Sanctification

Throwback Thursday ~ Six Ways to Leave Your First Love

Originally published April 29, 2016

6 ways first love

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: “The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. 6 Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
Revelation 2:1-7 (NASB)

Love…exciting and new….

If you’re a child of the 80s, you probably recognize those few words as the opening line of the theme song from the TV show, The Love Boat. It was all about romance, attraction, and the first blush of new love. Perfect strangers met, fell for each other in a matter of days and walked off the ship arm in arm when it sailed back into port. (There was also a lot of fornication, so that’s not an endorsement of the show.)

Anyone who’s ever fallen in love before remembers that excitement, the nearly illicit drug-like rush of those first days and weeks of romance. Your heart and mind are consumed with him 24/7. You can’t wait to see him again. Just having a conversation with him sets your toes a-tingle. You start realizing your friends are constantly changing the subject because he’s all you can talk about.

I remember those days when I first met my husband. After twenty-three years of marriage, that initial seedling of obsessive infatuation has grown into a sturdy, sedate, deeply rooted California redwood of love and trust. Our love for each other may not look like it did when we first started dating, but it’s still there. In fact, that love is bigger and stronger now than it ever has been.

It saddens me that it’s not that way for every couple. Sometimes, instead of puppy love growing into mature love, it’s more like a Fourth of July sparkler that burns brightly at first, and then fizzles down to a smoking ember as time goes by. Couples let things get in the way of their relationship. They pull away from each other instead of toward each other. They stop talking. They stop spending time together. Outwardly, they can be going through all the right motions, but, behind closed doors, their love has died.

And that’s where we find Christ’s bride, the church of Ephesus, in Revelation 2.

This is not a bad church where sin is running rampant and false doctrine is being taught. This is basically a good church. Christ commends the Ephesian church for their good deeds, hard work, endurance, and, especially, their discernment. Outwardly, they were doing all the right things, and doing them well.

But that wasn’t enough for Christ. Just like it wouldn’t be enough for a husband whose wife is simply a good cook, a good mother, and a good housekeeper.

Christ doesn’t just want the good deeds and doctrine of His bride. He wants her heart, too. Not just her labor, but her love. And because you and I are the church, He wants that from us as individuals as well. He wants our love for Him to steadily grow from that first spark to deep maturity, not to burn down to a smoldering wick.

Have you, like the church at Ephesus, left your first love for Christ? It can be so easy for our affection toward Him and our enjoyment of Him to slip away that sometimes we don’t even realize it’s happening. Maybe it’s time for a little evaluation? Got any of these dynamics playing out in your walk?

1. You spend a lot of time hanging out in one particular area of the faith.

It’s no secret that I hang out in Discernment Land a lot. Maybe that’s why this passage in Revelation hits me so hard. First Church of Ephesus spent a lot of time there, too. Discernment and contending for the faith are good things. Christ praised this church for standing strong against false doctrine and comparing every teaching to Scripture.

There are a lot of other wonderful areas of Christianity to explore and grow in, too. Studying theology is a good thing. So are prayer, worship, serving, giving, hospitality, evangelism, Bible study, and so on. But too much of one good thing can squeeze out time and desire for other good things. It can be challenging, but we’ve got to maintain a balance of all the good stuff in order to have a healthy relationship with Christ.

2. You’re in a “perseverance” season of life.

Life as a first century Christian was no picnic. People’s families turned against them, many lost their livelihoods, there was the constant threat of torture and persecution nearly inconceivable to us today, and false doctrine continued to creep into the church and had to be fought off. We get a little hint of this when, in the first three verses of this passage, Christ uses the words “endurance,” “grown weary,” and “perseverance” (twice).

When God is allowing or causing circumstances to occur in your life that put you through the wringer, you can slip into survival mode. But it’s not really survival without regularly communing with Christ. It’s vital that you spend time with Christ during these difficult periods of your life so your relationship with Him doesn’t grow cold.

