 1:2, and John 1 credits Jesus with all of creation.  Jesus used the term “we” referring to Himself and the Father. He even went so far as to claim oneness with the Father (John 10:30). Then Jesus prayed His followers would live in oneness just as the Father and Son live in oneness (John 17:21). If we are truly image-bearers of the triune God, should oneness and unity not be stamped upon us? What change would our focus undergo if we, the Church, intentionally took hold of this concept? What changes would result from such a transformed focus? My husband calls me an idealist, and he may be right, but indulge me for a few minutes. Come and dream with me a bit about the possibilities of a mindset shift from “me,” to “we.” Because this ideal is God’s, and we should pursue what He says is ideal.

If life in the Church was “we” instead of “me,” shame would be reduced, because a “we” mindset would help us recognize that every believer is sinful, no one has it all together, and we all must deal with sin in the same way (Isaiah 53:6). Thinking in the plural would diminish our sense of shame, which is based in pride of wanting to be as good as or better than everyone else. Shame is often a by-product of comparison. We would lose our false impressions of other believers, knowing that each one of us has sins, obvious or not. The level ground at the foot of the cross should make “King of the Hill” difficult to play. There wouldn’t be much point in hiding sin and insecurity. Recognizing that we’re all in this together, and we’re all the same in our sinfulness and need for a Savior, would encourage transparency and result in improved spiritual health as we speak the truth to each other in love and humility.

Compassion for one another would grow as we realized that we are all in this together, and that no other believer is sinless or without hardship. Recognition of my own sinfulness and my struggle with sin, and my desire to be righteous should give me compassion for the very same struggle in my brothers and sisters in Christ (Col. 3:12). We would pray more for each other, forgiveness would flow into encouragement. A “we” perspective gets our focus off our own needs and onto the needs of others. Eventually, we would be thinking of others more than we think about ourselves. (Phil. 2:3-4). Generosity would become easier, and needs would be met (Acts 2:44).

Unity would abound if we quit seeing ourselves primarily as individuals, and instead as members of the same Body with the same trials and sins, the same forgiveness, the same Savior, the same purpose, the same future, and the same hope. We would be drawn together to help each other in the struggle against sickness, hardship, and sin. We would desire to pray for each other in the battle against sin and the effects of sin on each other, and on the Body as a whole (Eph. 6:18). We would work together for the same goal – to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:16-20). The need for competition would disappear as we ceased envying one another, and instead had a passion for the salvation of the nations and the health of the Church (James 4:1).

The stunning, irresistible beauty of God would be clearly visible to the world if we really did demonstrate His love and support and compassion for one another as living stones built together into the Family of God, Temple of God, the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ (Phil. 2:14-16). What an amazing community of which to be part and in which to thrive! What a glorious witness we would be to a watching world of what life in the Kingdom of God is like, because this is what God is like and we bear His image (2 Cor. 4:6, Rev. 21:22-27).

God would be glorified, and Christ would be pleased with our we, us, and our attitude, because this is His plan for the Church (Phil. 1:27). As any parent desires unity and love among their children, so God desires unity and love among His children. He created us with unity of heart and purpose in mind, and when we live as one family, one body, one living temple, we will discover just how very good God’s plan really is (Psalm 133).

So, how do we begin to effect such a seismic, vital shift? After all, this is is a tremendous change in the American Church. As always, the best place to start is on our knees. We can pray that God would give each of us and our church body His vision and concept of how we are to live as believers and serve our Savior in unity. The Scriptures referenced in this post might be a starting place for prayer and meditation. There is much more Scripture about oneness among God’s children, perhaps select some passages to pray through. For the next 30 days,  try  substituting the words “us,”” we,” and “our” for”” I,” “me,” and “my'” in reference to the Church. What might happen to your thinking, and to your heart? Thinking in terms of unity in plurality is changing my perspective on life and enlarging my heart for others. I would love to hear what it is doing in yours.

