Are these 7 sins really deadly?

February 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

Many people wonder what the 7 deadly sins are and if they are worse than other sins. The idea of the seven deadly sins isn’t new. The seven deadly sins have been around since early Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church came up with the list and declared that every possible sin was spawned from these seven. Personally, I would narrow it down and say that pride is the root of all sins.

These seven are often tied to Proverbs 6:16-19 where we find a list of the six things that God hates.

The early Roman Catholic Church taught that these sins could not be forgiven. However, according to the Bible these seven deadly sins are completely forgivable by God.

The only sin which cannot be forgiven is the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. This occurs when the Holy Spirit tells an individual that he/she needs to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. When that person says, “No, I don’t need him to forgive my sins,” he/she has called the Holy Spirit a liar which is the meaning of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. This is the unforgivable sin. God can forgive every sin except saying “no” to Jesus and his forgiveness of sin.

The 7 Deadly Sins are:

1. Pride

A loving mother once told me how proud she was of her son and the good choices that he was making.

“What I want to know,” she asked, “is if it is okay to be proud of my son when the Bible says that pride is a sin?”

“Of course you can tell your son how proud you are of him,” I said.

Pride is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, some people are all out front in a way that purposely calls attention to themselves and to their accomplishments. When they enter the front door, everyone else is backdoor. Pride says people, “I’m better than you.” Pride was Satan’s problem at the creation. He thought that he could be as good, if not better, than God himself.

It’s one thing to think too highly of yourself; it’s another thing to think too little of yourself. These self-deprecators are often gathered at the back door, reluctant to move out into life because they are afraid of what people may think of them. I call this the flip side of pride. It is a twisted over-concern with themselves.

Romans 12:3: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”

Don’t think of yourself too lowly either.

2. Lust

When we think of lust we think of sex. However, we all know that it’s possible to lust for things other than sex–like money, power, fame or control.

As a result, we might define lust as an over-craving, inappropriate, desire in any number of areas.

Of course, we naturally associate lust with sex. Most all of us will be tempted with lust at one time or another. Remember that it is not a sin to be tempted. The sin comes when we began to dwell on it. You have probably heard the old adage, “We cannot keep the birds flying over our heads; but we certainly can keep them from nesting in our hair.

3. Greed

Greed is an overarching desire for material wealth or gain.

The saddest manifestation of greed is hoarding whereby an individual gathers material wealth that is never released to help people in need.

1 Timothy 6:9-10: “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

“Pierced themselves,” are Greek words that describe roasting meat on a spit over an open fire. Paul says that the greedy are slowly roasted by the very things they consider so near and dear to their hearts.

4. Sloth

Sloth is excessive physical laziness or the failure to utilize one’s talents. Sloth is avoiding work.

Let me say a word to parents about lazy teenagers. Children are programmed to get up early— full of energy and ready to go. Teenagers on the other hand, are programmed to sleep a little later. This has to do with energy.

It has always intrigued me that many school districts begin school early for teenagers and later for children. This is exactly the opposite of human behavior.

In our culture we have extended adolescence into the middle and late twenties. But in most cultures females are considered ready for marriage when they began menstruation. Therefore, their bodies are programmed to save energy that’s needed for the baby.

Colossians 4:5: “Walk in wisdom towards them that are without, redeeming the time because the days are evil (KJV).

5. Wrath

Wrath transcends anger. It’s possible to be angry and keep our feelings and emotions in line so that we may respond properly.

On the other hand, when anger degenerates to wrath our intentions turn to hurting and bringing pain to those who hurt us.

While anger itself isn’t a sin, out of control anger and hate often lead to wrath which is a sin. When wrath begins to take over, we forget about forgiveness.

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, …for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord’”. (Romans 12:19).

6. Envy

Jealousy wants what someone else hands. Envy wants them not to have it.

Proverbs 14:30: “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”

7. Gluttony

Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than we need. Gluttony overindulges to the point that waste enters the picture.

We usually associate gluttony with overeating. However, gluttony can occur in many arenas. Gluttony leads us to waste things needed by others. The operative words here are, “self-control.”

Proverbs 16:32: “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.”

Proverbs 25:28: “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.”

By the way, don’t miss the fact that of the seven deadly sins, gluttony is the only one that is a sin of the flesh. All the others are sins of the spirit.

What is the Cure for These Sins?

The cure for the seven sins is like the cure for any sin.