3. Good works are overwhelming your schedule.

The good works God has called you to are a good thing. Just as Christ recognized the “deeds and toil” of the Ephesian church, He has prepared good works for you to do and wants you to do them. But there are those good works that God has prepared for you to do and will provide the time for: serving your family, serving your church, being a faithful employee; and then there can be additional good works you over-extend yourself for. When you are so busy serving – even at church or in ministry activities – that your personal relationship with Christ suffers or your primary area of service to your family suffers, you are too busy. It’s time to reevaluate and cut back somewhere.

4. You’re not faithfully attending church.

If you’re regularly choosing travel, ballgames, birthday parties, sleeping in, shopping, visiting family, or any other non-essential, non-emergency activity over faithfully attending church, you are sinning, and you need to stop it and get your heiney back in the pew every week. When Scripture says gathering for worship with other Christians is your first priority, you need to obey that.

But it’s more than just adhering to some arbitrary rule. God doesn’t make arbitrary rules. His commands are always for our good. When you miss church, you’re missing out on the teaching and proclamation of God’s word, the celebration of Christ with your brothers and sisters, the opportunity to fellowship with and help bear the burdens of other believers, the encouragement and sharpening of running the race with your teammates, and the chance to serve the body of Christ. All of these things direct our focus to Christ, His beauty and His love for us, which, in turn, grows our love for Him.

5. You’re neglecting personal time in the Word and prayer.

I spend a lot of time in and around the Word. I’m normally at church, Sunday school, and Wednesday night Bible study every week. I teach my children the Bible every morning. My husband leads us in family worship. I write about biblical topics, which requires study of the Word. I listen to sermons and Christian podcasts all the time. But even with all that, when I don’t get up and start the day alone with God in prayer and in His word, I can feel myself slipping away from Him. And I know from experience that if I let that go on long enough, there’s going to be a rift between us, I’m going to keep pulling away from Him, and I’m not only going to miss out on that intimate, loving communion with Him, I’m going to leave myself wide open to temptation to sin.

Neglecting your Bible study and prayer time has a similar effect on your relationship with Christ as refusing to talk to or spend time with your husband would have on your marriage. Don’t give Christ the silent treatment. Stay in close fellowship with Him through His word and prayer.

6. You’re cherishing sin.

It’s a sin. You know it because the Bible clearly says so. You do it anyway. You keep doing it because you like it. Maybe it’s something “big” like pornography or embezzlement. Maybe it’s something “small” like coveting or gossip. But every step you take toward that sin is a step away from Christ and your love for Him. Every time you commit that act, you’re saying, “I love my sin more than I love Christ.”

 

Have you left your first love? Are you going through all the right motions outwardly, but inwardly your heart is far from God? Are you committing spiritual adultery with sin, letting busyness crowd out your relationship with the Lord, neglecting time in the Word and prayer? Do you long for that intimate communion with Christ you once had? Great news! He wants that for you, too.

…remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first.

God is gracious and merciful, and He wants your heart, not just your right actions. He stands ready to forgive you, reconcile you to Himself, and restore that sweet love and fellowship.

New Year's, Sanctification

Sanctification > Resolutions: 6 Ways God Could Sanctify You in the New Year

Originally published January 1, 2018

Happy New Year!

There’s just something about the beginning of a new year that brings with it a yen for getting a fresh start. We think back over the past year, evaluate what we’ve spent our time and efforts on – or what we should have spent our time and efforts on – and, invariably, there’s a desire to make this year better.

Lots of people will make lots of resolutions on January 1: to lose weight, to stop smoking, to exercise more. And by mid-February, some 80% of those people will have failed and given up on their resolutions.¹ Why? Partly because (statistically speaking) most of those people are lost and the flesh is exceedingly hard to tame by sheer “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” willpower. Even Holy Spirit-indwelt Believers can testify to the pull of the flesh.

Should we, as Christians make New Year’s resolutions? Is it OK to set a goal to get a certain area of our lives under better control? Sure, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, is it possible there’s a bigger picture we need to take a look at?

