Monday, October 29, 2012

Day 30 - The Choice is Ours

"'But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve...But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.'”
Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

(If you read my other blog, you might recognize some of the material mentioned today. I'm posting this a little early... just in case Sandy knocks out the power)

"If I Chew on that I'll Choke!"

 This was the response given to me by my husband after I emptied my heart to him a few weeks ago. (Oh, I love his sense of humor!)  While, I know that his statement was only in hopes of bringing levity to a very intense conversation about the state of my heart.... there was also some truth nestled gently into the words he spoke.  Ever-so-slowly, God is peeling back layers and revealing more and more to me... changing me, transforming me... and it's completely wonderful. But, it’s also utterly horrifying.
On the day in question, after a morning trip to the gym... and listening to yet another convicting sermon from Matt Chandler, I plopped myself down on the bed and verbally vomited all over my husband.  (Sorry for the visual… but it wasn’t pretty.  The words and emotions just spewed out of me… uncontrollably. Poor guy never stood a chance.) As the tears flowed and the words came tumbling out, you could see the concern on his face... not for me... for him.  God has been leading us... ever so slowly... to this place where a decision has to be made: we either TRULY pick up the cross and follow Jesus or we keep deluding ourselves into believing that the “status-quo” is enough… realizing more and more that it isn’t… that it never was. 
It’s hard for me to pin-point where this all started, or even how I got to where I am today.  Little things here and there have been convicting me of all the temptations and strongholds of this world. We were recently reading a passage from the book Kisses from Katie, as part of our family devotional, and the words we read struck a resounding chord… one I "fear" will resonate in my heart forever (written in her journal upon her return back to the States after a year in Uganda):
"I keep forgetting to ask God first to heal me, to fill me, to guide me, to rejoice with me.  I have to set aside 'time to pray' in the morning and at night instead of being in constant communication with Him. In Uganda, because I was so physically 'poor,' I was completely dependent on God and spiritually as wealthy as ever. As I sit here writing, I am frustrated with my own stupidity, my human willingness to step back into dependence on stuff and these places I swore I detested." p. 122

So much of what Katie wrote is also imprinted on my heart... without ever having been to Uganda. Figuring out how to loosen the chains of this world, a tightening noose around our necks, has been a challenge... but not nearly as difficult as the choice we now face. God continues to encourage me.  He continues to reveal His power in my life.  He has restored a relationship that I feared would be forever crippled by my inability to surrender my heart completely to Him.  I have cried with my children and prayed with them that Jesus would bind their hearts from the pain they feel from living in this broken world.  I am constantly reminded that He alone has made a strong marriage stronger... that He has made a good life better.  When I look at these promises fulfilled, it makes walking away from the things of this world seem a little easier.  When I think about the moments of joy that I experience at the power of His hand... joy that I have never felt from the "comforts" of this world... it makes me want to drop everything and run to Jesus... to run away from the things of this world... and this is what my husband felt he might choke on.  I have given my time.  I have given my money. I have given my talents. But I haven’t given my heart… not completely.  I like the comforts of this world.  If I’m really honest, I have to admit that I like getting lost in some of Satan’s subtle distractions.  The thought of completely committing my life to Jesus terrifies me… because I know it will change me.  And I don’t like change… especially if it means losing my comforts.

But this is what Jesus has revealed to me over the past 30 days: We live in one of the richest societies in the world.  And while most of us would never consider ourselves wealthy… comparatively speaking, we are.  Jesus tells us that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven… which doesn’t exactly bode well for us.  Then throw on top of that the countless references to goats and hypocrites; whitewashed Pharisees and evildoers.  Warning after warning that not everyone who professes belief in Christ will be given eternal life with the Father... In light of all this, my own admission to my inability to completely submit my life…my heart… to Him… well, that doesn’t really bode well for me. 

If I’m honest, I must admit that up until this point, I wanted to follow Jesus on my own terms… but that isn’t really following Jesus, is it? I’ve wanted all the benefits of being a Christian, without any of the sacrifices.  I’ve wanted to take all the promises from Jesus without giving Him the one thing He asked for… my heart. 

As I sit here and write, I am grieved and ashamed of everything I have made my faith out to be... but, also incredibly thankful… thankful that He has shined a light onto my blackened heart.  That in His mercy, He has opened my eyes to what it means to truly love Him… to truly follow Him.  I am also reminded of the fact that I have a choice to make.       

Spend some time reflecting on the past 30 days.  What has God stirred in your heart? Have you truly made a choice to follow Jesus... or have you simply made a choice to go to church and live a moral life?  Jesus calls us to more than that. He calls us to follow Him.  The choice is ours... the most important one we will EVER make.  

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Day 29 - Jesus Still Saves

If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.  As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Romans 10:9-13 (NIV)

A few weeks ago, my husband happened across a fascinating exhibit of nature: a busy spider preparing for a future meal.  While cleaning outside, he found a rather large grasshopper… one that made the unfortunate mistake of getting tangled in a spider’s web. Seeing an opportunity to teach our children an up-close and personal science lesson, my husband brought my oldest son over to watch everything unfold.

As the grasshopper hopelessly tried to wiggle and squirm its way loose from the trappings of the web, the spider worked tirelessly to secure its prey.  My husband and son watched as the spider began to spin a cocoon around the poor grasshopper, starting with one leg and then the next.  As my husband began to explain the grasshopper’s impending demise, my son went into superhero mode.  Emphatically professing the need to save the defenseless grasshopper, my son immediately grabbed a stick and went to work.  Within seconds, the grasshopper was freed, the spider was dead and my husband was speechless.