2 Corinthians 7:10: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

We confess to God that what we did was wrong and we repent by declaring that we’ve turned around and have no intention of continuing in that sin.

Then we ask God for forgiveness, and fill our hearts with gratitude because he promises to forgive us fully.

1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Let me close my thoughts with a favorite passages which describes how God cleans us up after we sin.

Ezekiel 36:26-27: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them.”

– cross walk

What to do when you don’t like your life season

February 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

We’ve all heard it said, “There’s a time for everything.” Or “You’re just in a season; it will pass.” In fact, it’s scriptural—

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

The good and pleasant seasons sound wonderful and exactly what God wants for us, right? It’s so easy to think that God couldn’t possibly want for us what we perceive as a bad or unpleasant season. And yet this Scripture passage tells us that God made both, and we’re going to experience every season—the good and the bad—under heaven.

We try so hard to hold onto those feel-good seasons, and there’s nothing wrong with that—we should have times of joy, dancing, laughing, loving, and peace. But when the not-so good times roll, we need to remember that God has not left us. He’s walking right beside us through the mourning, weeping, uprooting, and war seasons.

Reasons You Might Not Like Your Life Season

  • It’s painful or uncomfortable.
  • We’ve received devastating or tragic news.
  • We’re jealous and like what someone else’s life looks like more than our own life.
  • We’re living with the consequences of our, or someone else’s, behavior or decisions.
  • We’re discontent or discouraged.
  • We’re not sure if God still cares about us.

We all have difficult seasons we want to end. Or maybe we’re in a wonderful season that we never want to end. Many life seasons we have no control over, even though advertisers and the culture would try to make us believe differently. They set us up to fail either way by thinking if we just drink the right cola, take the right pill, own the right car, use the right cosmetics and anti-aging products, eat the right food, reach success… every season of our life will be heavenly. The aging clock is going to stop and somehow God made our life to be different from everyone else’s life.

What to Do When We Don’t Like Our Life Season

1. Pray and listen. The first thing we need to do when we don’t like our life season is to ask God how He wants us to deal with it, and then listen carefully to how the Holy Spirit speaks to us. It’s that small voice we hear guiding us when we cry out to God. We might not know how to get through the season, but God does. It didn’t catch Him by surprise. Someone asked a Christian on social media how he knew what God wanted for him. Did he have a direct line to God? I thought, Yes he does! Every Christian has a direct line to God the world doesn’t understand, and one we don’t use nearly enough: praying to Jesus who hears every word and the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us even when all we can do is groan (Romans 8:26-27).

2. Remember God’s goodness. The focus of Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture has Forgotten reminds us how good God has been in all seasons of our life. He never abandons His children. We need to share this with each other and the culture, especially during today’s challenging times.

3. Ask, receive, and offer help. Recently, a woman shared with me about her husband’s cancer. As she talked, I heard in my mind hug her and pray for her. We had just met, and I had already told her I would be praying for her husband and their family since I could empathize having had breast cancer three times myself. But I knew I was to pray for her now. So I said, “Let me pray for you,” and stepped forward to hug her. She didn’t realize I meant right now. I knew God meant right now! She was so grateful.

Many times is God trying to tell us what to do “right now,” but we’re dismissing His words of wisdom to help us, or someone else, through this season and into the next one.

4. Find a mentor who has experienced your season—a Christian who has experienced a life season and can share how she or he made it through like only someone who has been-there-done-that can. A mentor reminds us that he or she made it through a similar tough season and we will too. God doesn’t want us going through any season alone, but He also doesn’t want us listening to anyone who isn’t giving us biblical wisdom. Incredible comfort comes from spending time with a mentor who understands your painful season!

Being a mentor or reaching out to encourage someone doesn’t mean you have all the answers or the Bible memorized. It simply means you’re willing to search God’s Word and pray together for God to tell you what to do in the life seasons you might not like right now; then, you reach back and help someone else going through something similar.

And that’s exactly what Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us we need to do when we’re going through a life season we don’t like:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

– cross walk

Here are 8 ways to protect your children from cyber bullying

February 14, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

It’s a sad reality that children today are being innocent victims of the anger and frustration of other kids their age. The Internet, and new smartphones apps, have become new platforms for bullies to abuse and harass others, and it’s no surprise, due to the anonymity of many applications, that many bullies are never identified. Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that is almost invisible to parents, as no form of physical abuse is displayed. Regardless, the effects it can have on a child’s mental health can be devastating.

