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There used to be a magazine called Ideals. It was filled with poems and articles and photos that were really lovely. The photos were all idyllic representations of nature, home and family. (That’s why they called it Ideals.)
It isn’t being published anymore. The closest thing would be Reminisce Magazine which provides warm retrospectives of home and family. Reminisce tends to be a little more realistic, but equally wonderful in its depictions of life in the past.
There is nothing wrong with having ideals. If you don’t shoot for something, you’ll end up with nothing. But what do you do as a Christian when your life doesn’t measure up to the ideal? When blogs and all other manner of media are holding up something you never quite are able to achieve?
Christian women’s blogs, particularly those regarding home and family, sometimes set out an ideal that leaves you feeling, deep down, that you will never measure up. Ever. I saw such a post yesterday about keeping a binder with household cleaning chores for every room in the house. The purpose was to achieve the perfect, clean home. Nice, if you can do it.
But let’s get honest here. How many of us as women can really achieve that binder/checklist level of clean? With children, that pristine bath or kitchen that you just disinfected is undone within hours (minutes?) of your intensive labors. Sometimes life does not afford the time or energy to achieve an ideal, at least for long. Like all those gorgeous ideas on Pinterest, your ideals sort of sit there on your shoulder, mocking you.
Mother’s Day just went by. How many of us feel like we really deserved the accolades from our families? We all have moments where we feel we are getting close to what we’d like to be. Then there are the other times when exhaustion, stress and just plain self get in the way. In a perfect world, our families would never eat a frozen pizza. Our children would have the perfect educational experiences, personally tailored to their learning styles, our homes would look like Southern Living photo spreads and never a cross word would be heard.
Today, I saw a pastor write something about the superiority of the “local church.” The pastor writing felt that people shouldn’t be commuting to other churches far away and that local churches were more “biblical” and should be attended. Nice ideal. In a perfect world, we could all walk to our excellent “local church” that would have exactly what we were looking for. Good luck with that today where there are churches all over, but altars to Isis or Elvis impersonators on Sunday morning maybe just aren’t what you’re looking for. Nice thought, pastor. This is an imperfect world, and people go where they have to for church. And no, driving a lot of miles isn’t ideal.
The glossy “Women of Faith” Conference ideal of the perfectly highlighted, beautifully slim, perfectly together woman is also not the whole story. Some of these women are spending most of their time on personal maintenance, flying from speaking gig to speaking gig, slogging through airports and hotel rooms, to tell all of us how to live. For a fee, of course. (Conferences like these are money makers for the publishers that run them. Note the book tables laden with “how-to” books and DVD’s…) They are holding up impossible standards for the rest of us. Ka-ching! (This slick conference imaging for speakers has now hit the next generation of homeschooler leaders at conferences. It isn’t enough to be schooling multiple kids at home, (while having the perfectly organized cleaning schedule, well-behaved children and perfect record-keeping), now you have to look chic as well. Sigh.)
I’m not calling for an end to ideals. Far from it. We have to continue to strive to do our best in this fallen world. Goals are good. We all need them, and giving up and wallowing in sloth and squalor isn’t what I’m advocating here.
What we do need to do as Christian women is accept that we don’t need to measure up to somebody’s else’s ideal. The photo-shopped, airbrushed images we see in Christian media aren’t reality. No, they’re really not.
Life today is complex, and if you don’t think so, you haven’t lived very long. The “ideal” of one breadwinner and mothers who can spend all their time on binders and cleaning checklists is long gone. I didn’t say that this is a good thing, I said that those days are gone for many families. Sometimes it isn’t about affording luxury items, often now, it’s about not losing the roof over your head.
Nothing is perfect in this world. Every Christian family I know has had to make tough choices in the last few years in a lot of areas. Many are not in churches they “ideally” would like to be in. Many have their kids in educational settings that are far from their ideal. Many have economic realities that require a mom to work as well as the dad. We do the best we can with what God has provided. We can be grateful for what we have, accept that nothing in this life is perfect. Character is making the best of a situation and finding contentment. And we can stop beating ourselves up because we aren’t glossy Supermoms. At least I can say I’m not! I raise a coffee mug to fellow moms in the trenches, and then I will head off to wage war on laundry.
It has been two years since I did any on air radio work, but Thursday morning I joined Amy Spreeman and Mike LeMay at Stand Up for the Truth Radio to talk about the continuing evangelical collapse and spiritual falling away in progress in the evangelical world. There is an unmistakable escalation going on.