As my husband retold the story to me, I couldn’t help but laugh… but I also couldn’t help myself from thinking about Jesus.  This story of the spider and the grasshopper serves as an amazing reminder of the power of our Savior.  So many of us find ourselves like the helpless grasshopper: trapped in seemingly impossible situations with no means of escape.  Like my husband, we sit and wait for the inevitable… forgetting about the power of the Father.  We fail to remember that He has the power to save us; to redeem us; to restore us.  Just as my son worked to free the grasshopper from the trappings of the web, Jesus frees us from the trappings of this world.  But, the beauty of this analogy resides in a deeper truth: Not only does Jesus save… He triumphs over evil. 

For my son, simply saving the grasshopper was not enough.  He wanted to make sure the menacing spider would never harm another creature… so, with one swift motion, he destroyed it.  And this is the power of the Savior.  It has been foretold that Satan will be defeated and that our Savior will reign.  As Christians, this is the promise we hold on to… that we cling to.  This is what we must remember when we find ourselves entangled in the webs of life.  When we are tempted to quit… to give in, or to give up… we are to remember the power of our Savior and the undeniable fact that Jesus can do anything.

Sometimes we find ourselves in the trappings of this world, forgetting that Jesus is the only key to our freedom.  We try everything in our power to release ourselves, but often times, we only become more entangled.  The only key to loosening the shackles is our complete submission to Jesus. Spend some time thinking about whether or not there are areas in your life that need to be submitted to the Father.  Ask for His help… he wants to give it.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day 28 - Cultivating Generosity

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”
Matthew 6:19-21(NIV)

When it comes to teaching our children about the Gospel and biblical principles, I have one firm belief: until we practice what is preached, it is only theory.  In other words, reading the Gospel is great, but practicing the Gospel, actually living it out, takes it to a whole different level… especially for our children.

For us, we started a few years ago with weekly trips to the soup kitchen.  At that point in our lives, the children were all still pretty young; but, not too young to set out silverware and place mats. So that’s what we did. We have also been encouraged by other families that are trying their best to live out the Gospel with their children.  Through the years, we’ve heard of some really great examples: doing yard work for elderly neighbors; making meals for single parents; running in, and raising money for, charity races; having birthday parties at (and for) non-profit organizations, spending Christmas mornings feeding the homeless, teaming up with another family to raise money to build an orphanage in Haiti. You’re only limited by your imagination… or the need that God places right in front of you! 

After years of trying our best to live out the Gospel in this small area, we are seeing God’s grace bestowed upon our children as their hearts are being transformed right before our eyes. This year, our children decided that they wanted to support the Robbie Foundation, an organization that is working to meet the needs of children with developmental disabilities in the state of Maine. One night, while discussing the needs of the organization, my eldest children asked if we could help purchase one of the items: a wheelchair ramp for a 4-year-old little boy.  And, just like that, we had our project.  For the next few months, we collected bottles and sold items we no longer needed.  Usually that money was earmarked for bakery purchases and dinners out, but my kids were willing to sacrifice…some more than others, but I could never begin to explain how incredible it was to hear my children gently remind one another of the greater purpose and the need to sacrifice.  My children, in this very small way, were beginning to understand what it means to live out the Gospel. I’ve asked my oldest, Sydney, to share her thoughts with you…

"It is important to live out the Gospel because you can teach great things to people who need it. The hardest part of raising money for the Robbie Foundation was not being able to get sweets. We would have used our bottle deposits for sweets or for trips to Dairy Queen.  But, it felt great to count out the money with my brother and sister and then roll the coins with my dad.  I think Jesus feels great about our choice to buy the wheelchair ramps.  It's good that we didn't spend our money on something that won't last.  Instead, we are helping to make a child's life better.  I want to help any child who needs help because that's what Jesus would want me to do."

And I don't think I could have said it any better myself!


If you don’t already have a tradition for cultivating generosity in your family, spend time asking God to point you in the right direction.  It can be a service project in the community, in your neighborhood or even in your own house.  (Spurring on generosity between siblings is always an adventure.) We have found that nothing else helps us fall more in love with Jesus than extending His love to others.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Day 27 - New Testament vs. Old Testament: What Did Jesus Really Do?

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:17-19 (NIV)

A recent conversation with friends had me thinking of the “apparent” differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Someone caught me completely off guard as she emphatically professed her unwavering belief that “following Jesus is so much easier than following the 10 Commandments.”  She was whole-heartedly convinced that Jesus’ command to love God and to love our neighbors trumped Mosaic Laws. She saw Jesus’ words as a dividing line between the Old Testament and the Gospel… seeing His command to love as a division from the past, instead of the completion of prophesy.

Now, to be fair, the Old Testament has 613 commands.  Of that, there are 248 “thou shalls” and 365 “thou shall nots.” (Those are a lot of rules to follow!) Before Jesus, these commands served as an external pursuit of behavioral conformity.  Being righteous was a reflection of your deeds, your ability to follow the commands. Simply put: righteousness was measured by ones ability to follow the rules and look the part. But Jesus turned that standard on its ear. He penetrated external conformity and pierced the sinner’s heart. In other words, Jesus upped the anti by underscoring the fact that an internal transformation of our hearts is the true reflection of our faith in Him. We see a great example of this in Matthew 5:21-22.  