In most cases, children who are not prepared to confront such behavior feel threatened and helpless by a bully’s malicious behavior, especially when they protect themselves with the anonymity of the Internet. Help your children combat cyberbullying and its dramatic effects by teaching them easy safety measures and tactics.

1. Don’t pay attention.

Even though your kids may not understand this at first, explain to them that often it is best to do nothing when a cyberbully attacks. Online bullies, or ‘trolls,’ like the attention they receive from their target, and in many cases the bully only wants to create pain and conflict, no matter what the responses are. Close the conversation before it increases the troll’s attention.

2. Build a barrier.

Bullies can be very persistent, depending on their objective. While a single message can be ignored, multiple unpleasant texts can’t. Social media sites and cellphones all have block options that can be activated in a few seconds. The Bully is never notified that they have been blocked. If a bully creates multiple accounts to fight this, it is still faster to block accounts than to create a new one.

3. Save the messages.

Unfortunately, many bullying cases start small and then become worse over time. It is important that you keep records of all offending content in case the abuse becomes worse and you want authorities to get involved. When malicious behavior is demonstrated with evidence, it is easier for authorities to respond.

4. Play with passwords.

There is one type of cyberbullying that involves stealing your child’s account passwords and posting embarrassing content with their identity. You can fight this together with your child by periodically changing the passwords of their accounts, deleting any offending content, and posting in the hacked account an explanation of what happened in case that others were offended.

Please note that a bully may have altered the contact information in the account, including the email address where a new password can be reset. Be very careful when helping your child protect their personal information to avoid repeated hackings.

5. Report the event.

When the bully has already changed the password and you have no way of recovering access to the account, you can report the incidentdirectly to the website and they will disable it or restore your child’s access. Many social sites are putting up a fight against cyberbullying and have easy tools and links to help you do this.

6. Follow them.

You are responsible for your child’s safety. Being as informed as possible of your child’s online activity can prevent many unfortunate events. If you are ‘friends’ with their accounts, you can follow their posts and see what others post to their site. If you see something unpleasant, contain your impulse to address the bully, as this can make the situation worse for your kid. Talk to your child about the situation privately and in a calm matter.

– cross walk

The only way to teach your children to be content

February 12, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

Throughout my years in women’s ministry, I’ve heard young mothers ask the same questions over and over. One of those questions is this: “How do I teach my children to be content?”

The only way I know how to answer this question is to ask the parent, “Are you content?”

My discontentment hit about ten years ago when both my children were in pre-school. I remember strapping my boys into their booster seats, popping in a Sheryl Crow CD I had been given as gift and setting “Soak up the Sun” on repeat. My boys loved this song and I knew if they were distracted by the music, I could have some uninterrupted time to think. What was I thinking about? How discontent I was.

A friend of mine had just built a new house. She had not only filled the rooms with new furniture, but with new artwork and all the latest gadgets. That day, driving down the road, I found myself discontented with my life. I kept picturing my friend’s new house in my mind, and every time I thought about how very big her house was, my next thought was how very small my house was. The more I thought about how new and pretty her furniture was, the older and uglier mine became. I started thinking about the crowds of people she could entertain in that giant house of hers, and I convinced myself that I would, from that day on, be too embarrassed to entertain friends in my very tiny house that was full of old, ugly, beat up furniture.

I was consumed with envy; I was discontented.

I had put so much thought into this that I was almost to the point of tears, and then it happened. My boys started singing with Sheryl Crow. From the two booster seats behind me, I heard two little voices sing out, “It’s not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.”

Who knew that God could use two preschoolers and a Sheryl Crow CD to get my attention?

If I had continued down that road of discontentment, eventually I would have started verbalizing my dissatisfaction with our home. And I’m willing to bet that at some point my children would have followed my lead and they too would start disliking our home. They would have decided if mommy’s room was too small, theirs must be too. If mommy thinks the couch is old and ugly, they will think so too. If mommy thinks the kitchen is outdated, it must be.

A new house and new furniture takes money. Because I’m a stay-at-home mom, my husband is responsible for every penny we have. I have no doubt had I kept going down the road of discontentment, my children would have eventually heard me say to their dad, “If you only made more money, we could buy a bigger house, we could get new furniture, we could…” The list could go on forever and so could the damage this would have done to my husband and to the respect my children should have for their father.

So, how do I teach my children to be content? I show them how.