I have held off from blogging, writing articles or working on the air on these topics for the last 24 months, waiting on the Lord, seeking his direction. In August, I was hired by a very fine radio host in Dallas who hosts a nationally syndicated radio show heard for three hours every day on over 100 stations around the country. As I have been watching and reading and researching for my radio job, I have felt a growing desire to once again speak out on some of these things. It’s almost impossible to stay silent when you see the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ attacked daily, often from those claiming to follow Christ. When Amy Spreeman called me, it was an honor to once again contend for the Lord publicly.
If you would like to hear the program with Mike and Amy on Stand Up for the Truth, a program based right here in Wisconsin, you can click here for the podcast. We had some phone trouble initially, and I wondered if the interview would happen! But it all came together, and I felt a strength and confidence that could have only come from the Lord. In our weakness, we are strong, because we have a strong Savior who works in the midst of our frailty to bring glory to himself. Whatever I do in the future, whether I say another word publicly or not on these spiritual issues, I can attest to the fact that God is good, his mercies are everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.
The Recovering Grace website has re-posted my article on Narcissism in Ministry. The website is dedicated to helping those who have come out of unbiblical legalism and into the light of God’s grace. Recovering grace has many helpful articles for those who have departed movements rooted in a works-righteousness mentality regarding salvation and/or sanctification.
I have personally witnessed the scorched spiritual earth left behind from churches and organizations that uphold an external standard that emphasizes anything but Christ. There was once a church in Milwaukee that had the biggest Sunday School bus ministry in the state. Thousands came through the door. The pastor was famous for his “standards” of dress and living with the usual prohibitions on women wearing pants, dancing, movies, etc.
As a child, I once attended one of his services where he ranted and raved and paced back and forth on the platform with the usual choreography of a fundamentalist preacher. His theme that Sunday had to do with standards of dress, and he railed against women wearing pants in his “sermon.” I noted that on the front row was a woman wearing black pants. The condition of her heart and her relationship to Jesus Christ? Unknown and unimportant. What mattered was she put on the “wrong” garment that morning to go to church. Even as a child, I saw through it.
The church eventually folded (they usually do), leaving a big debt behind for a handful of the faithful to pay, and all the sound and fury faded into silence. The kids from that church-run school then came to the one I attended. Thirty years later, I have reconnected with several of them. All of them that I knew then are now non-believers in a very vocal way. They witnessed the fraud. They thought it was Christianity, and they discarded it. All they knew of “Christianity” was a prayer they were told to pray and a list of impossible do’s and don’ts regarding lifestyle. And they turned away.
In the greatest irony of all, the very pastor who put so many into legalistic bondage has now had a change of heart. I located him on Facebook. He and his wife were smiling into the camera, his wife wearing the “detestable thing” he preached against that Sunday long ago. Pants. The earth he left behind in the lives of hundreds and even thousands of kids’ souls is burned over. It is a terrible tragedy.
A balanced biblical teaching on Law and Gospel is rare today. Legalism is just as much a poison as lawlessness, the other half of the problem in the church today. I am grateful for the Recovering Grace site and wish them well.
A friend of mine has a ministry where she sends out daily verses called “Think on This Thing”, and she sends a separate devotional from Streams in the Desert, the classic books filled with practical, biblical truth. If any Hope Blog readers would like to receive these daily in your email, you can send me your email address by posting a comment. Your emails will not be made public. I’ll send the email addresses to my friend, and she will add you to the list. Each morning I appreciate the verse to ponder and the devotional to put my thoughts on truth from God’s Word.
Here is a sample of the devotional from a couple of days ago.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Phil. 4:4)
It is a good thing to “rejoice in the Lord.” Perhaps you have tried it but seemed to fail at first. Don’t give it a second thought, and forge ahead. Even when you cannot feel any joy, there is no spring in your step, nor any comfort or encouragement in your life, continue to rejoice and “consider it pure joy” (James 1:2). “Whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2), regard it as joy, delight in it, and God will reward your faith. Do you believe that your heavenly Father will let you carry the banner of His victory and joy to the very front of the battle, only to calmly withdraw to see you captured or beaten back by the enemy? NEVER! His Holy Spirit will sustain you in your bold advance and fill your heart with gladness and praise. You will find that your heart is exhilarated and refreshed by the fullness within.
Lord, teach me to rejoice in You – to “be joyful always” (1 Thess. 5:16).
The weakest saint may Satan rout,
Who meets him with a praiseful shout.
Be filled with the Spirit… Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.
In these verses, the apostle Paul urges us to use singing as inspiration in our spiritual life. He warns his readers to seek motivation not through the body but through the spirit, not by stimulating the flesh but by exalting the soul.
Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings.