The Scripture reads: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”(NIV) Jesus draws attention to the fact that the Old Testament refers only to the physical act of murder… an external behavior, something that occurs outside of us.  However, pay close attention to what He says next. He holds that the condition of our hearts is the true reflection of our transformation… and is also subject to judgment.  Plainly said, murder is the result of a heart consumed by anger and this anger is the root cause of our sin… and for this sin we will also be judged.

We see it again a few verses down in Matthew 5:27-28:  “’You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The Old Testament speaks to the physical act of adultery.  Jesus speaks to the corruption of our hearts and our minds.  He clearly states that it is not enough that we refuse to act on our lustful thoughts, but asserts that it is the lust, itself, that forces a wedge between us and our Heavenly Father.   

In light of this, I don’t see how following Jesus is easier. If anything, I think it’s much harder. Even on my worst day, I can fake it pretty well.  I can scream at my family on our way to church, only to pull into the parking lot with the biggest smile on my face.  I could sing my heart out during worship, never letting on that bitterness and resentment had a death-grip on my soul. “Fake It ‘Till You Make It”… that was my motto for the longest time  I was no better than the Pharisees Jesus spoke of in Matthew 23:27: "You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean." I was really good at following the "rules"... I just wasn't so great at following Jesus.

Jesus did not put an end to Mosaic Law... He brought it to completion.  He poured light upon the 10 Commandments, revealing their true purpose as a diagnostic test for our hearts.  If we find ourselves at odds with the Law, it is the surest way to know that our hearts are not right with Jesus.  Following the Savior is the most difficult thing we will ever do, for the simple fact that through all our pretending He sees the truth.

Spend time reflecting on whether the condition of your heart is truthfully displayed in your actions.  We might be able to control our anger and prevent it from affecting others, but this does not prevent the anger from consuming our heart and adversely affecting our relationship with Jesus. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Day 26 - Faith or Works?

“Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham ‘made right with God by works’ when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are ‘works of faith’? The full meaning of ‘believe’ in the Scripture sentence, ‘Abraham believed God and was set right with God,’ includes his action. It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named ‘God’s friend.’ Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?”
James 2:22-24 (The Message)

One of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity is that we are justified by our faith in Jesus. I’ve heard the word “justified” used many times.  I’ve even adopted it into my biblical vernacular.  However, I have to admit that, for a while, I had become desensitized to the meaning… I began to take it for granted. Justification, in its most simplistic form, is God’s declaration of our righteousness through our faith in Jesus. He does this by crediting the righteousness of Jesus to the sinner.  This is done by faith. PERIOD.  When the sinner puts his faith in the sacrifice of Jesus and trusts in Him, and not himself, for righteousness, then God justifies him.  But, if the Bible teaches that we are justified by faith, why does James stress the importance of “works”?

Like so much of Scripture, context is everything.  On this particular topic, we need to begin with James 2:14. Here he gives an example of both true and empty faith.  With reference to the latter, James warns that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (v. 17). Simply stated, he argues that merely believing in Jesus is not enough.   To underscore this fact, James draws a grim comparison: “You believe that there is one God. Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (v. 19).  He acknowledges that demons have faith, but that their faith is useless because it’s only a mental acknowledgment of God's existence.  Their faith bares no fruit.

James is warning us… if we profess that we are Christians, but have no “proof” (in the form of “works”), then our faith is false.  We see this again in 1 John 2:4: "If you say you have come to know Him, yet you do not keep His commandments, then the truth is not in you and you are a liar."  But, in reading this, I think many of us skip over the most important element of this Scripture… that the truth must be in us.  Yes, we must believe in Jesus… but we must also trust Him.  And, as so many of us know, trust is an issue of the heart.  Trusting Jesus is about giving Him our hearts and allowing Him to transform them. This is what it means to have His truth in us. It’s about lives committed to the Gospel… 100% committed.  It’s about giving Him everything.  In the words of Saint Francis Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”  

Recently, someone asked me to contemplate a very challenging question: How are you different from the people you work with, the people in your neighborhood, the people you know that aren’t Christians?  Specifically… are you bearing fruit in your life that sets you apart?  Do people look at you and see Jesus because you live a life that is radically different from the rest of the world?

Chew on that last paragraph for a while.  We’re almost done… hang in there.  God is definitely working.  The stories I’m hearing from some of you are a HUGE testament to the power and goodness of our Savior.  Thank you for your faithfulness to Him.
It’s come to my attention that we have a faithful following in Russia.  We’d love to hear from you!  Send us an email if you have a chance. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Day 25 - I Don't Like the Goats and the Sheep

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”
Matthew 25: 31-33 (NIV)

Without question, the Book of James is my favorite of the Bible.  I love his honesty and directness; his “no excuses” mentality.  However, when it comes to being the most challenged… hands down, Matthew 25:31-46 wins the prize.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Sheep and Goats Parable, let me break it down:

            When Jesus returns, all nations will be gathered before him. He will then separate the people into two groups: sheep and goats.  He will tell the sheep that they may take their inheritance (enter into heaven) because they took care of the hungry and thirsty; gave shelter to the stranger; gave clothes to the needy; looked after the sick; visited those in prison. He will then turn to the goats and say “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” for they did not do as the sheep. The response of the goats is this, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” To which Jesus will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

The reason this is so unsettling to me is due to the response given by the goats. They acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus. They were expecting to be sheep.  But, instead, they are sent to the eternal fires of hell.  And I can’t help but think, especially in light of their response to Jesus, that they were completely blindsided.  In this parable, Jesus underscores the importance of loving our neighbors.  However, he also boldly states a glaring truth that many of us have chosen to ignore: God will judge us not only for the wrong we have done, but also for the good we have failed to do.   