There’s an old hymn that reads, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” This is what I cling to when I feel discontented. This is what I remind my children when they don’t get everything they want.

This world is not our home, and we shouldn’t expect to be satisfied with what we have here.

Matthew 6:19-21 tells us, “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.”

I don’t want my heart, or the hearts of my children, to be full of earthly treasures. I also don’t want myself or my children to be so content with this life that we hate to leave it behind for what awaits us in Heaven.

When our children are older, we can point them to God’s word and help them live out what the Bible teaches about contentment. But when our children are preschoolers, we need practical ways to live out contentment and be an example to them. Here are some ideas.

  • Pray aloud with your children and let them hear you thank God for providing you with a home; a vehicle; a refrigerator full of food.
  • In the winter months and rainy seasons, tell your children how thankful you are that God has provided you with warmth and a way to stay dry.
  • When your children are playing with their toys, tell them how much you enjoy giving them gifts, just as our Heavenly Father gives his children gifts.
  • If you’re a stay-at-home mom, let your children hear you thank your husband for working so hard to provide for his family.
  • If you’re a working mom, let your children hear you thank God for providing you with work.

The bottom line is; we must practice contentment if we want to teach it to our children.

What do you find yourself complaining about? Is your house too small? Is your car unreliable? Do you dislike your job or co-workers? Do you complain about your appearance, your wardrobe or your income?

Remember, my children learned the words to “Soak up the Sun” because I played the song on repeat. Our children memorize our words as well. What words do you have on repeat for your children to memorize? Are they words of contentment or discontentment?

Paul tells us in Philippians 4:12, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

The truth is, most of us have never really been in need or have ever really been hungry. We tend to replace the word “want” with “need.” We live in a culture that screams to us that we deserve anything and everything we want; we deserve the best.

As the lies of this world begin to fill our minds (and the minds of our children), we must remind ourselves that the absolute best possession we can have is a relationship with Jesus Christ. And, guess what? We don’t deserve it.

We must remind ourselves that the most precious treasures are not of this world.

Looking back, that tiny little house we lived in ten years ago; the one with the old, ugly, beat up furniture… it wasn’t that tiny and it wasn’t really full of old, ugly, beat up furniture. In fact, when I think about that house now, all I see in my mind are all the great memories we made there and how that house was a perfectly cozy, comfortable, lovely home.

We can’t live in this world and not be influenced by it, nor can our children. Our best defense against the selfishness our children learn from the world is to live in a way that is so different, they can’t help but notice. We must live a life that points to Jesus and to the truth that it is in Him – and in Him alone – that we find true satisfaction, not in the things of this world.

So, how do you teach your children to be content? Be content.

– cross walk

What to do when your teen seems like a stranger

February 8, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

The emotional rollercoaster of going through adolescence can take a toll on both you and your teen, causing so much stress that it can strain your relationship – just at the time that your teen is changing significantly and rapidly. You may reach a point where you no longer recognize the teen who lives with you as the child you raised before, because he or she simply isn’t acting like the same person.

But if your teen seems like a stranger, he or she doesn’t have to remain that way. You can repair your relationship with your teen while also helping him or her successfully navigate the storms of adolescence. Here’s how:

Don’t pull away from your teen. No matter how frustrating your teen becomes to deal with or how much he or she seems to be pushing you away, your teen still needs your love, support, and guidance. Decide to put the effort into reaching out to your teen; that effort will eventually prove to be worthwhile. Pray for the encouragement, patience, and wisdom you need to remain committed to parenting your teen during these difficult times.

Identify which troubling behaviors are affecting your teen. Study your teen and determine which specific kinds of behaviors concern you in his or her life. Is your teen: moody, irritable, unpredictable, manipulative, argumentative, withdrawn, self-absorbed, dramatic, dismissive, rejecting you in order to gain acceptance from peers, anxious, grasping for power in destructive ways, joining an unhealthy group, physically awkward, overwhelmed, insecure, or struggling with another issue? How do your teen’s troubling behaviors make you feel? Recognize that the way you respond to your teen’s behavior helps shape the relationship you have with him or her.

Stay calm. Don’t lash out at your teen after he or she lashes out at you. Instead, pray for the peace you need to remain calm when you’re confronted with your teen’s emotional outbursts. Your teen needs you to show him or her how to respond wisely to emotionally charged situations, rather than simply reacting to them.