The Christian life is not one of putting out fires via resolutions. We don’t tackle one problem, get it under control and then move on to each of the other five problems that popped up while we were working on the first one. It’s more like fire prevention. We get up every day and hose down the house and yard by resting in Christ, communing with Him through prayer and the Word, and seeking to obey Him throughout the day. Sanctification is not mainly reactive, it’s proactive. And it doesn’t come by our own outward effort and striving, but by Christ growing us, changing our hearts, and enabling us to obey Him from the inside out.

And guess what? Along the way as Christ is conforming you to His image, you’re going to fail. You’re going to give in to temptation, and you’re going to sin against your Master. But here’s what biblical sanctification offers you that New Year’s resolutions cruelly withhold:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

You don’t just get a fresh start once a year. You get a fresh start every time you confess your sin, repent, and receive Christ’s cleansing and forgiveness. You get the mercy of Christ, the grace of God, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to move forward in submission to God’s Word. You get the steadfast, never ceasing love of the  Father who is out for your good rather than the unfeeling “do more, try harder, be better” taskmaster of New Year’s resolutions.

So, bearing all that in mind, how might God be trying to grow you in Christlikeness this year? What are some ways you can get up each day and proactively rest in, and obey Christ? Let’s prayerfully consider the following aspects of our walk and ask God to sanctify us and help us submit our will to His as we follow Him in this new year.

Growing in the Word

1. Daily personal Bible study. Do you set aside daily time for the personal study of God’s Word? Have you ever read the Bible from cover to cover? Have you considered, maybe just for this year, putting away all of the Bible study books and materials authored by others and using only the Bible during the next 365 days of your personal study time? Evaluate your daily time in God’s Word. Here are some resources you might find helpful:

📖 Bible Study Resources (how to study the Bible)
📖 Bible Studies
📖 Bible Reading Plans for the New Year- 2020
📖 You’re Not as Dumb as You Think You Are: Five Reasons to Put Down that Devotional and Pick Up the Actual Bible

2. Scripture memorization. This is something God has gotten a hold of me about recently. It’s important to store up God’s Word in our hearts as a weapon against temptation, for comfort, for prayer, and to encourage others. Try starting with verses you’re already somewhat familiar with. Many find it easier to memorize Scripture in song form, or by typing it out. If your pastor is preaching through a certain book, memorize a verse or passage out of each chapter as he comes to it. I’ve found it helpful to recite my verses in my head in bed at night. It helps me fall asleep faster, and there’s actually research that shows retention is improved if you study right before bed.

Growth In Prayer

3. Daily prayer time. Of course we should be talking to the Lord throughout the day as we go about the routine of life and work, but that’s not a substitute for having a daily block of time set aside for focusing all of our attention on communicating with God. Jesus set this example for us, and we should follow it. Do you have a daily time of prayer? Do you know how to pray in a way that’s pleasing to God and helps you grow in Christ?

🙏 Prayer
🙏 After this Manner Therefore Pray
🙏 Basic Training: 8 Things You Need to Know about Prayer
🙏 Sweet Hour of Prayer (Bible study on prayer)

Growth in the Body of Christ

4. If you don’t have a church, find one. Physically gathering with the Body of Christ for worship, teaching, fellowship, prayer, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, giving, serving – and so much more – is not optional. It’s vital to your growth in Christ.

 Basic Training: 7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians
 Six Ways Not to Forsake the Assembly
 Searching for a new church?

5. Faithful church attendance. At a minimum, Christians should be at Sunday morning worship and Sunday School/Bible study class/small group every week unless Providentially hindered (circumstances beyond your control: illness, emergency, the rare out of town trip, occasionally having to work). That’s not legalism, that’s loving the Bride of Christ and having your priorities in line with Scripture. Contrary to popular metrics, habitually missing Sunday worship twice or more a month (when you could be there if you made it a priority) is not faithful attendance. If you’re lackadaisical in church attendance, examine your heart. What’s going on in your spiritual life that’s keeping you from wanting to gather with your brothers and sisters in Christ? (And if it’s a problem with the church itself, see #4.)