If that wasn’t enough to cause great pause… maybe Matthew 7:21-23 will:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (NIV)

In a commentary provided by John MacArthur, the following conclusion is drawn: “[There are] no more serious words for people who profess Christianity than these because our Lord says there will not be a few but many who are mistaken about their future destiny. He points out in this passage, for our consideration, the folly of empty words, and then the tragedy of empty hearts... But it’s a far more sobering and stunning and shocking thing to realize that there are many who are going to say, ‘Lord, Lord,’ to Jesus Christ, there is a confession openly of some attachment to Him that has been carried so far that they have actually functioned in His name only to hear that they will not at all enter heaven. One’s final destiny…is not about profession, it is about obedience” (Saved or Deceived, Part 2)

And this is why I don’t like the goats and the sheep. These Scriptures require me to acknowledge where I am with Jesus. They force me to evaluate whether my actions match my words… if they match my heart.  They force me to face this undeniable reality: There are eternal consequences to an unrepentant heart, to blatant hypocrisy and complacency. There is a very good chance that many of us consider ourselves to be sheep, when in reality, Jesus would deem us goats.

This is a hard devotional to read… believe me, it was a hard devotional to write.  Please, don’t let Satan weasel his way in on this one… because he will try.  We must take an honest account of our hearts and our actions.  If the Holy Spirit is pricking… there’s a reason for it!  I have been reminded time and time again the past few weeks that iron sharpens iron.  And, my friends, I know this iron has been dull for quite a while.  Spend time with Jesus on this one.  Ask Him to reveal the truth of your heart. Be ready to listen!     

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Day 24 - Are You Making Disciples?

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)

We’ve seen in the Gospel, that Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations.  But, what in the world does that mean?  What does it look like?  The actual definition of disciple is the following: One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another.  At the risk of over generalizing, I believe the majority of Christians in our society have no problem with the idea of embracing the teachings of Jesus. We agree that reading the Bible is important.  Some of us attend weekly Bible studies and small groups. Many of us spend time memorizing God’s Word. This is the “easy” part.  However, for many of us, the stumbling block is the idea of “spreading the teachings” of Jesus. 

Plainly stated, the call on our lives is very clear: We are to make disciples of all nations.  We are to teach others the ways of our faith, the truth of the Gospel.  But, here’s a reality check: How many of us are living out our faith in this capacity?  How many of us are introducing others to the Lord and walking with them? How many of us are investing time in others, and mentoring them, just as Jesus did with his twelve disciples?
Our goal as Christians, as disciples, is not to simply know the Word of God, we are to multiply.  In essence, the key to discipleship is not just soaking in God’s Word… we must pass it on.  James, the half-brother of Jesus, says it best:  “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.” (James 1:22)  My friends, these words serve as a fierce warning… and I have to admit that they terrify me.  I look at my own life and see very little fruit in this area.  Discipleship hasn’t even been on my radar... but it needs to be.

At some point in our history, we’ve distorted the true essence of discipleship… in some cases, it’s been forgotten altogether.  In its place, we have “created a church culture where the paid ministers do the ‘ministry,’ and the rest of us show up, put some money in the plate, and leave feeling inspired or ‘fed.’ We have moved so far away from Jesus’ command that many Christians don’t have a frame of reference for what disciple making looks like.” (Making Disciples Study Guide, 2012)  But, don’t despair… because Jesus left us the most perfect example.

Jesus spent three years of his life in the company of 12 men.  And of those men, there were three with which He shared an even closer bond.  He opened up His life.  He shared the teachings of His Father.  He spoke truth… even when it was hard to hear.  He invested Himself… all of Himself… for the sake of the Gospel.  And as I write, I can’t help but wonder whether the real reason discipleship isn’t a priority in my life is because I don’t really want to make that kind of effort.  I don’t want to invest that kind of time… I don’t even HAVE that kind of time!  And let’s be honest… living a life completely committed to the Gospel would change everything.  It would change us. 

And, isn’t that the point?

Is discipleship a part of your walk as a Christian?  Spend time thinking about the purpose of discipleship and our role in spreading the Gospel.  If you have about 30 minutes, I challenge you to watch some new videos from Francis Chan and David Platt at  (I’m warning you… this is pretty challenging stuff!)  Our family will be participating in the webcast on November 9th and we encourage you to consider doing the same.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Day 23 - What is a Christian?

“Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?”
Matthew 16:24-26 (The Message)

Take any random person off the street and ask them this question: What is a Christian?  Then be prepared for the firestorm that will most likely follow. If you spend any amount of time in front of the television or reading the papers, sooner or later you're bound to see something about "fundamentalist Christians," or my personal favorite, "biblical right-wingers." In fact, I have a theory that all the major networks are competing against one another to see who can find the most "unchristian" Christian to represent our faith. In his book “unchristian,” David Kinnaman states the following, with regard to a common, modern-day perception of western Christians: “Entrenched-thinking, antigay, antichoice, angry, violent, illogical, empire building, convert-focused people who cannot live peacefully with others.  We are known for having an us-versus-them mentality.  Outsiders believe Christians do not like them because of what they do, how they look, or what they believe.  They feel minimized - or worse, demonized - by those who love Jesus.” (p. 25)

The “simple” truth of the matter is this: for a multitude of reasons, the term Christianity has become polarizing. We have become known for what we are against, rather than what we are for.  Those few that speak of hate and violence have misrepresented all of us… and they have misrepresented Jesus. Up until recently, the majority of us have quietly been sitting back, minding our own personal business.  When asked, we acknowledge the few, but adamantly deny any association.  However, this borderline complacency has cost us dearly. 

A recent study from the Barna Group showed that Christianity is facing a public relations nightmare.  In 1996, they found that “Americans… possessed a widespread respect for Christians.”  In fact, 85 percent of those questioned, including atheists and agnostics, were found to have a favorable opinion of Christianity’s role in society.  However, 10 years later, it’s a completely different story. Only 16 percent now have a favorable opinion of Christianity. (unchristian, page 22-23).  What happened? 

First Peter 4:16 states the following: “But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name!” (NLT)  These words call us to stand firm in acknowledging our identity in Christ… our identity as Christians.  We must collectively live out our faith in Jesus so that our actions speak louder than the deceits of others.  We must not run away, or simply tend to our own business, while others defile the name of our Savior. Because we live in a culture where one bad deed outshines 100 great ones, we cannot afford to sit back and do nothing!  British statesman Edmund Burke said it best: “Evil flourishes when good men do nothing.” 

Think about the perception of Christianity in our culture.  If you find there to be a negative perception, come up with some reasons why.  Ask God to reveal ways that you can INTENTIONALLY live out your faith in such a way that could combat those perceptions.  Use the bracelets as a reminder!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Day 22 - The Bitter Pill of Resentment

“Long enough, God - you’ve ignored me long enough. I’ve looked at the back of your head long enough. Long enough I’ve carried this ton of trouble, lived with a stomach full of pain. Long enough my arrogant enemies have looked down their noses at me. Take a good look at me, God, my God; I want to look life in the eye, so no enemy can get the best of me or laugh when I fall on my face."                 Psalm 13:2-3 (The Message)         

Resentment comes in many shapes and sizes.  For some it is born out of years of being passed over for promotions at work.  For others, we see it rear it’s ugly head when we are surrounded by people that have more than we do; people who spend their money as if they had a never ending supply, while we struggle to barely make ends meet.  And yet for others, resentment is realized when we acknowledge the blackness of our own hearts as we secretly covet the lives of others whose burdens “seem” light.  But, regardless of the cause, one thing is always certain: resentment is a poison in your spirit, ripe with discontent. And, more times than not, our discontent displays itself for the world to see.  Anger, bitterness, jealousy, irritation, and wounded pride are all symptoms of a much bigger problem - self-centeredness.

I think all of us can agree that self-centeredness is not a biblical principle.  In fact, it’s counter-intuitive to the Gospel, which builds everything around Jesus’ relentless teachings of humility and the serving of others. Instead, our self-centeredness is a worldly cultivation; some would even argue it to be a pure example of humanism that hinges on an entitlement of “fairness.”  But, if we know anything about Jesus and the life He led, we know that fairness isn’t even in the equation.  His final hours, the pain and torture he endured, are unfathomable to me… even if He was guilty of a crime.  As I sit here and write, I can’t help but picture myself in a situation where I’m being beaten within an inch of my life for a crime I did not commit.  I can imagine the hatred that would consume my body and darken my soul.  And yet, I’m painfully reminded of Jesus’ words on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Luke 23:34 (NKJV)

I’m also painfully reminded of Matthew 5:23-24, which states: “…If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.” (The Message) When reading this passage, I can't help but think about all the times I've put up walls, or turned my back, because of my resentment toward others.  How many nights have I gone to bed angry with my husband?  How many calls have I screened from friends that have slighted me?  How many times have I given someone the silent treatment... just to prove a point?  When we allow resentment to grab a hold of our hearts, we often times close the door on the people in our lives.  However, the painful reality is that we are also closing the door on God.    

Spend time asking Jesus to gently stir your heart on the stronghold of resentment.  If you are doing this challenge as a family, discuss with your children how resentment not only hinders our relationships with other people, but how it hinders our relationship with God.  Spend time praying as a family for God’s grace to heal your hearts and open your eyes to relationships that need to be reconciled.  God is faithful and powerful and He specializes in miracles.  With Him, nothing is impossible.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Day 21 - The Truth About Forgiveness

“Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.”
Hebrews 12:15 (The Message)

Forgiveness is a struggle… but in His faithfulness, God continues to gently prune this area and to reveal His unwavering truth during this season of my life.  Many of us have heard people say things like, “Unforgiveness only hurts ourselves,” or “Our inability to forgive harms our relationship with God.”  I won’t argue the accuracy of these statements; however, comments like those also make me feel incredibly guilty about my inability (my unwillingness) to forgive the people in my life that have betrayed me.  Often times, I become so overwhelmed with this guilt that I will profess forgiveness with my lips… only to find it tightening its death grip around my heart.    