Adjust your expectations to make sure they’re realistic. Keep in mind that your teen isn’t yet capable of being as reasonable or disciplined as an adult. Your teen is going through lots of hormonal changes that significantly affect him or her both emotionally and physically. Plus, your teen is testing different types of decisions to try to answer burning questions about who he or she is and how he or she should best relate to others. All of this turmoil can lead your teen to make choices that seem foolish to you. Don’t expect your teen to make mature choices before he or she truly matures. Instead, ask God to give you the strength you need to love your teen unconditionally and give your teen both guidance and grace.

Take responsibility for your own contributions to your teen’s problems. Face the hard truth that your own weaknesses as a parent have contributed in some ways to the problems that your teen is dealing with right now. But don’t let that realization cause you shame, since all parents have weaknesses and God doesn’t expect you to be perfect, just honest. Go to your teen and apologize for the specific ways you’ve let him or her down as a parent, and let your teen know that you plan to rely on God to help you become a better parent. Ask your teen to forgive you for your mistakes. Then follow up by praying for God’s help to parent in better ways, and following where He leads you every day. Your honesty and sincere effort to change will do a lot to heal your relationship with your teen.

Do your best to answer your teen’s questions. Listen carefully to your teen whenever he or she shares thoughts and feelings with you, and encourage your teen to ask you questions about any topic. When your teen does come to you with questions, do your best to answer them, even if the topic is something uncomfortable for you, such as sexuality. Remember, if you don’t answer your teen’s questions, your teen will go to others for answers and may be given information that doesn’t reflect biblical truth and lead to harmful situations. Keep in mind that teen girls need to know why a particular decision is wise, whereas teen boys need to know how to implement wise decisions into their lives.

Support your teen’s physical health. Your teen will be best able to handle all the changes in his or her life if you help set healthy habits to support your teen’s physical health. Those habits should include: eating healthy, getting plenty of exercise, taking nutritional supplements, drinking lots of water, and getting plenty of sleep.

Get your teen help if you notice dangerous behaviors in his or her life. Be on the alert for dangerous behaviors such as cutting and other forms of self-injury, smoking, shoplifting, aggressive anger that hurts others, persistent anxiety, eating disorders, use of alcohol or other drugs, depression, premarital sex (and the pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases that can result), bullying, and academic problems. Any of these issues may mean that your teen needs more help than you can provide. Seek help for your teen through resources such as your primary care physician, your school system, and private counselors, keeping mind that getting help will involve spending time, energy, and money, but doing so is often worthwhile. Create a strong support system for your teen that includes family, friends, and professionals who are all working together to help your teen.

Help your teen emerge from a crisis of belief victoriously. You have tremendous power to help your teen spiritually if you model a faithful life to him or her. Show your teen how you’re trying to rely on God to live a faithful life, confess and repent of your sins, and grow to become the person God wants you to become. Let your teen see you pray and do your best to follow where God leads you, and also to accept God’s grace and learn from your mistakes when you fail. Give your testimony of faith to your teen and share important spiritual truths you’ve learned, but also be open and honest about your doubts and struggles. Let your teen know that it’s safe to talk about his or her faith with you, and listen carefully whenever that happens. Participate with your teen in a healthy church and serve others together as God leads. Encourage your teen to seek and fulfill God’s purposes for his or her life. Pray regularly for your teen’s relationship with God.

Trust God with your teen. Keep in mind that God knows and loves your teen even more than you do, and He is constantly at work in your teen’s life to draw him or her closer to Him. So trust God to intervene and do what’s best in each situation in your teen’s life when you pray about your concerns.

– cross walk

Should I give up something for lent?

February 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

“Would you like half my brownie?”

“No thanks,” my friend said. “I’ve given up sugar for Lent.”

Guilt pinched my heart. I glanced around my church’s fellowship hall, filled with folks enjoying their meal. How many of them had also sacrificed something for Lent? I’d never given up anything during Lent. But should I?

40 Days of Sacrifice

For almost 2,000 years, Christians have set aside time for self-examination and repentance during the weeks before Easter. Early church fathers and the Council of Nicea (AD 325) observed days of fasting—from a few days to 40 days—but it was Pope Gregory I (c. 540-604) who established the 40-day season between Ash Wednesday and Easter that many 21st-century Christians observe.1

Neither my family nor the church I attended as a child paid much attention to the Lenten season. Instead, they focused on the joyous celebration of our Risen Savior. In my adulthood, however, I’ve attended churches that offer Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. Currently, I attend a church that offers Ash Wednesday services and Lenten Bible studies. I’ve learned to appreciate the somber time of reflection these services and studies provide.