6. Don’t just “go to church,” invest yourself in it. Are you serving your church in some capacity? Do you regularly and fervently pray for your church, your fellow church members, and your pastors, elders, and teachers? Have you poured yourself into personal relationships with others at church for fellowship, care, and discipling? Do you regularly, sacrificially, and joyfully give offerings? Are you sharing the gospel with the lost? As with anything else, you get out of it what you put into it. God loves you and wants you to invest yourself in His Bride for His glory and for your joy.

⛪ The Servanthood Survey
⛪ Let Me Count the Ways: 75 Ways Women Can Biblically Minister to Others
⛪ Servanthood
⛪ Top 10 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor
⛪ To Tithe or Not to Tithe…
⛪ Evangelism
⛪ 10 Fun, Practically Effortless, and Free Ways to Do Missions and Evangelism

How might God want to conform you more to the image of Christ this year? Could it be in one of these areas? Maybe another area? New Year’s resolutions are often about how you want to shape your life. Sanctification is about how God wants to shape your life. Not just for the new year, but for eternity.


¹Luciani, Joseph. “Why 80 Percent of New Year’s Resolutions Fail.” U.S. News & World Report. December 29, 2015. Web. December 29, 2017.
Sanctification

Throwback Thursday ~ Discipleship Requires Relationship

Originally published September 30, 2016

discipleship-relationship

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:19-20

You probably know the verses above as the “Great Commission.” Jesus spoke these words to His disciples after His resurrection and before ascending back into Heaven, and they are still our marching orders as Christians today. It’s an action-packed passage, wouldn’t you say? Go. Make. Baptize. Teach. We are to be about the Lord’s business, not sitting around doing nothing or busying ourselves with other things to the exclusion or neglect of the task to which Christ has called us: sharing the gospel with the lost and training the saved to follow Christ.

But how do we put shoes on the Great Commission? What does it look like to “Go ye therefore” and carry out this action plan of making and teaching disciples of Christ in our day to day lives? Like so many other aspects of working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, there is no one size fits all checklist of specific, “do it this way” tasks to choose from. Why? Because God created you as a unique individual with a particular background and placed you in a certain life venue. Yours doesn’t look like mine, and mine doesn’t look like yours. And that’s a good thing. God has woven all of those elements together in our lives to place us in the exact spot He wants us in to glorify Him, grow in our own faith, and make the disciples He has specifically assigned us to reach in the way He wants us to reach them.

But while you may be counseling a fellow church member about her marriage and I might be teaching my children the book of Colossians and another sister might be praying with a hospitalized co-worker, there’s one thing that’s foundational to all these divergent discipling situations: relationship. You can’t disciple someone unless you have a relationship with her.

Now let me stop and clarify something here. I’m not saying you have to have a relationship with someone before you can evangelize her. We should absolutely be sharing the gospel with lost friends, family, and others we already have relationships with, but we can (and should) share the gospel with complete strangers we’ll never see again as well. When Jesus first called His disciples and said, “Come follow Me,” He didn’t, humanly speaking, know any of them, as far as we know.

But Jesus didn’t stop with the call, just like we’re not to stop with the conversion. He gathered those twelve guys to Himself and they literally did life together for the next three years. They lived together, ate together, traveled together, went to the temple together. Everything. Together. For three years. That’s what turned them into disciples- true followers: time spent together with Christ, learning from Him.

There were three main ways Christ discipled the Twelve: formal teaching (as with the Sermon on the Mount), situational teaching and correction (as when James and John wanted to sit on His right and left in the Kingdom), and setting an example (as when the disciples watched Jesus minister to Zacchaeus), and all of those methods required Jesus to spend time with and bond with the disciples. These weren’t mere acquaintances of His, they were brothers.

Is that what God is calling us to do today? Should we quit our jobs, gather up a dozen ladies, move in together, and disciple them? (Goodness, it almost sounds like a reality TV show, doesn’t it?) Probably not (Especially if you’re married and have children. In that case, your family members are your live in disciples.). But we do need to make sure we’re clearing time in our busy schedules to bond with women or children who need a “big sister” in Christ. Time to disciple them in the same ways Jesus did: formal teaching, situational teaching and correction, and setting an example. Work through a book of the Bible together, be a shoulder to cry on, pray with her when she’s had a bad day, go to the movies together, let her watch while you share the gospel with someone, have a cup of coffee. Develop that close, trusting relationship that creates a safe haven for confession of sin, sharing fears and inadequacies, instruction, rebuke, encouragement, grief, and rejoicing.

