Loving Life and Loving God: Counting the Cost.

 

I do love my life. I love that I have a comfy home in which to live. I love that I can go and buy things that aren’t just necessities. I love that my children are healthy and happy. I love that I have a hard-working husband with whom I can share life. I love the beautiful sunny and warm state in which we live. I love this season of life when most of the birdies have launched from the nest and I can slow down and relax—choosing to spend the majority of my time doing things that I enjoy.

But, do I love my life too much? Have I forgotten God’s call for me to take up my cross, forgo the trappings of this temporary life, and follow Him? Have I been willing to make sacrifices of time, money, convenience and pleasure to further His mission in the world? How about you? Does your life bear any evidence of self-sacrifice? Have you come to love the pleasures of this world more than God?

God’s Word has a lot to say about the danger of loving this world too much. In John 12:25, after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus spoke to his followers saying, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, let him follow me; and where I am there my servant will be also. If anyone serves me, him my Father will honor.”

When Jesus spoke these words, he was foreshadowing his impending death on the cross and also letting his disciples know that they risked actual death in following Him. But, this is also applicable to us today as we seek to follow Christ. We are called to live with a passion and devotion for Him that is greater than the love we have for things of the world—greater even than our love for our own family.

In Matthew 10:37-39, Jesus says, “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

You see, when someone becomes a Christian they often experience conflict within their family because of it. I have heard countless friends talk about the problems they’ve encountered when trying to talk about Christ, or faith, or even church with their unsaved family members. Unfortunately, becoming a devoted and fervent Christ-follower will often mean a separation of sorts from family who would hinder your relationship with Christ. In addition—on this concept of loving God more than family—we as parents can sometimes, without realizing it, set our children up as idols, loving them even more than God himself.

There are several passages in the gospels where Jesus talks about taking up our cross and following him. The first is in Matthew 16:24-25: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?'”

The exact same message of taking up our cross and losing our lives for the sake of Christ is repeated in Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23.

 This message implies a life of sacrifice and struggle as Christians seek to share God’s love and hope with the lost world. It is not supposed to be easy, my friend. And coming to love the world too much as we go through life can certainly derail our mission.

The hypnotic rhythm of comfort and affluence is a tactic often used by Satan to strengthen our love for the world and to make us ineffective as Christians.

It takes sacrifice to minister to an elderly neighbor or a sick friend. It takes time and commitment to serve in your local church. It takes courage to speak the name of Jesus in your workplace or neighborhood. It takes self-denial to give money to ministries and missions. And that’s if you never even step outside of the good ol’ USA! There are those who have sacrificed so much more than the average Christian today for the cause of Christ around the world. In fact, many have paid the ultimate price.

Does your life bear evidence of a devotion to Christ that is greater than your love for the world? Have you truly answered God’s call to take up your cross and follow Him?

This Easter season let’s take inventory of our lives. Have we been lulled into a spirit of complacency when it comes to sacrifice and service? What can we leave behind to follow Christ? Are we finished with easy and ready to do hard?

There is no doubt you and I are free to appreciate and enjoy God’s blessings in our lives but, we are also called to give back— to love God more than anything this world has to offer.

 

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Hope for the Terminally Ill: A New Tent for Eternity

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1 (NKJV)

It is so hard to see loved ones suffer. As we shared prayer requests in our Sunday school class this past week I noticed that every one of us had been touched by—or knew someone who was currently affected by— cancer. It is certainly a dreaded and life-wrecking disease having no mercy for the young nor the spiritually devoted.

In the case of young innocent children or godly saints in the prime of life, we ask ourselves, “Why? Why would God allow this to happen? What good could possibly come from it?”

I don’t know the answer to these questions. But I know that God, in his infinite wisdom, is not caught off guard. He is still in control and he still loves us with an everlasting, incomprehensible love—the kind of love that would sacrifice his only Son so that we could be with him forever.

There is one thing that I do know. Our life. This life—is but a blink in time. Whether I live 5 years, or 90, it is still only a single teardrop in the sea of eternity. Our physical bodies were not designed to last forever. However, the Bible says that we have a “building from God”, an eternal body, that will replace this wind-torn tent we currently inhabit. And that is the body in which I will spend eternity with God.

If you are mourning a friend or family member with a terminal illness, first of all, take the opportunity to share Christ with them. Assure them that as a child of God, they have a new and marvelous eternal body waiting for them. One that will never grow old, never wear out, never succumb to cancer or any other illness or disease. Help them to see the beauty and hope God has planned for them in a brand new heaven and a remade earth. Remind them that you will see them again!

And in the time that we do have on earth (which God has prescribed for us), let’s live every moment for his glory; loving, serving, growing—taking care of this temporary vessel–but always keeping in mind the fact that this life is not the end.