Grace and peace,


“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,  complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,  being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

 Do all things without grumbling or disputing,  that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,  holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” – Philippians 2:1-16 (ESV)


towel & bowlWe are now eight days into January 2019, and the freshness of the new year is already wearing off for some who are struggling to keep their newly minted resolutions untarnished by neglect . If you’re already there, take heart! I’m just getting started hashing out my resolutions and goals for 2019, so you’re way ahead of me! Hashing out seems like an unusual way to describe the setting of admirable new goals. It’s a messy, hard-work word, nothing like the shiny, idealistic goal-setting I’ve done in the past. Honestly, for the last few years, I’ve just carried over my resolution from year to year and set new small-step goals to achieve my ultimate goal: balance. Year after year I go at it from a different angle, with a new plan and fresh energy. Year after year I never get there. And year after year I feel defeated. A quote attributed to Albert Einstein comes to mind, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” That’s an uncomfortably accurate description of my past resolutions. It’s time to reconsider my goal. Why do I want balance in my life?  What is it about the idea of balance that is so appealing? Is it the culture’s call for balance? After all, magazines, blogs, self-help books, and podcasts tout balance in all things. Is it my pride calling for the display of something admirable in my life? The answers to those questions remain elusive, though in some measure I should probably answer “yes” to the last two. But there is another question I cannot answer with a confident “yes.”

I have begun to wonder whether true balance is even the ideal in a Christian’s life. Does God command balance in the lives of Jesus’ followers? I have yet to find any such reference in the Bible. A quick internet search turns up numerous articles from Christian authors and publications recommending balance. But after reading them, they really seem to be encouraging a life sold-out to God, cultivating a sound mind by knowing Scripture, and taking care of our God-given responsibilities. Maybe it’s just semantics, but that sounds to me more like surrender and obedience than balance.

Balance would feel like a wonderfully secure spot for me: ordered, predictable, stress-free, and manageable. I think I would be pretty happy with myself if I ever achieved it because it’s an illusion of control. And boy, do I like control. However, to maintain said “balance” would require some rigidity and diligence. I am certainly capable of rigidity – it goes hand-in-hand with control. But how can I say, “Yes, Lord,” to God’s interruptions in my life if my focus is on maintaining the static state of balance?

A number of years ago, I heard a pastor say, in reference to the prompting of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-7), “You haven’t lived until you have lived at the mercy of the Wind.” That stuck with me. I am learning, slowly, to be intentional with my time and energy yet alert and ready to respond to the wind of the Spirit of God. I can’t do that and maintain “balance.” I’d rather be moved by the Spirit, available to be led and used for the purposes of God. Not flighty or drifting, but responsive to His leading, praying for discernment to recognize His call, and a willing heart to say, “Yes, Lord,” when He interrupts my plans.

As I pray and plan for this new year, the idea of balance won’t be my target. I will not retool and make another run at achieving the dubious trophy of balance. The resolutions that come to mind are not achievements but character qualities: humble, obedient, intentional, mindful, available, and servant. I want to be obedient to God’s commands with a humble heart, seeking His glory, not my own. Such a goal will require intentional and sometimes hard choices about how I spend my time, my energy, and my influence. Regular evaluation and accountability are good ways to stay mindful about my goals and make needed course-corrections. And then there is that ‘available’ word. The one that puts self to death. The one that says, “Not my plans, Lord, but Yours.” The word that upsets balance for sold-out. That word needs to go on my bathroom mirror, I think. Because available is a serving word. Available implies being prepared for action at any time. Available means being ready to put my plans and desires aside when the Spirit of God calls. Available will be costly. But I am, after all, His servant. So with Mary, I say, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your Word.”

Just For The Joy Of It

pexels-photo-66100.jpegDo you appreciate encouragement? Isn’t it nice to hear words of thanks and know you have made a difference in someone’s life? Does positive feedback give you an added boost of energy to continue in the task at hand? Are those silly questions? Of course they are, because appreciation and encouragement are universally positive. Gratefulness and encouragement are both common themes in the Bible, and should be significant qualities in the life of a Christian.

In his New Testament letters, the apostle Paul frequently urges his readers to encourage one another, and in Hebrews 3 he even adds “daily” to his instruction to encourage other believers. The church would benefit greatly from more gratefulness and encouragement. I know I can do more to encourage others, such as writing letters to thank those who have helped shape my faith and my walk with Christ.

Recently, I was blessed to receive such encouragement. It came in the form of a message from a younger woman who had been a faithful member of a Bible study group I help lead. Now on the women’s Bible study leadership team in a church plant, she is unable to attend our weekly Bible study. She thanked me and wanted me to know that, “Your investment in my heart is now being poured into a new group of young mothers.” Wow! I was (and still am) so excited to see discipleship in action, exactly as the church is supposed to function! How thrilling to see God at work through this godly younger woman. How delightful to be part of that work. It makes me want to roll up my sleeves, study my heart out, and go explore God’s Word with these faithful women. What a recharge! Who knows what may come of it?