And it’s important that we do this, not only at the individual level, but at the church level as well. My church is somewhat large, with a few hundred or so in attendance each week. A few months ago, I hosted a fellowship for the ladies of my class, just so we could have some fun and get to know each other better. During the evening, I asked if anyone would be interested in a weekly women’s Bible study. Most indicated that it wouldn’t work out with their schedules, and we went on with the evening, sharing various things that were going on in our lives, and even stopping to pray for a few of the ladies who were struggling. Later, one of the ladies pulled me aside, told me how much she had enjoyed the evening, and said something so wise I’ll never forget it: “A weekly Bible study would be nice, but this evening is the kind of thing we need. We get good teaching in church and in Sunday School, but we never get to just sit around and talk and share our joys and struggles- our lives.” And she was right.

Yes, sometimes churches can go overboard on fellowship, but we’ve got to be careful not to swing too far the other direction to the point that we’re a group of isolated individuals who happen to be in the same place at the same time each week to receive good teaching and all go our separate ways when it’s over. Good, biblical, corporate teaching and worship are only one aspect of discipleship- the “theory” aspect of discipleship, if you will.

But what about the “applied” aspect of discipleship, where the rubber of the sermon meets the road of life’s circumstances? That’s where relationship comes in. There are women and children in your church who are fairly starving for someone to reach out to them, listen to them, help bear their burdens, explain how the Scriptures apply to what they’re going through today, give them a hug and an encouraging word. Is your church creating space for this to happen between individuals and in small groups? Are you encouraged to get involved in one another’s lives and walk through joys and sorrows together on a personal level?

Making disciples. Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes intentionality. It takes relationship. Jesus was willing to invest those precious resources into the lives of His disciples. Are we?

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Sanctification

Throwback Thursday ~ 10 Pet Peeves (with Providential Purpose!)

Originally published June 30, 2017

One of the podcasts I’m enjoying listening to right now is Mike Abendroth’s No Compromise Radio. Recently he posted a series of episodes about his pet peeves with the church, false teachers, and other ministry issues, and used those pet peeves as an opportunity for teaching and exhortation.

It seemed to be a thought-provoking way to address the issues, so I’m shamelessly emulating Mike’s idea today and discussing a few pet peeves of my own:

1. Mispronouncing or misspelling the names of false teachers being critiqued. The names that seem to give people the most trouble are Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer. There is no “L” in Osteen. It is not OLsteen or OLDsteen. It is pronounced OH’-steen (also note the emphasis on the first syllable). Joyce Meyer does not have an “S” on the end of her last name. It is Meyer, not MeyerS. When you mispronounce or misspell the name, it diminishes your credibility with followers of that teacher. People tend to think, “This person doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She hasn’t even done enough research to know what my favorite teacher’s actual name is.” Hearing Scriptural truth about your idol is hard enough. Let’s be merciful and not make it any harder for people than we have to.

2. Women who try to manipulate ministries which take a firm stance on biblical doctrine into apologizing or changing said stance by saying how “sad” or “grieved” or “depressed” or “sorrowful” they are that this ministry isn’t nicer to false teachers, more compassionate as to why women can’t submit to their husbands, etc. It reminds me of three year old little girls who have learned that if they turn on the tears and the puppy dog eyes, and burble with quivering lip, “That huwt my feewings!” when Mom disciplines them, that Mom will quickly change her mind about the punishment.

Ladies, godly women do not manipulate by saying things like this (And, as an aside, if you’re using this tactic with your husband, stop now. You’re going to destroy your marriage). If you’re not genuinely sad or grieved, what you’re saying is a lie. If something a ministry says or does genuinely offends you, the first thing you need to do is find out – from correctly handled Scripture, not your opinions – if they’re being biblical. If they are, you need to adjust your feelings so that they line up with Scripture. If they’re not, you need to speak the truth to them kindly, openly, honestly, in love, and with no hidden agenda.