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Getting in Touch With Your Life’s Mission

 

What is the dream that God has placed within you? Do you have a vision of reaching people on the African continent for Christ? Do you hope to start a company that will impact the world in some way? Are you a teacher who dreams of influencing a generation of students to follow and honor Jesus Christ?

Every believer has within them a dream, a call, a mission, placed there by God himself. If we can get in touch with that vision and focus our energies on moving towards that goal, then we will find fulfillment and purpose in this life.

I began to think on this topic after hearing a sermon recently by a pastor who was filling in at our church. He began his sermon by asking the question, “What dream has God placed within you?” I knew the answer immediately. On the way home from church I asked my family if they could guess what my answer would be. My daughter, who knows me very well, hit the nail on the head, saying, “Mom, your dream is to raise us kids to love God and follow him forever.” The fact that she knew my heart so well brought tears to my eyes—discreetly hidden behind my large sunglasses, of course.

That has truly been my calling in life. “Well, that is not much of a dream,” you may say, “there are women out there doing great things like starting companies, writing books, even breaking the glass ceiling as CEO’s!” But for me, raising my children (and influencing other children, as well, in my capacity as an elementary school teacher ) to know Jesus Christ, to follow him, to live in a way that pleases him, is a high and holy calling not to be diminished by today’s equality culture.

If you know the dream that God has placed within you, what is stopping you from pursuing it? In most cases it is fear of one kind or another: fear of not being smart enough, fear of not having the resources, fear of not being able to finish the task, fear of what others will say. And that fear uncovered reveals the belief that God is not enough—not enough to provide whatever you need to accomplish that dream.

For myself and other stay-at-home moms/teachers, it is often a struggle to go against the flow of the “woman power” culture. We find ourselves constantly defending our choice to stay at home, doing without all the flashy stuff that our friends have, and fighting for respect as baby spit-up rolls down our backs and our homes sit in disarray for days on end. It’s no surprise that many women are fearful to follow the “stay-at-home mom” dream. It’s certainly not only physically hard but emotionally, as well. I mean, it’s not been easy to stick with it all of these years given the cultural pressure to keep up with the men, make a name for myself, or produce some concrete evidence of my hard work. I needed to conquer my fears and follow the dream God had placed in my heart. Other women may have God dreams of  going on the mission field, or starting a home-based business. Only you can figure that out.

My children are young adults now but, given the pull of the world and the pervasive influence of secular thought on their lives, I know that my work is not done. God has also placed within me a desire to influence and encourage other women by: leading Bible studies, forming relationships that strengthen and empower other women to grow in their faith, and, writing this blog! As I have pursued God’s vision for my life I have found peace, purpose, and fulfillment. I know that you can, too!

If you haven’t figured out your God dream, now is the time to do so! Don’t waste another minute on some rabbit trail, moving further and further away from God’s purpose for your life. Conquer your fear. Know that if God calls you to a task, a project, a life mission—then he will equip you for it. Don’t let the world tell you who to be. God has already determined that. You just need to get in touch with your perfectly designed, tailor-made, God dream, and move forward–full speed ahead!

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good work, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3 (ESV)

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (NIV)

This post was inspired by a sermon delivered by Dr. Gary Crawford, former pastor of Westside Baptist Church, Gainesville, Florida.

 

 

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A Glimpse of God’s Blessing

We’ve just returned from an amazing trip to Japan where our son serves in the Navy. We flew halfway around the world for one reason and one reason only–to meet our first grandchild! The feeling of holding him for the first time was really indescribable and as I held him in my arms I thought of the fact that the birth of this little guy marks the beginning of a whole new generation for our family.

My family is a treasure to me and with each new person who becomes a part of it, whether daughters-in-law, sons-in-law, or new babies, my heart grows exponentially. Each new member is a blessing and a new opportunity to multiply our spiritual legacy—a new avenue to influence the next generation for Christ.

Parents and grandparents, there is nothing more important than raising our children to love God—not their academic success, their popularity among their peers, their athletic achievements or their dating life. You are a Christian parent (grandparent) so that you can leave a spiritual legacy and through your children, perpetuate Christian values and influence in the world.

There is nothing more fulfilling than to see that our grown children have taken ownership of their faith and are striving to live for Christ. When we arrived in Japan we discovered that our son and daughter-in-law are not only a part of a small group Bible study but that our son is actually leading it! We also attended their church where we met several members who spoke of the spiritual impact our son and his wife have had on others. Now that’s what I’m talking about! 

I share that story not to brag about our parenting (for we have fallen short in so many areas over the years), but to emphasize the fact that God gives grace to us as parents and blesses us when we truly desire to raise kids who love Him. You will mess up many times, no doubt, as we did, but if you will commit to putting Christ at the center of your family life, allowing nothing else to take priority other than the spiritual development of your children, then one day, you too will see the fruit of your commitment to intentional Christian parenting.