Then another thought followed. What if NOTHING came of it? What if there were no grateful updates, no new leaders launched, no visible results? Would I be so excited to study God’s Word, prepare lessons, be at the church every Wednesday morning? Could I see myself doing the same thing year after year without encouragement until God redirected me? Could I approach each study session with equal enthusiasm? Or would I eventually suffer discouragement and burnout? And maybe even drop out? Such a thought is sobering, because I know how easy it is for me to become discouraged over slow growth or no growth in people I am pouring into.

So what’s the answer? Focus. The object of my eyes determines the state of my heart, regardless of circumstances. If I am focused on results, I have set myself up to be discouraged. Serving the god of results is a sure path to burnout. But if I am not focused on results, what is to be my motivation? Who is crazy enough to work hard for no visible results? I’ll tell you who. It is those who know the living God as Father. It is those who serve Him simply for the joy of obedience to Him. There can be no higher motivation than to return the love of our gracious, merciful, loving, heavenly Father by obeying His commands.

Obedience is an overarching Biblical theme from Genesis to Revelation. In the New International Version, “obey” is used 143 times, and “obedience” 34 times. That doesn’t include all the biblical synonyms for obedience such as do, walk, follow, heed, keep, fulfill, or observe! That’s a lot of obedience! Scripture shows us obedience comes with blessing (James 1:25; Luke 11:28; John 14:23) and disobedience comes with cursing (Deut. 11:26, and the entire Jewish history found in Kings and Chronicles). But the threat of dire consequences does not bring about heartfelt obedience. No, it is love that moves a heart to obey. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15 ). Even Jesus said His obedience showed the world that He loved the Father (John 14:31). A heart moved by gratitude and love finds joy in obeying the object of its affection.

In 2 Chronicles 29 and 30, under the leadership of King Hezekiah, the Jewish kingdom of Judah finds great joy in heartfelt obedience to God. Immediately upon taking the throne, twenty-five-year-old Hezekiah led the nation to return to faithful obedience to the Lord their God after years of apostasy. He opened the long-shut temple doors, and repaired them. He gathered the priests and the Levites and instructed them to first consecrate themselves, and then to set to work purifying the temple. In just sixteen days, the work was completed. Early the next morning, Hezekiah gathered the city officials and went up to the temple to offer sacrifices to God according to the Law of Moses. As offerings were being made, cymbals, harps, lyres, trumpets, and voices filled the air with praise to the Lord God. The king and his officials, the priests, the Levites, and everyone present knelt before the Lord in worship. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for His people, because it was done so quickly (2 Chron. 29:36). Then Hezekiah issued an invitation to all of Judah and Israel to come to the temple in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover as the Lord had commanded. Scripture tells us a very large number of people came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover. All the preparation, sacrifices, and travel to Jerusalem had been a lot of work and expense. But after the prescribed seven days of offerings, celebration, and praise to God, the people weren’t ready to stop. So they decided to celebrate for seven more days! Obedience had brought long-lost joy to Judah and to those who had come from Israel. “There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place” (2 Chronicles 30: 26-27). God’s people found great joy in simple obedience. Not in promises of what the results might be, but in faithful execution of the Lord’s commands. Their obedience was its own encouragement.

I want to obey and serve my Lord just for the joy that comes from obedience. Christ has set me free to obey. He set me free from the bondage of sin to be able to say, “Yes, Lord” to whatever He asks. Just to live in obedience is it’s own joyful reward, to be pleasing to God, simply available for Him to use me, whether to bring results in the lives of others, or only in my own life. It would be an added bonus to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In our feedback-centric culture, I need to remember that “well-done” does not imply “highly productive” or “well-received.” It just means I did exactly what my Father asked with a happy heart and left the results up to Him.

Yes, I do appreciate the gratefulness and update from my Bible study friend. It IS a recharge to be able to see the results of service to the Lord. But I pray, in the presence of gratitude and encouragement, no matter how much or how little, that my motivation, my hope, my joy, will never be transferred from obedience to results.

What Shall We Sing?