Let us sing even when we do not feel like it, for in this way we give wings to heavy feet and turn weariness into strength.
–John Henry Jowett
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and signing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
O Paul, what a wonderful example you are to us! You gloried in the fact that you “bear on [your] body the marks of Jesus” (Gal. 6:17). You bore the marks from nearly being stoned to death, from three times being “beaten with rods” (2 Cor. 11:25), from receiving 195 lashes from the Jews, and from being bloodily beaten in the Philippian jail. Surely the grace that enabled you to sing praises while enduring such suffering is sufficient for us.
Oh, let us rejoice in the Lord, evermore, When darts of the Tempter are flying, For Satan still dreads, as he oft did before, Our singing much more than our crying.
Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, the son of David. — Matthew 22:42
By J. C. Ryle
First published by Drummond’s Tract Depot, Stirling, Scotland
Christmas is a season which almost all Christians observe in one way or another. Some keep it as a religious season. Some keep it as a holiday. But all over the world, wherever there are Christians, in one way or another Christmas is kept.
Perhaps there is no country in which Christmas is so much observed as it is in England. Christmas holidays, Christmas parties, Christmas family-gatherings, Christmas services in churches, Christmas hymns and carols, Christmas holly and mistletoe,—who has not heard of these things? They are as familiar to English people as anything in their lives. They are among the first things we remember when we were children. Our grandfathers and grandmothers were used to them long before we were born. They have been going on in England for many hundred years. They seem likely to go on as long as the world stands.
But, reader, how many of those who keep Christmas ever consider why Christmas is kept? How many, in their Christmas plans and arrangements, give a thought to Him, without whom there would have been no Christmas at all? How many ever remember that the Lord Jesus Christ is the cause of Christmas ? How many ever reflect that the first intention of Christmas was to remind Christians of Christ’s birth and coming into the world? Reader, how is it with you? What do you think of at Christmas?
Bear with me a few minutes, while I try to press upon you the question which heads this tract. I do not want to make your Christmas merriment less. I do not wish to spoil your Christmas cheer. I only wish to put things in their right places. I want Christ Himself to be remembered at Christmas! Give me your attention while I unfold the question—”What think ye of Christ?”
I. Let us consider, firstly, why all men ought to think of Christ. Read the rest of this entry »
Recently, I had the assignment to find some uplifting news stories, articles and blog posts. Setting out to find some, I soon began to realize that it was easier said than done.
The news sites rarely contained one positive story. Not one. The closest thing to a positive story on one site was that after a legal battle, a group of senior citizens were not going to have their Christmas trees and Menorahs removed from a public area in an apartment complex using federal money. (That is good news!)
Almost every religious blog post I found had to do with analyzing the smoking ruins around us in our world, our nation and the world of faith. It isn’t that those stories aren’t necessary, but if you’re looking for encouragement, you’ll have to look a long time.
As I mulled over the distinct shortage of positive news and blog postings, it hit me that maybe the reason for this was pretty simple. Often in life, the good news stories, the small (or large) miracles that occur, are behind the scenes. They aren’t broadcast to the world with big promotional budgets, press releases and media fanfare.
It’s not that nothing worthwhile ever gets media attention, but most of the time, it doesn’t. A child back from the brink of a ruined life, a marriage saved, an all clear on a medical scan, a financial or other need unexpectedly met by some amazing kindness—so many good things will never get broadcast to the masses.
A soul saved by receiving and believing the Gospel, a baby’s life saved from abortion by loving people offering help at an abortion clinic. (How many are alive today because of that sacred work?) Or a solitary child in need, brought into a family. A sad and lonely heart turned to joy by the interest and compassion of another. Forgiveness, acts of charity and mercy, the lifting up of those too discouraged to go on, a parent seeing progress with a child facing autism or any number of other challenges. All of these are quiet good news stories that very few hear about.
Just as Jesus did not come to this earth with the blast of regal trumpets and a promotional blitz from a crack PR machine, his work in the hearts and lives of our families, churches and communities goes on, day after day in the miracles produced by love.
God lets us participate in these miracles as we live out our vocations, in jobs that sometimes seem too small and insignificant to matter to all but one or two. But as it has been said before, there are no small things when they are done in love.
So when the blizzard of bad news swirls, forget looking to the popular (even Christian) media for an uplift. Instead, look at the needs around you. Then ask God to let you be a part of one of those quiet miracles that never make headlines. That is a request He is sure to honor.
1 John 4:7-8 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Living out the Gospel at home is not training children in the doctrines of the Christian faith and teaching right behavior. Those things are foundational in the home, but living the Gospel out involves the application of what we know to be true from God’s Word.