As I held that precious little baby in my arms I had full confidence that his parents would raise him in a community of believers, teach him the ways of the Lord, and seek God for wisdom and guidance in their parenting journey. I felt such a warmth come over me. I can’t help but think it was God saying, “I know your heart. I’ve seen it all along. This blessing is for you.”

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” 3 John 1:4 (NKJV)

 

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Raising Kids Who Will Impact the World

 

“You are the light of the world. a city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 NKJV

All parents want their kids to get along with others, form meaningful friendships and positively impact the world around them. For Christian parents, that means we want our kids to exhibit Christ-like character traits that will draw others in and ultimately, to Christ. We hope our children, by the time they are tweens and teens, will be caring, kind, and compassionate—allowing the light of Christ to shine through them to the world. But that doesn’t just magically happen. Instead, we have to focus on developing godly attitudes and actions by parenting intentionally.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Is my child a good friend to others? Is he or she welcoming and inclusive to those of all sizes, shapes, races and ethnicities? Is he or she well-liked at school? What exactly are the traits of a good friend? What can I do to foster Christ-like character traits in my child?

Below are 5 traits kids need to impact their corner of the world:

Approachablity – If your teen is to exhibit Christ-like character that impacts others then they must be approachable. This means, they are not a part of an exclusive clique. They may still, of course, have a core group of friends, but other students should know that they are welcome to come be a part—whether that means joining the conversation, or sitting at the lunch table. My daughter would say that from the time she was very young, I have told her not to leave anyone out but instead, to be a friend to all. And when it comes to friendship, a smile is our greatest asset. It says, “I like you. You are welcome here. You are valuable.” Encourage your child to smile at others rather than to scowl or turn their gaze downward when interacting with them.

Trustworthiness – A good friend is one who can be trusted. That means if a fellow student shares a confidence with them, they will keep it to themselves. (Better yet, they will offer to pray with them about the issue!) Teach your child what the Bible says about gossip—it’s not good. Your child should know not to spread rumors about others and to walk away from situations where that is occurring. Be a good example for them in this area, as well. We know that children are much more likely to copy what we do than to heed what we say.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29 NIV

Kindness – Is your teen kind to others? Many teens today are starving for kindness. In high schools around the country, bullying is rampant and self-centeredness is the order of the day. A kind student can have a real impact in their corner of the world. Teens are faced with numerous opportunities each day to show kindness—from helping a friend study for a test, to walking a new student to their next class or engaging with a student who is standing alone. As parents we can not only talk to our kids about how to show kindness, but we can model it—to neighbors, strangers, and others in need.

“By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 NKJV

Encouragement – The teen years can be challenging, for sure: hormones wreaking havoc on emotions, complicated boy/girl relationships, pressure to perform academically and athletically; in this stressful environment, there isn’t a teen alive who doesn’t need encouragement. Therefore, a person who encourages others is a person who will not lack for friends. Help your teen get into the habit of uplifting others with encouraging words, notes and texts. For example, if your teen mentions that a friend is having trouble at home, suggest that they send an encouraging text or scripture verse, or perhaps, invite them over to hang out. Athletic teams are a great place to practice being an encourager. There your child can cheer on teammates and encourage those who are temporarily “off their game” or injured. Webster’s Dictionary defines encouragement as: “The action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.” I love that definition! Through encouragement, your teen can definitely point their peers to the giver of hope, himself, Jesus Christ.

Joy/Positivity – I often get compliments from others on my teenage daughter’s character. The thing I hear the most is the fact that she is so joyful and positive. She has the kind of magnetic countenance that draws people in. That fact is certainly a blessing for her and for us, as well. In fact, since she is a believer, the joy she exhibits so naturally is the inner joy that only comes from Jesus Christ. It’s the light in the darkness spoken of in the Bible. Negativity will not draw people to you—it will repel them! Teach your kids that joy and positivity is a choice they make each and every day. Praise your kids for exhibiting a positive and joyful attitude at home. While you’re at it, be an example of a “glass-half-full” parent!

“I have told you this that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:11-12 NIV

Is it really possible to raise an impactful kid?

It would seem impossible that our teens could actually embody all of the godly character trait discussed above. And it would be—if they relied only on their own power. However, believing teens have within them the power of the Holy Spirit which allows them to be good people… shining lights… faithful friends. The fruit of the spirit is waiting to blossom forth in your teen, drawing others to the light of Christ, impacting the kingdom of God in a mighty way—from the classroom to the athletic field, and even to the world at large.
Let’s encourage godly character traits by: talking about them often, praising them when they occur, and modeling them in front of our children. In doing so we can help our kids become faithful, encouraging friends in a world that desperately needs to see the light of Christ.

“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV

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