This post was prompted by an article by Joshua Dunn, titled Shake It Off? Secular Songs on Sunday Morning, and posted on I reposted the article on Facebook and a sweet Christian friend offered some thoughts on why she feels secular music in the Church is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe it is important to consider the position of those with whom we don’t agree, whether in the Church or the non-Christian community, so I have been chewing on the issue and seeking the Lord. Ultimately, the goal on both sides of the issue should be to arrive at a biblically supportable conclusion that glorifies God. Please do not hear me say this post is God’s response to my questions, and that this is an oracle from God. These are only my thoughts after considering the issue and spending some time in prayer. I won’t copy my friend’s post here, but will mention a couple of the common arguments given in support of secular music in worship services before responding to the issue at hand.

One argument in support of the use of secular music in worship services is that these songs deal with real life, the pain and heartache of life on earth, and therefore make a good jumping off point from which to point people to the answer found in Scripture, Jesus Christ. Along the same lines, art, in this case music, used to express the thoughts and emotions of humanity, shouldn’t be categorized as secular or Christian, but rather, received as valid expressions of the human condition, whether beautiful or dark. Since secular music can also be followed with messages about the truth of Christ’s ability to heal those hurts expressed in the music, why should we exclude it from worship services?

Proponents of secular music in worship services also argue that familiar secular music may also help unbelievers, “seekers” if you will, connect to the message and the people around them, enabling them to feel more comfortable in an environment that seems foreign. After all, we’re just reaching out and trying to make them feel welcome so we can set the stage for a conversation about Jesus Christ. There’s no harm in that, right? If we consider the issue carefully we will see that there is harm being done. The “seeker friendly” approach to worship services is weakening the Church, making her ineffective at the very task we are trying to accomplish with this approach. Let’s consider just a few of the problems.

The catch in this dilemma lies in the purpose of a worship service. Our worship is to be so God-focused that He is glorified and blessed by our worship and we are changed by His presence and His Word as we worship. No secular music will ever accomplish either of those goals. Gatherings of the Church are to purify and equip the Church to do the work of the ministry (which includes reaching unbelievers with the gospel of Jesus Christ). Unbelievers are always welcome to join us, but their presence should not cause us to alter the way we approach God. It is imperative that the Church stay true to the purpose of a worship service or we are wasting everyone’s time while we deceive ourselves about what we are accomplishing. The purpose of the gathering of the Church is not to present art in order to help us connect with our feelings. The purpose of the gathering of the Church is not to attract unbelievers. The purpose of the gathering of the Church is to build, purify, and keep the Body of Christ oriented toward God. It is a regular re-calibration of our minds and hearts, and an offering of ourselves to God. Worship services are for believers in Jesus Christ. If we stray from our purpose, we lose our direction, and end up creating our own new purpose for our gatherings as the Church. As Voddie Baucham says, “If you don’t know the purpose of a thing, you will probably misuse it.”

The Body of Christ should certainly make an effort to connect with the needs and feelings of those outside the Church who come through our doors, but that does not necessitate that secular music be brought into the worship services. There are volumes upon volumes of hymns, choruses, and contemporary Christian songs that address the pain of life on earth and also direct our hearts to the only God who can heal us. Would it not be better to send unbelieving visitors out the doors of the church building with theologically sound songs of the faith ringing in their ears than to send them out humming the secular (and may I add, hopeless) songs we have promoted in our worship services? What a gift to give people songs that address not only the hardships of life, but also the glorious hope we have in Christ! Please, Church, don’t pass up this opportunity!

Unbelievers should always be welcome when the Church gathers. But it is our difference from the culture, not our sameness that will give them pause. It is our difference as a result of God’s saving and sanctifying work that is attractive. Seeker-focused churches are so bent on being acceptable to the culture, they no longer look different from the culture. Why would unbelievers be drawn to something that looks no different from the world with which they are disenchanted? God is perfectly capable of drawing in unbelievers to gatherings of the Church and keeping them there as long as He desires. We don’t need to divert from our purpose or pollute our worship to get them there. “Seeker friendly” worship services have become a cheap substitute for Church members knowing God’s Word well enough and loving others well enough to spend time and effort to connect with them and share the gospel with them. Evangelism is primarily to be carried out by the Body of Christ in our daily lives – outside the church building. But in our busy, distracted, and biblically illiterate church culture, it is so much easier to just bring them to a “seeker friendly” service. However, a “seeker friendly” style service hijacks the purpose and the focus of a worship service, making it ineffective for its God-given purpose and intended outcome.  My friend Mike Curry addresses the confusion when he says, “The great commission is go and tell, not come and see!”