The Danger of Lent

Many Christians view Lent as an opportunity to refocus attention on God’s love for us, so great a love that he sent his son to die for our sins. Giving up something we love—a food or an activity—to remind us of God’s sacrificial love can be beneficial to our spiritual growth, especially if we replace it with a spiritual discipline such as Bible reading, prayer, or fasting. During Lent, we can evaluate our spiritual health—how well the life of the Risen Christ is being manifest in us.

But I also see the danger of setting aside certain days for self-examination and repentance. Any spiritual practice can devolve into a hollow ritual; viewing some days as holier than others can lead to hypocrisy. We may develop a Lenten and non-Lenten attitude as easily as we develop a Sunday and non-Sunday mind-set, falling into the sin Jesus exposed in the Pharisees: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain” (Matthew 15:8-9 NIV).

The Sacrifice That Pleases God

Many Scriptures remind us that physical sacrifices are only valuable if they’re given from a wholly devoted heart. The prophet Samuel told King Saul, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). And David wrote, “You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it.…The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit…a broken and humbled heart” (Psalm 51:16-17 HCSB).

The Old Testament prophets consistently spoke out against sacrifices that were futile attempts to cover sinful actions. Jesus also criticized the religious leaders for offering sacrifices that meant nothing (Matthew 23:23-25). The same could be said of any spiritual practice we undertake for the wrong reason, whether it be Sunday morning worship, small-group Bible study, volunteer work, or personal devotional time.

Another danger of setting aside special times of sacrifice is our tendency to ignore these practices the rest of the year. In Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (NLT). It’s the daily-ness of sacrifice that most interests God and best reflects our commitment to him—a 365-day devotion to act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly before God (Micah 6:8).

The Daily-ness of Sacrifice

When Paul told the Romans to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, I think he had in mind the daily-ness of sacrifice (12:1-2). My commitment to Jesus should involve the following:

  • Daily contemplation of the price Jesus paid for my sins and my inability to meet God’s standard of righteousness
  • Daily commitment to rely more on the Holy Spirit and less on myself
  • Daily reflection on the endless supply of God’s mercy and grace
  • Daily gratitude for the ways he allows me to be his hands and feet in a hurting world

Motivation is everything. David said the one thing he desired was spending time in God’s presence (Psalm 27:4). He also spoke of daily fulfilling his vows to the Lord (Psalm 61:8). Another psalmist wrote that he thirsted for God like a deer thirsts for water (Psalm 42:1-2). Again, there’s the daily-ness factor. After all, how many times a day does a deer seek water?

Seven Ideas to Practice Sacrifice

Here are a few ways we can turn 40-day sacrifices into 365-day spiritual practices:

  • Attend weekly worship services at a local church.
  • Establish a daily Bible reading program. Start with Mark, the shortest gospel. Read 15-20 verses a day and you’ll finish by Easter.
  • Establish a daily prayer time. Start with one thank-you and one request in the morning and in the evening. Add more thank-yous, requests, and prayer times as God directs.
  • Look for opportunities to share with someone why you celebrate Easter or other religious holidays.

If the above practices are already part of your routine, consider adding these:

  • Join a weekly small-group Bible study.
  • Invest one hour a month at a local shelter, soup kitchen, or other community program. Make clear that you serve because of what Jesus has done for you.
  • Spend time with at least one neighbor each month. Speak about your faith in Christ if the opportunity arises.

The One Who Gave Himself for You

The core of the Easter message is the new life available to every person because of the redemption Jesus provided through his death and resurrection. If we’ve accepted Jesus as Savior, we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). And, as Paul told the Galatian churches, “The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20 MSG).

If we spend the weeks before Easter cultivating a spiritual practice that makes our new life more evident to others year-round, we honor the Risen Christ who gave us that life, don’t we?

– cross walk

Are you guilty of mommy shaming?

February 4, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

I was twelve or thirteen at the time.

My mom had just given me directions for the second time. With my little brother, Steve, I was to take one bus and transfer to another. Then, after I did the errand, I was to return home. She was certain I could do it. I, on the other hand, was not.

Everything went smoothly. We got there and did the errand. But when it was time to return, my mind started questioning.