3. People who comment on articles, social media posts, and so on without reading them first, especially when their comment is clearly addressed, answered, or refuted in the text. Have we really become this intellectually lazy? God gave us brains, intelligence, and literacy. We need to exercise those good gifts. The headline isn’t the extent of the writer’s thoughts. Read the article.

4. Mature Christians who positively quote, share, or re-tweet people they know (or should know) are false teachers. I don’t care if the quote itself is OK-ish. When you share something from a false teacher, others see that as your stamp of approval on that teacher, or question your discernment, or both. You’re pointing people who may be weaker brothers and sisters to false teachers. Knock it off.

5. Christian writers who consistently fail to capitalize the word Bible. I expect a surgeon to know how to handle a scalpel, a plumber to know how to use a wrench, and writers to know the rules of grammar. As Christians we should be striving for excellence in our vocations as a way to glorify God.

6. When people try to negate a general rule or biblical principle by pleading the exceptions to the rule. People point to the tiny percentage of pregnancies by rape and incest and say “See? Abortion should be legal!”. Christian women point to the exception of abusive men as though their existence exempts all godly women from the Bible’s instruction to submit to their husbands. There are always going to be exceptional circumstances like the tragedies of abuse and pregnancy due to rape or incest (and there are biblical principles for handling these special circumstances), but those exceptions do not cancel out the general rule or biblical principle that applies to the vast majority of people.

7. Women who confuse their feelings, personal preferences, and opinions with biblical truth and then attempt to use that “biblical truth” to correct others who disagree with them. You may be offended and strongly disagree with someone for calling your favorite preacher a false teacher, but your feelings and disagreement don’t mean that person is wrong. It could be that your opinion is what is unbiblical and that the other person is completely bibilically right in what she is saying. Or it could be another type of situation in which neither of you are wrong but that you’re coming at the issue from two different (yet biblical) perspectives, for example: grief over someone’s sin versus righteous anger over someone’s sin. As Christians, our feelings and opinions about things don’t really matter. We are slaves of Christ, so only our Master’s opinion matters. And His opinions are found in God’s written Word, not in our emotions. We must go to Scripture to determine what is right, godly, and good, and what is not.

8. I could write a whole article on things podcasters do during broadcasts that annoy me, but I’m working on not being annoyed by those things (plus, if I ever have my own podcast, I’m sure I’ll do all of them myself), so I’ll just mention one: repetitive linguistic idiosyncrasies and jokes. Yes, “that’s the way the cookie crumbles” but you don’t need to say it every five minutes. And, it was mildly amusing the first few times you intentionally pronounced that word wrong, but now it’s been several dozen times, and it’s just annoying. And nobody’s buying your shtick about feigning confusion over people’s names (“As Jimmy Carter once said…” “No, that was Jimmy Dean.” “I thought it was Dean Martin!”) anymore. The same linguistic joke or idiosyncrasy over and over and over again grates on my nerves. The spiritual application here? I need to be more patient and overlook things that annoy me out of love for the person doing them. I get that. I’m trying.

9. Making every event into a huge, over the top experience. When I was a kid, Vacation Bible School was a Bible story and a few songs, a modest craft, and some cookies and Kool-Aid. No theme, no decorations, no ordering hundreds of dollars worth of junk from LifeWay. Now VBS is more like Six Flags over Jesus. For centuries, worship services took place without an elaborate set, theatrical lighting, and flashing everything up on a screen. Pastors somehow managed to preach without props, costumes, or references to the latest movie. Bible studies required only (gasp!) a Bible, not a workbook, a DVD, a web site, YouTube videos, four jillion different colored highlighters, a bachelor’s degree in hieroglyphics for margin markings, and the talent of Monet for Bible art journaling.