And finally, there is a strong trend in churches, and among church staff in particular, to look cool and to present cool, flashy “worship” services. As this trend has ramped up, song lyrics have drifted further and further from biblical truth and sermon content has become shallow. Biblical teaching has become elementary, and appallingly brief. Congregations are fed milk week after week, year after year. The vast majority of the people in the pews have never graduated from Christianity 101. While we water down the content of worship music and teaching for seekers, we are starving the Church. Equally egregious is the fact that those churches are not doing justice to unbelievers who walk through their doors needing to see and experience the holiness of God, not the “relevance” of the church to the culture.

Reading Acts 5, we see that life within the Body of Christ was not seeker-focused in the first century of the Church. How might seekers have responded to the public accountability required of Ananias and Sapphira that ultimately cost them their lives? Even the Church sat up and took notice at this severe and very public church discipline carried out by God Himself. John MacArthur, in his commentary on Acts, calls it a “solemn purging.” Verse 11 says “great fear came over the whole Church and over all who heard of these things.”  Verse 13 tells us that “the rest,” (a reference to unbelievers) were afraid to associate with the Apostles (and I think we can safely add, with the Church). The NIV says, “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.” And yet, in verse 14 we see that God constantly added more and more new believers to the Church. Luke’s use of the term “multitudes” implies there were too many new converts to keep count! How is it possible that multitudes were added to the Church when unbelievers didn’t even dare to associate with the Church? Because it is God who does the drawing and the adding, not man. God doesn’t need us to be “seeker-friendly”, He wants us to be set apart, pure, and holy, a reflection of Himself. That is what attracts seekers. And God will still do the adding.

Rebuilding Again


An aha moment, a revelation, an epiphany, call it what you will, I had one today. It began with a rather mundane, and somewhat discouraging event, one that would not normally be something worth writing about. But since it concluded in an encouraging perspective on the Christian’s never-ending battle with sin, it merits sharing.

This morning, I decided today was the day to test my ankle. Today marks six weeks since ankle surgery, and I’m anxious to get it rehabilitated. My hope was that the ankle is healed enough to go beyond the gentle stretching, massage, and ice therapy I’ve been doing for several weeks and might be ready for a little more strenuous exercise in a controlled situation. So I got on my rowing machine and gave the ankle a gentle three-minute workout. Getting off the machine, I thought, “Wow, three whole minutes. Even if the ankle tolerates this well, (the next twenty-four hours will tell!) it’s going to take a while to build back up to my normal rowing time. And even longer to rebuild strength and flexibility in the ankle. Sigh. Rebuilding again.” You see, this is the eighth surgery on this ankle, the eighth time I’ve started over, the eighth season of rebuilding. It seems as soon as the ankle is pain-free, strong enough for moderate activity, and not interfering with daily life, something goes wrong and I’m back in surgery and starting over. Discouragement was lurking in my thoughts. It was time for some truth-telling here. Time to remind myself of what I know, of the truth that encourages and keeps me persevering and hopeful during times of rebuilding. Time to dwell on truth that evokes the gratefulness that will banish discouragement and quash self-pity.

So I reviewed the facts in my mind. Thirty years ago, prosthetic ankle joints didn’t even exist, and I am so thankful to have been accepted into the clinical trial that provided mine thirteen years ago. Without it, I would barely be able to walk by now. The Lord has blessed me with an incredible pioneering surgeon who is highly skilled, internationally acclaimed, and really cares about his patients.  My husband has become a selfless pro at caring for me through surgeries and sometimes long periods of inability to walk during recovery. He never complains. Our family has been supportive and helpful through round after round of incapacitated Mom, and always with cheerfulness. The body of Christ has come alongside us and helped in a myriad of ways by praying, bringing meals, cleaning, making the six-hour post-op trips to Dallas with me, and providing companionship during long weeks of restricted mobility. I know each surgery is correcting a problem, and I’ll be better in the long run. The downtime and rehabilitation is worth the reward of a season of improved function and reduced pain. That’s a mountain of blessing to be grateful for, and a strong antidote to discouragement.