I’m also very much aware that my unwillingness to extend forgiveness is centered around my pride… completely, 100%, totally consumed by it.  When I have been wronged, I want an apology… at the very least, an acknowledgment that I deserve one.  I believe in fairness and justice… but sometimes I forget about mercy… sometimes I choose to look the other way because my heart aches too much.  But, alas, my failure to forgive always leads to the hardening of my heart.  Consumed by bitterness and resentment, anger fills my mind and escapes from my lips.  And such behavior never brings glory to our Savior.  This is what divides churches, ends friendships, splits up families.   

Some things seem unforgivable.  Sometimes the pain and anger rage within us for so long, that in a weird and twisted way they become our comfort and companion.  For many of us, we’ve tried to forgive… but it’s easier said than done in some cases.  God has gently pressed upon my heart that sometimes our willingness to forgive needs to be put at the feet of Jesus more than once.  Sometimes we have to lay it at His feet everyday for weeks, months, years, decades…maybe every single day until we leave this world and meet our Savior.  Forgiveness, like so much of our faith, is a journey that requires trust in Jesus.  We must trust that He sees the bigger picture.  We must trust that He works all things out for our good.  We must trust that every betrayal, every shattered heart, every solemn word broken serves a greater purpose.  We must trust that all things, no matter how horrible, can be redeemed through the blood of Jesus.  It is a promise unlike any other.  And, if at this very moment, the thought of forgiveness still seems incredibly distant, place before Jesus a heart willing to be open and receptive to the amazing possibility.  I have seen hearts mended, marriages redeemed, friendships restored, and wounds healed by the act of forgiveness… covered completely by the grace of God.

Has unforgiveness grabbed a hold of your heart? If so, spend time asking Jesus to loosen its grip.  If your heart is at a very tender place on this subject, spend time seeking His comfort, as well as His wisdom.  If possible, share with your children any real life experiences you’ve had with the stronghold of unforgiveness.  Give them examples of how a heart can turn toward bitterness and resentment, but also share how God can restore relationships for His glory.  Our children need to hear that life can be messy… but that He’s there to take care of it.   

Friday, October 19, 2012

Day 20 - Wicked Convicted: A Lesson in Humility

“Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.”
Proverbs  22:6 (NLT)

Humility isn’t exactly my strongest character trait… not even in the top 10.  But, as I’ve grown closer to the Lord, I’ve seen its importance.  I understand its value.  But, more importantly, I’ve come to appreciate my responsibility as a parent to teach humility to my children… God help me, to even model it.

A few years ago, it became very apparent to us that despite being raised in homes of faith, neither my husband nor I really understood what it meant to walk with Jesus everyday, all day long.  As our eyes were opened to the possibility of Jesus being introduced to every aspect of our lives, not just sporadic sprinklings here and there and a concentrated dose on Sunday, we immediately began to see that things needed to change in our home.  Our priorities needed to change.  The way we talked to one another needed to change.  Our rules needed to change.  But, introducing change isn’t always easy… mutiny is always a risk.  However, humility is a powerful ally.  

One fateful night, my husband and I sat our kids down and explained what God was stirring in our hearts…that we hadn’t been the best examples of God’s love; that we hadn’t set the best example for what it looks like to follow Jesus.  We also began to explain our need, and our desire, to do a better job at being the parents God wanted us to be. And this began with a heartfelt apology to our kids, as well as to God, for not being obedient to the call on our lives as parents.  Our apology was received with stunned silence and slack jaws, which is completely understandable.  It’s not exactly commonplace in our house for the adults to apologize to the kids.  We’re usually the ones forcing the kids to apologize through clenched teeth. Yet, through God’s endless grace, our children saw that humility is not a sign of weakness. Instead, it’s a display of adoration for Jesus. Humility isn’t necessarily about putting someone else above us.  It’s about exalting Jesus above all.  Our purpose was to demonstrate to our children that humility isn’t about belittling us, but about bringing praise to God.

Now, of course, there have been more missteps along the way than I care to count.  Pride rears its ugly head and self-centeredness constantly tries to steal the reigns.  But, as a family, we continuously try to remind ourselves of the importance of humility… of putting the needs of others before our own, but, more importantly, of putting Jesus first. This is counter-cultural.  It goes against the “every-man-for-himself” mentality that has consumed our world. Our love for others is suppose to set us apart, but if we refuse to demonstrate this love through humility, we are missing an amazing opportunity to not only show the love of Jesus, but to draw closer to Him ourselves.

Practice the art of humility.  While we might be tempted to do something nice for someone we know pretty well… try doing it for someone else… someone that would never expect you to think of them.  (And don’t forget to tell them that Jesus put them on your heart!)   

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Day 19 - My Service Has a Price

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.”
Galatians 5:13 (NLT)

When it comes to topic of service, I’m sort of like Jekyll and Hyde, the literary character(s) with dual personalities that alternate between good and evil behavior.  But, I guess in my case, it’s more about good and evil intentions.  Sometimes, my service is completely, 100% about my love for Jesus.  I am so moved by His love for me and what He did on the cross that I can’t help but extend that love to others.  But, if I’m honest, I would also have to admit that those moments of service are usually in the context of mission trips or purposeful service projects… often times preceded by intentional Bible study, praise and worship and moments of spiritual reflection… which, most definitely, are not common place in my everyday life. 