I once saw a picture of a church in Africa. Not a church building – because they didn’t have one – but the actual church: the people. They met under a certain tree on Sundays to sing, pray, and be taught by their pastor. No programs, no flash, no bling, yet this was a successful church because it built up and trained Christians in the faith. There’s nothing intrinsically sinful about decorations, lights, or a plethora of pens, but sometimes all the hoopla and accessories distract us from our main purpose- the unfettered pursuit of Christ. When we feel like we have to do all that extra stuff – to attract people or to have some sort of feeling or experience – we’re losing sight of our purpose. Simple is good and doable and not displeasing to God.

10. My biggest pet peeve – the one that affects me the most, personally; the one that frustrates and irritates and angers me more than all the others – is my own sin. I know exactly how Paul felt, and I can’t say it better than he did, when he said:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Romans 7:15,18-19, 22-24

Can’t you just see Paul throwing up his hands in frustration, tearing out his hair, banging his head on his desk? I drive through that neighborhood a lot. “Ugh! I gave into temptation AGAIN!” “I just repented of coveting yesterday, and here I am doing it again today!” “Why did I react to that situation with pride instead of humility? I know what Scripture says about that!” I see the goal – Christlikeness. I want to get there, but I know that’s not going to come to completion this side of Glory. And it drives me absolutely nuts.

But then I see the cross. The grace. The kindness of my Savior to forgive me. And I’m reminded to keep moving forward, to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” That it’s His work in my heart that makes me holy and enables me to obey, not my straining and striving. What a merciful and loving and gracious God!

Life is full of little (and big) pet peeves. But if we’ll submit ourselves to God, study His word, and seek to obey Him, they can have a sanctifying purpose. God can use even the most annoying irritation to sand off some of our rough edges, show us our sin, and lead us to become more like Christ.

Do you have any pet peeves?
How could God use them as tools to sanctify you?

Sanctification, Sin

Throwback Thursday ~ 6 Reasons to Recapture Righteous Anger

Originally published November 3, 2017

Do you ever get the sense that anger is a problem in the church these days? It’s more apparent if you’re on social media, but even if you’re not you’ve probably seen Christians acting in anger in your church and Christian groups you belong to. Maybe even among your Christian family and friends.

In the evangelical social construct today’s Christian women have built and immersed themselves in where “being nice” is the highest attribute we can attain to, anger – any anger whatsoever – is usually seen as sin. The antipode of the sweet, effervescent, always-positive, don’t-rock-the-boat church ladies we’re “supposed” to be.

Time to pick up the biggest rocks we can find and smash that pretty pink stained glass window, ladies.

The problem with anger in the church is not anger itself, but that Christians get angry about the wrong things instead of the right things, and act on that anger – sometimes even anger over the right things – in the wrong way. There are many things Christians should be angry about. Indeed, if Christians got angry about the things we’re supposed to get angry about and acted on that anger in a biblical way, the church would be better – and more Christlike – for it. But what are the right and godly reasons for getting angry and acting on that anger?

1.
Anger Is an Attribute of God

No character trait God exhibits can ever be considered intrinsically sinful because God is holy and perfect. God displays anger numerous times in the Bible, yet we know God is without sin. Therefore, we know that the emotion of anger itself is not a sin. It can’t be, or that would make God a sinner, and, by definition, not God. God’s anger demonstrates for us that there are times and situations in which anger is holy and good, and that there are godly ways to act on that anger.

2.
Imago Dei

People are made in the image of God. The creation reflects – albeit dimly and sinfully – the Creator. No one has to teach us how to feel anger or love or justice or desire. Those things are just there, hard wired into us from the womb simply because we’re image bearers. Our sin nature is where the train jumps the tracks with those attributes, because sin causes us to apply those attributes to the wrong objects (loving an idol, desiring someone else’s spouse) and to express those attributes in wrong ways (vengeance, abuse).

3.
Multi-Tasking Attributes

God is simultaneously perfect in love, power, wrath, kindness, compassion, anger, justice, mercy, grace, patience, and all His other attributes. When we see Him pouring out His wrath, that doesn’t mean His attributes of love and compassion have disappeared. When God executes judgment, that doesn’t mean He has ceased to be a merciful and patient God. All of God’s attributes are 100% present and potent all of the time. And – though filtered through our sinful flesh – the same is true for Christians. Expressing anger over the right things in a godly way does not cancel out the fact that you’re also loving, kind, patient, peaceful, or joyful. God created us to reflect His nature by simultaneously exhibiting His attributes in a godly way.