As I countered discouragement with truth this morning, and adjusted my attitude toward rebuilding the ankle, the Aha! struck.  I realized that this process of rebuilding an ankle is not unlike the spiritual reconstruction God does in His children. Jeremiah 31:28 describes the tearing down and rebuilding of Israel, “As I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to overthrow, to destroy and to bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the LORD. Israel’s gracious God was speaking of wounding to heal, of tearing down to rebuild something better. God had broken down the cities of His people, Israel, due to their sin. He had plucked them up and sent them into captivity in Babylon. Physical disaster had followed their sinful spiritual disaster. Pain and discouragement had been Israel’s familiar companions in Babylon. But then God spoke of bringing them back to their land, of healing their wounds, restoring their spiritual health, rebuilding their nation, and renewing their hope and their joy. Ultimately this prophecy would find its complete fulfillment in the New Covenant, inaugurated by their long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ. But for a time, Israel had been brought to repentance. The nation was ready to be rebuilt, replanted, and restored. And God would send the prophet Nehemiah to lead the rebuilding and to speak truth into their discouragement during the arduous task.

Our gracious heavenly Father not only performs spiritual surgery on an entire nation, He is Jehovah Rapha, The LORD Who Heals each one of His children of our sinfulness. The cutting out process is undoubtedly uncomfortable, but when we submit ourselves to the loving ministrations of the Great Physician, we can be confident that His work of reconstruction will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). I had the opportunity to undergo such spiritual surgery a few months ago. The problem was a past pattern of sin that the Lord had dealt with years ago: worship of the opinions of man. I was so thankful He had freed me from this bondage, and for many years it wasn’t a problem, but now it was back. How appalling to see it resurface! I was so dismayed and discouraged, “Lord, here I am again, dealing with the same old sin that I thought was gone. I’m so sorry. Whatever will You do with me? I feel like a hopeless case.” It was time for some truth-telling, and a review of God’s Word. Our tender healer Father doesn’t see one of His children as a hopeless case, because He has the power to change us, to sanctify us. Sanctification means to be set apart from the world, reserved for God’s purposes, and in order to do that, the Lord must rebuild us. It is a process of tearing down our old thinking and behavior patterns, constructing new thinking and a new way of living, and letting us concentrate on that for a season.  Later, there will be other issues in our lives that God will address as He sanctifies us, and we will go through the cycle again. Discipline, spiritual surgery, is a normal, expected, and good thing in the life of a Christian. Proverbs 3:11-12 tells us that discipline, or chastening, by the Lord proves His love and acceptance of us as His child, for He disciplines us as a father disciplines a child he delights in. We also learn from these verses how we are to respond to His chastening. We are not to rebel against God by rejecting, despising, or refusing His discipline. Nor are we to respond with the opposite extreme of sickening dread, loathing, or grief. In Hebrews 12:5-6, the author quotes Proverbs 3:11-12, and describes this response as “losing heart.” He goes on to explain that every true child of God receives His discipline, and we should submit to it because it is for our good, that we may share in God’s holiness. Though it seems painful at the time, God’s discipline produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:5-13). So we are not to be discouraged when we feel like we’re back to a spiritual square one. Sanctification involves tearing down in order to rebuild, and it’s a welcome process, a blessing in the life of a Christian. Chastening reminds me that I am truly the daughter of God, a sister of Christ, and dearly loved. It reminds me that my Father is working to develop holiness, righteousness, and peace in me. That, too, is a mountain of blessing to be grateful for, and a strong antidote to discouragement.

I Don’t Have a Home

Wisdom worth sharing from a young friend.


I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve said “I’m going home” and then had to further clarify where I’m going. I use “home” to describe a number of different places: My parents’ house in Fort Wayne, my house at school in Bloomington, Acacia 4 at the ‘Buni in Kitale; Kenya, the two-story burnt orange house with the pool in the backyard in Sabadell; Spain, the girl’s home run by nuns in Abancay; Peru.

It has come to the point where “home” is somewhat of an obsolete term for me. When I use it, no one knows where I’m actually referring to. It always requires further clarification.

And it hurts my mom’s feelings sometimes. Especially when I refer to my house in Bloomington as home. She so desperately wants my home to be with her, always. And while my home is with her in Fort Wayne, it’s a number…

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When Christmas Gets Squeezed

Christmas 2016 was looking like one of those years. I’ve had them more times than I care to remember, and I really thought I was beyond them. Beyond the stress of insufficient time to accomplish the mile-long task list in the run-up to Christmas Day. Beyond last-minute shopping in picked-over stores. Beyond eleventh-hour dithering about what to feed our family when they all gathered to celebrate Christmas in our home. Beyond late night gift wrapping sessions that left me with aching shoulders and promises to myself that next year would be different. Next year, I would have preparations finished before Thanksgiving so I could relax and enjoy a meaningful, unhurried Christmas season.