What side of the street was I on to get the bus? The longer I looked at the four corners, the more confused I became. Simply put, we got lost. So I turned to my brother and begged him,

“Whatever you do, please don’t tell mom we got lost.”

“Okay,” he agreed. I sighed. At least she wouldn’t make fun of me, again.

And Steve kept his word—kind of. We had barely walked in when he blurted out, “We took six buses!”

My face became warm and I wanted to disappear. No sooner had Steve finished his sentence when I heard Mom’s voice.

“Terese, you’re not gonna believe what Anne did this time…”

And there I stood blanketed in shame.

Shopping

Mom would give me the list for the grocery store six blocks away. She’d also hand me coupons with explicit instructions of what to do with them. Surely I could do this, right?

I’d start out fine, but somewhere along the line, I would lose my confidence and start telling myself that I was going to get it wrong. I was very convincing. Eventually I’d get confused, so I’d go to the payphone and call mom.

“Great! Now you’ve wasted the 10 cents I was trying to save!” she said.

And I’d walk in with the groceries never feeling good. Shame does that to you.

What is Shame?

Shame is defined as “A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior” (Oxford Dictionaries).

Guilt and shame are different. Guilt says, I made a mistake. Shame says, I am a mistake.

I have a confession: I am directionally deficient. I’m not proud of it, but it’s just something I’ve come to accept about myself.

One time, on my way to a speaking engagement, I started having doubts.

Although I was five minutes from my destination, I told myself, “This can’t possibly be right. You’d better turn around.”

So I turned around, which resulted in me walking in one hour late. Fortunately, the people there were wonderful. In a few moments, I was ready to speak with no trace of shame.

An Important Fact about Shame

In a video of Brené Brown and Oprah, Brené, a research professor who has studied the subject of shame extensively, explains what makes it grow:

“If you were to take shame and put it in a petri dish and add silence to it, shame would grow exponentially. But if you were to take shame and put it in a petri dish and add empathy, shame could not grow. Shame cannot exist when there is empathy.”

What Does Empathy Involve?

Kindness

Over and over in Scripture, we are instructed to be kind. In Ephesians 4:32, we are told that it’s because we have been treated with kindness and we have been forgiven.

If we remember how God has treated us, it will be easier for us to extend those gifts He has blessed us with to our children.

Comfort

God tells us we are to comfort (Isaiah 66:13). God even likens comfort to a mother; comfort involves understanding.

In Matthew 19:14, the disciples refused to let the children close to see Jesus. Jesus was clear—nothing was to hinder them from coming to him. It is the same for us. We can encourage our children to draw close to the Master, or we can hinder them by painting a false image of who God is.

While our children are little, we are their first picture of God.

When instruction or correction is needed as we parent, 1 Timothy 3:4, tells us how we’re to do this.

The key word is dignity. That means we make sure our children still feel respected. Shame robs others of respect, and replaces it with humiliation.

When parents have God in the center of their home, their values line up with what Scripture teaches. Each member of the family feels that they are accepted, and a vital part of the family. Values are caught just by being around others.

If we want our children to grow into kind adults, we need to model that for them. We do that by being kind ourselves.

Grace

Grace is another important ingredient. It is acceptance of another person, and it makes allowances for mistakes. If you give someone grace, there is no room for shame.

And even if we grew up without godly models, we can still teach our children how to be godly. We choose to model what God wants instead of what we saw.

A Glass of Water

We all sat around the table waiting for our food to be served. It was a special night and we were celebrating.

I smiled looking at our two children, thankful.

Just then our daughter, Jessica, who was about six, reached across the table and accidentally knocked over her water glass. Immediately, we all quietly grabbed napkins and sopped up the water.

“It’s okay, Jessica,” I told her, “Accidents happen.”

There was no blaming. There was no shame.

I thought of how the scenario would have played out in my family of origin. Someone would have been shamed for spilling the water, and others would have joined in, making the person feel so small.

I cannot tell you that I have never shamed my child. But I can tell you this: God has helped me to learn another way—a way to instruct and teach with empathy so my children retain their dignity.

What about you? Are there areas where you need to grow? That’s okay. Each day is another chance to show our families Jesus.

– cross walk

Let’s take care of this new online danger

February 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

The responsible way in which we choose to handle modern media will set the tone for our children’s online behavior. Young children mimic what they see, and habits are hard to break as they grow older. By holding ourselves to the standards that we expect of our children, especially within earshot, we are already removing some of the dangers they are exposed to daily.