Nope.  The service in my everyday life looks a little like this: I try to have the living room clean and dinner ready before my husband gets home from work… only to have him not acknowledge my efforts, which then results in me ignoring him for the rest of the evening.  Or how about this one: I put all my chores and responsibilities to the side so that I can spend some one-on-one time with my children, playing with them on the floor, coloring endless sheets of paper… only to have them tell me they wish I was more like “so-and-so’s mom” because she buys them whatever they want, which again results in my storming away, huffing under my breath something about ungrateful rugrats.  I can give you endless examples with my mother, my friends… pretty much anyone I come in contact with.  The one common thread, no matter the circumstances, is that my service usually has a price: I want something in return.

Sometimes, I want acknowledgment.  Sometimes, I want praise. Sometimes, I want a returned favor. But, I also noticed recently that a lot of my service is out of obligation… it's about “fulfilling my responsibility.” It's about some ridiculous, self-imposed list I’ve formed in my mind about the words I must say and the things I must do in order for me to be a good Christian. Sometimes my focus can been so narrow and self-centered. I forget that my service is not only suppose to be an out flowing of my love for Jesus… it is to be an extension of His love for others. 

Now, when I serve my family, I try to be mindful that Jesus is exemplified; that He is the reason.  With that mindset, there really isn’t any room for selfish ambition or motivation.  Sometimes, I literally have to stop myself and question my intentions.  I have to pray that I think of myself less and love Him more.  That’s the key to achieving the freedom referred to in Galatians 5:13. When our motivation is our love for Jesus, there is no obligation to serve; there is no expectation to receive.  His love is enough.

Think about all the areas of service in your life (i.e. at home, at work, at church).  Do you ever experience resentment when your service goes unnoticed?  Do you ever find yourself serving out of obligation instead of love? Ask God to shed some light in these areas and spend time praying for his guidance. Find someone to serve... without the expectation of anything in return.  Just think about Jesus and bring glory to HIS name.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Day 18 - Jesus Wants to Protect the Children... All of Us

“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.  They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.”
John 1:12-13(NLT)

A few weeks ago, I found myself in an extremely awkward situation.  I was with a group of Christian women talking about the struggles of motherhood.  As we sat sharing, one of the ladies began to cry, the obvious weight of her many roles and responsibilities had taken a toll on her.  But, as she gained her composure, and explained her emotional response, her words hit me like a ton of bricks.  She attributed her heightened sensitivity to a very popular “romance” novel that’s just about everywhere these days.  The next thing I knew, I was in the middle of a conversation that made my toes curl and my cheeks blush.  I excused myself as fast as I could, but not before I heard the woman say something that completely broke my heart.  Despite her assertions that the book was something she “just couldn’t put down,” she also admitted that she would never allow her teenage daughter to read the book because she knew how detrimental it would be to her mental and spiritual well-being.

For the entire day, these words played over and over in my mind.  I replayed the entire conversation dozens of times, always regretting that I didn’t say anything about how inappropriate the conversation was… not to mention the book itself.  Usually, boldness, in these situations, isn’t something I shy away from… but, I soon realized that my inability to speak was God’s way of convicting me of my own sin in a very similar area. 

That night, while putting away the dishes, God gently stirred my spirit to the truth of His Word.  He rested upon my heart His true desire for all of us… to realize that we are His children.  Just as the mother, earlier that morning, wanted to protect her daughter from the depravity of that book, God also wants to protect us from the depravity of the world.  He sees each of us just as that mother sees her child.  He wants to protect us, just as that mother wanted to protect her daughter.  Instantly, I was flooded with thoughts of times where I have “shooed” my children out of the room because I was watching something that I considered inappropriate for them… wondering if it was also inappropriate for me.  (Obviously, there are some things that are simply inappropriate due to the age of a child and their ability to understand adult subject matter, but this is not what I’m referring to here.  Instead, I’m focusing on the things of this world that promote sinful desires and the corruption of our minds.)  I began to think about the songs I listen to when I run, the television shows and movies I watch when the kids are in bed, the magazines I gloss over at the check-out line. 

The following week, when I saw the mother again, I asked to have a private word with her and I revealed the things that God had placed on my heart… and why.  It was a very difficult conversation that I prayed about for the entire week… that I had others pray about as well.  My prayer was that I would not come across as judgmental and self-righteous, but that God’s grace and mercy would reveal a heart that was convicted by this woman’s honestly and vulnerability; that it would be clear that God used her to reveal a bitter truth about the condition of my own heart and the weakness of my flesh.  And, I’m happy to say that God was most definitely glorified that morning, as we shared our thoughts about our responsibilities as mothers and our sometimes forgotten love as children of the most amazing Father.

Spend time thinking about your desires to protect loved ones from the corruption of this world.  Do you guard your own heart and mind from that same corruption… or do you fall for Satan’s lie?  He wants us to believe that we can withstand the temptation; that we know the difference between right and wrong, true and false… and that we can separate the two. He wants us to fill our heads with the things of this world, all the while, whispering in our ears that it’s okay.  But what we forget is that as we continue filling our lives with these lies, we desensitize ourselves to the truth.  The reality shows we watch, over time, become more crass, the books we read become more salacious.  We become immune, which is part of Satan’s plan.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Day 17 - The Subtlety of Satan

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Ephesians 6:10-12 (NIV)

A few years ago, a friend of mine spent several weeks in Africa visiting some of the most remote villages; places that have only begun to hear the Gospel.  His stories were filled with examples of how Satan’s grip on the people of that land was apparent… not because of the depravity that he witnessed, but because he saw, first hand, Satan’s power and how he uses it.  Satan is very much alive and these stories proved it.  A few days later, my daughter asked a very interesting question: Why doesn’t Satan do those things here?  My first response was to say that just because we haven’t personally witnessed such atrocities doesn’t mean they don’t occur.  But, after contemplating it a little further, the unsettling truth burdened my heart: Satan doesn’t wield that kind of power in our society because he doesn’t have to… and why waste that energy when he can so easily achieve his goal by much simpler means.