But I was wrong. I wasn’t beyond any of that, and the circumstances were completely out of my control. It was November 29, 2016, not one preparation had been made, and all our adult kids and grandkids would be in our home on December 3rd to celebrate Christmas, exchange gifts with each other, and enjoy just being together (a rare treat since one has been living in south Florida). I was so far behind, there wasn’t anything I could do to get everything done and have a relaxed, peaceful, Christ-focused Christmas season. After all, there was the tree to put up and decorate, the wreath for the front door, and little Christmasy touches to arrange in the rest of the house. Meals and snacks to plan, and gifts to purchase and wrap. Oh, and did I mention that we moved two months ago? And downsized? And still have half our belongings in boxes in the garage? And had to find sheets and blankets for guest beds? And one bedroom still needed a bed frame and bedding in a size I didn’t have? And the house hadn’t been cleaned in a month because we were focused on unpacking from our own move and helping our daughter and son-in-law move from Miami to the Midwest on a three week notice? And all this with the constant pain of an ankle that needs yet another surgery.

There’s more, but I’ll spare you the details. You get the picture. This was shaping up to be the least prepared, most stressful Christmas in thirty-five years of marriage. It was overwhelming, and I was near melt-down. Slipping through my fingers was the time I craved to sit at the feet of my Lord and marvel at His coming. To savor the wonder of God Himself, wrapped in human form, humbly housed in a stable, helpless and poor, coming to earth to become one of us. And all because He loves us. What an incredible God we have, and we have the whole month of December set aside to ponder His inconceivable gift of love, His Son, Jesus Christ.

Unless, of course, your world has been turned topsy-turvy and you’re a disorganized mess. Once again, I was going to miss Christmas. Oh, not the actual day, but the season of quiet, honed-in reflection that wakens hearts to the reason for the celebration. With all the preparations to be made, there wouldn’t be enough time for that. Christmas would come and go in the midst of frenetic activity and leave me feeling empty. Christmas was getting squeezed. Again. Something had to give, but what? What could I delete from my to-do list in order to make room for time with Christ this Christmas season? Not gifts for family. Maybe a tree? Decorations? Special baked treats? What would Christmas be without those? If I had to choose only one thing to have at Christmas what would it be? The answer seemed easy, Jesus, of course! But I had never thought about actually celebrating Christmas without anything but Jesus. Could I do it? Could I truly enjoy a Christmas without a tree and decorations, food and festivities? It seemed so forlorn, but then again, peaceful. Lacking, but full. Different, but right. When the thought first came, I felt a little sorry for myself. What a sad, bleak Christmas that would be. But what is the lack of a tree and shiny ornaments compared to the gift of a Savior and time to spend with Him? Would I really rather have the trappings of the celebration than the Christ we celebrate? Could I joyfully choose to spend my widow’s mite of discretionary time all on my Lord? Is there anything or anyone more worthy? My mind turned the corner. An unadorned Christmas might be a really good opportunity to put into practice what I say I believe, that Christmas is nothing without Jesus. That we need to choose carefully what we allow in our Christmas celebration, lest we find ourselves swept along in the torrent of Christ-less festivities that threatens to drown out the true meaning of Christmas. That Christ alone is enough in any circumstance, including a Christmas devoid of decorations and culinary delights. The mere possibility of a season of quiet contemplation flooded in like warm sunshine, bringing immediate relief. Yes, I was willing to forego decorations for fellowship with my Savior. If I had to choose, I would choose Jesus. And peace.

And it was a good weekend. There were no decorations, no special foods. We ate sandwiches for lunch and ordered pizza for dinner. The kids exchanged gifts and played with the little ones and enjoyed each other. Armed with coats, gloves, and umbrellas, we braved a light rain to watch the Civil War reenactment on the battlefield across the road from our home. We warmed up with hot chocolate, coffee, and laughter. And not once during the weekend did I notice the lack of Christmas décor. What I did notice was the lack of stress. Instead of empty, I was content.

Have I given up all hope of a decorated home and a warm batch of molasses cookies this year? Not on your life. But if homemade cookies and a bedecked tree happen, it will be because the Lord made provision, not because I prioritized a pretty home over a season of worshiping Him. I will seek first the kingdom of God, and let Him decorate the season as He sees fit. After all, the most beautiful adornments of Christmas are hearts contented with the peace, joy, and love of our Savior.


But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.(Matthew 6:33)