To sum it up, modeling repentance and forgiveness of sins in day to day living is how we show our families what God does for us through Christ.
My preschooler is with me all day, every day, with very little exception. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but by the end of the day, I am very tired. Sometimes, I am so tired it is difficult to make it through the nighttime routine of teeth brushing, story reading, prayer and recently, singing. (A few months ago, Emmy began requesting a song at bedtime.)
The other night she engaged in some stalling tactics and belabored things unbearably. I was very cross and in my exhaustion, I spoke sharply to her. An abruptly truncated nighttime routine resulted.
There were aggrieved tears and a woeful, silent trip to bed for my Emmy. With her finally in bed, I sat down in my recliner, took a deep breath and closed my eyes. But inside I knew I had to make things right. She hadn’t been naughty, she had been a typical preschooler.
I went back down the hall, pushed her door open, and in the dimness of her night light, saw my little girl lying silently on her pillow, tears still on her cheeks, clutching her beloved Fluffy dog. I knelt by her bed and put my head down by her on the pillow and told her I was sorry for being so cross and raising my voice.
She immediately patted my head and my face with her warm little hands. “It’s OK, Mama, I forgive you,” she said. She wrapped her arms around my neck for a tight squeeze.
This little act of repentance and forgiveness is what it is all about, I thought to myself. Forgiveness and the restoration of fellowship is a beautiful thing. It is living out in the home what God does for us if we come to him with sorrowful hearts. It is not complex, but it requires a sensitive conscience.
I thought my heart would burst with love for my small girl that night. I kissed her tenderly good-night and went to get some rest myself…this time with a light heart.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” ~ I John 1:9
There is a wonderful Swedish song called, “I Look Not Back.” I learned it from a recording at a Lutheran college some years ago. Here are the words:
I look not back; God knows the fruitless efforts,
The wasted hours, the sinning, the regrets.
I leave them all with Him who blots the record,
And graciously forgives, and then forgets.
I look not forward; God sees all the future,
The road that, short or long, will lead me home,
And He will face with me its ev’ry trial,
And bear for me the burdens that may come.
I look not round me; then would fears assail me.
So wild the tumult of earth’s restless seas,
So dark the world, so filled with woe and evil,
So vain the hope of comfort and of ease.
I look not inward; that would make me wretched;
For I have naught on which to stay my trust.
Nothing I see save failures and shortcomings,
And weak endeavors, crumbling into dust.
But I look up–into the face of Jesus,
For there my heart can rest, my fears are stilled;
And there is joy, and love, and light for darkness,
And perfect peace, and ev’ry hope fulfilled.
The author of these lyrics is listed as that famous person, “Anonymous”, but the lovely tune is by Oskar Ahnfeld. I wish I could share a recording of it, but sadly, I couldn’t find a link.
The words underscore the importance of watching our view in life. Where we look can make the difference between despair and discouragement and having joy and hope.
Austin Sparks, an old path preacher from the last century, wrote a wonderful message on this theme, “Looking Unto Jesus.” The full message in print is at this link, but here is an excerpt:
“…Now this word is – adjust everything to the end, have all your affairs in life brought into line with God’s end. When you are considering a relationship, have God’s end in view. When you are considering the next step in your life, have God’s end in view. When you are deciding where you are going to live and do your work, have God’s end in view. When you are deciding what your business is going to be, have God’s end in view. Everything brought into line – that is the meaning of this “Make level the path of thy feet” or “Weigh carefully the path of thy feet”. We have to say to ourselves, ‘Now then, this is an opportunity, a prospect, that seems to hold a lot of good; but first of all, what is this going to mean for the Lord, how does this relate to the full end of God?’ Nothing less than that must weigh with us. “Let thine eyes look right on” – not just at this thing, not even at what it seems to promise, but right on. How does it relate to the end? In all things, look beyond; see what is the relation to the full end of God; and adjust accordingly. Get the vision, and adjust life as far as possible in relation to it. “Weigh carefully the paths of thy feet and order them aright. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left”. “Let thine eyes look right on”.
As things worsen in our culture and in the visible church, we need to make sure our eyes are firmly on Jesus. The enemy will try endless ways to distract us from the One who matters. Thousands of hours are filled on America’s airwaves each week documenting the collapse of everything that once stood firm in our society. As Christians, we work for what is right and do all we can to be lights in our culture, but whatever we do, we have to ultimately have our eyes on Jesus and His glory. This world is temporal. As Kipling put it, “Lo, all our pomp of yesterday is one with Nineveh and Tyre!”
God is eternal. Our souls are forever. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus.
(I wrote another post here 2 years ago on the same theme!)