4.
Symbiotic Anger

How can we know whether we’re getting angry over the right things or the wrong things? It is right and good to be angry over the things that anger God – idolatry, the defaming of His name, false doctrine, sin in the church, people who harm or take advantage of the innocent and vulnerable, dishonesty, cruelty, deception, the failure to do what is right – first and foremost when we see these sins in our own hearts and lives, but also against others who perpetrate these sins. But we may not be angry for sinful reasons such as pride, selfishness, impatience, self-righteousness, inflexibility, greed, hate, bigotry, lust, and personal preferences. What the Bible shows God getting angry about we should be angry about, too.

5.
Anger Versus Sadness

A few months ago on social media, I mentioned an incident in which a male member of a certain church sinfully took advantage of several female members of that church. Without exception, every Christian woman (and many of the men) who commented on the incident made the statement (or some variation of it), “That’s so sad.” There are many aspects of a sinful situation over which it’s appropriate to feel sad. It was right to feel sad for this man’s completely innocent wife and children, as well as his victims and the church, who all suffered as a result of his sin. Jesus wept over the effect sin had on His beloved Jerusalem and the rift that sin created between God’s people and Himself. But, interestingly, both Matthew and Luke show us an instance of Jesus’ sorrow over sin immediately preceding or followed by an instance of Jesus’ anger over sin. It’s fine to feel sad for the people who innocently suffer as a result of someone else’s sin. It’s godly to grieve over the general effects and ultimate consequences of sin. But don’t stop there. We should also be angry at sin and at those who blaspheme the name of God and harm others by committing sin. The biblical instances of God being angry over sin and those who perpetrate it far outnumber the instances of God grieving over the effects of sin. Sadness is good, but it shouldn’t replace godly anger toward sin.

6.
Harness the Wild Stallion

Up until now, we’ve mostly been looking at the emotion of anger, but the emotion of anger usually leads to action. The fact that the emotion usually leads to action doesn’t mean the emotion always should lead to action. Sometimes it shouldn’t lead to action at all. Sometimes it shouldn’t lead to action right away. Sometimes it shouldn’t lead to action from you, but from a more appropriate person.

But most of the time, if you’re experiencing righteous anger over the right things, that godly anger should motivate you to take godly action using godly methods. And one of those godly methods is understanding the difference between letting the wild stallion of anger tear madly around the corral and putting a bit and bridle in its mouth to harness and guide all of that energy into plowing a field or pulling a wagon. Venting your anger to a friend might make you feel better temporarily, but it does nothing to fix the problems created by the sin you’re angry about. Harness your anger with the fruit of the Spirit and use that anger as a tool to energize and motivate you to help the victims of sin, call the sinner to repentance, set up a plan to prevent this sin from happening again, and repair the damage done by sin.

How often do you become righteously angry over sin? When you hear a false teacher twist God’s Word, do you blow it off as no big deal? Does it faze you at all when church members refuse to submit to your pastor’s biblical leadership? Do you lend an ear when your best friend verbally eviscerates her godly husband to you?

Ladies, there are things worth getting angry about. Righteous anger is not a bad, unloving, or unladylike thing. If someone intentionally hurt your child, you would come unglued because you love him so much. What does it say about our love for the Lord when we defend people who mock Him, give the benefit of the doubt to those who defame Him, or yawn apathetically when people rebel against Christ and His Word? When someone blasphemes the name of the holy God of the universe, the Savior who willingly endured the cross for your sin, why wouldn’t you get angry about that? When someone attacks, betrays, or perpetrates evil upon a fellow image bearer – especially if that person is a brother or sister in Christ – you are right to be angry at both the sin and the sinner.

Anger over sin and evil is good and holy. God exhibits anger over sin and evil, and we, as His image bearers, should share His indignation. When Christians are angry over the right things and use that anger to fuel a godly response to sin it makes the church more biblically healthy and grows it to greater Christlikeness.