Satan is subtle and we know from Scripture that he’s the father of lies (John 8:44). His arsenal is massive and his deceits are endless.  He distracts us with technology.  We waste our time using it.  We waste our money buying it.  We see the fabric of our families deteriorating because of it.  Our time together is no longer punctuated with meaningful conversations, time spent sharing life.  Instead, we see example after example of people sitting together… each lost in their own gadget.  We watch television shows and read magazines that glorify the depravity of man; that set up a false idea of beauty and worth for our children.  We read books that demoralize women and promote unhealthy relationships.  We find every way possible to escape from our reality… but the problem is that our escapes are leading to the destruction of our society.  Satan wants our eyes off Jesus… and he’s getting his heart’s desire without very much effort at all.

I’ve come to believe there’s another reason for Satan’s subtlety in our society.  He knows that any blatant display of his power would drive every last one of us into our churches, into our Bibles.  And this is the last thing he wants.  If you really think about it, he has us exactly where he wants us.  Many of us go to church. We even serve our churches and communities.  We also pray and read our Bibles.  But, we also watch, and engage in, countless hours of things that pollute our minds and cloud our judgment.  We spend way too much time “friending” at the expense of damaging, and even losing, true relationships.  We fill our minds with fantasy stories that lead us down a mental and spiritual path that is neither healthy, nor glorifying to our Creator.  Because we do the former, we forget how damning the latter is.  Satan is subtle and his subtlety will lead to our destruction..

Do you find yourself involved in one of Satan’s subtle distractions? If so, spend time asking God for His help.  Sometimes we try to do things on our own, relying on the false security of will power… forgetting the strength of Satan.  But, God can always overcome.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Day 16 -Disobedience and Ice Cream Have A Lot in Common

“Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.  Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do.”

Ephesians 5:3-7(NLT)

I wouldn’t classify myself as an avid runner.  I would rather be hiking, swimming, or even cleaning toilets.  However, I love to challenge myself, and nothing has challenged me more than training for a marathon.  About five years ago, I decided to put my body through the rigors of training for such an endeavor.  Early morning runs replaced my usual tradition of curling up on the couch with a blanket and a hot cup of coffee.  The concept of “cross training” entered into my vernacular.  Pastries and sweets were replaced with fiber bars and dried fruit.  Essentially, every aspect of my life was subtly rearranged, or even drastically changed, for the purposes of preparing my body for race day.  All except for one area, one stronghold in my life that I REFUSED to give up ... ice cream.

Now, some might argue that one indulgence, especially under the circumstances, would be completely acceptable, especially in moderation.  But, if anyone has ever sat down with a pint of ice cream, only to hear your spoon scrape the bottom of the cardboard container about 15 minutes later, you understand that moderation can be an “issue.”  For me, I would spend two hours running, all the while counting the calories I was burning… trying desperately to figure out what that translated to in ice cream… joyfully anticipating my reunion with Ben and Jerry at the end of my run.  A reunion, that at times, meant sitting down to enjoy almost TWO pints of ice cream at one setting!

My point in sharing this is to illustrate the concept of biblical licentiousness, or deliberately sinful behavior. Putting gluttony aside, the act of eating ice cream, in and of itself, is not a sinful behavior.  However, look at the context of my eating habits.  Instead of using my running, the burning of those calories, as a way to train and shape my body for the benefit of competing, I was using it as a license to partake in… to over-consume… a rather guilty pleasure of mine.     

As Christians, we understand that God’s grace is ours, if we choose to acknowledge it.  It’s a gift that equates to unmerited forgiveness of our sins. However, some of us distort that gift into a perversion… a license to actively participate and live in our sin because we are “covered” by His grace.  This is biblical licentiousness… and it is NOT covered by His grace.  Beth Moore, a renowned women's ministry leader, recently said in a video for her James Bible Study that God’s grace does not cover our disobedience… and she’s correct. When we choose to live in our sin… when we refuse to repent and turn our back on it… we are being disobedient.  Licentiousness goes a step beyond that… it’s rationalizing our disobedience.  It’s acknowledging our sin, but remaining steadfast in our disobedience because we wrongfully believe that God’s grace will take care of it.  Pornography, reality television, salacious romance novels, speaking harshly to our spouses and children, gossiping, the list is limited only by the number of sins that exist.  The horrible truth of licentiousness is that it allows you to think you’re free, when you’re solidly wrapped up in bondage. And the result of this bondage will surely inhibit your growth as a Christian and your walk with Jesus.

Ask God to reveal any area of licentiousness in your life.  Maybe you’re already aware of some areas in your walk with Jesus that are suffering because of this.  Spend time with our Savior and ask Him for help in these strongholds.  The worst thing we can do is try to solve the problem by ourselves.  We need His guidance and His strength to bring about His resolution for His glory.