In searching for the statistics in this parental area of concern, this glimmer of hope popped up. The Statistics Portal released a study on the “Percentage of Parents Placing Limits on Children’s Media Consumption in the United States in 2017, by Medium:”

  • 94% of parents pay attention to the content of the games their children play.
  • 75% place limits on video game playing
  • 71% place time limits on internet usage
  • 68% place limits on television viewing
  • 61% place time limits on movie watching

The Pew Research Center studies agreed, giving parents credit for checking the websites their teens visited 61% of the time, and checking social media profiles 60% of the time (Time reported some great screen-time tools and guidelines here).

1. Pay Attention

There’s no replacement for parental engagement. Setting time limits online, asking questions about games they are playing, and enforcing healthy boundaries and rules is crucial. Through it may be extensive as far as our time consumption goes, the effort will pay off in the long run as our children learn healthy habits online.

Think of how aggravating a set of flashcards can be for a kid, and a parent, when they first learn the frustration of getting the wrong answer several times before memory retains the correct one. The “flashcard mantra” can be appropriately applied to every new stage of media we encounter with our kids.

They don’t like limits, and we have to somehow juggle one more thing each day. But we will never the regret the extra efforts we have taken to ensure they have a healthy online profile and habits. Checking teens’ social media accounts may be tedious, but it will open up discussions the need to be had in this generation consumed with excessive screen time.

2. Preach Safety

Instruct children never to use their real names or fill in any of their information online to play games. If elementary aged children have email addresses, they should be monitored by parents (Gmail requires an age limit to open an email address). Kids need to know that not everyone is a friend, and that they shouldn’t believe everything they read. They need to be aware; just like losing mommy’s hand at the store, people are out there ready to take advantage… and take them.

In this day and age, it is unbelievably easy to steal someone’s photo and create a fake online profile. Just because a person owns a computer or any other electronic device does not mean that they will use this technology wisely. As a parent, however, you can teach your children to make aware when they spend time online. While technology is an incredibly powerful resource that can be used for good, it’s important to teach your children to err on the side of caution.

3. Keep Talking

Children appreciate our attention. It might start to hide under the surface of their coolness as they get older, but there’s no substitution for our undivided attention. It’s a breeding ground for conversation. Have them often with children, and listen to them when they are willing to talk. When it comes to media, it will be a lot easier to have a candid conversation with a kid that is accustomed to talking things out with parents.

It’s not necessary to befriend our children to gain their respect and obedience, or for the seeds God is planting through us to be watered and begin to bloom in their time. The family rules concerning devices and online activity should be talked about and well known, with dangers discussed and consequences to disobedience as clear as any other rule. Keep the conversation open. Remain convicted in the direction God is leading us, so that we may lead our kids by fostering an open relationship with Him each day through Scripture and prayer.

– cross walk

A super moon, blood moon and lunar eclipse all in one night: Are you ready?

January 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

Lovers of the sky, get ready. God has a special treat in store. On January 31, 2018, a celestial event dubbed the ‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ will treat stargazers to a supermoon, a Blue Moon, and a total lunar eclipse — all in one night!

Supermoons occur when the moon is closer to the earth in its rotation, making it appear bigger than usual. And the Super Blue Blood Moon will be the final event in a succession of three supermoons, which kicked off on December 3, 2017.

The trilogy of supermoons is already pretty cool. But to conclude with three lunar events in one night — that brings the wow factor. In fact, it hasn’t happened in over 150 years!

“Sometimes the celestial rhythms sync up just right to wow us,” NASA officials said.

So, what is a Super Blue Blood Moon anyway?

Supermoon

Let’s start with the supermoon, which has to do with the Moon’s orbit. Because of tidal and gravitational forces, which pull on the Moon, its orbit around the Earth is not a perfect circle.

“You have all of these different gravitational forces pulling and pushing on the Moon, which gives us opportunities to have these close passes,” said NASA’s Noah Petro.

So, the Moon’s distance from Earth changes by a few thousand miles as it orbits. The closest point is called the perigee, and the farthest point is called the apogee. And so, full moons occurring during the perigee (dubbed supermoons) appear about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than standard full moons.

Once a supermoon is high in the sky, it’s much more difficult for the naked eye to spot the difference from your run of the mill, full moon. So, Tuesday evening, just after sunset, is the best time to check out the supermoon portion of the Super Blue Blood Moon.

Blue Moon

If you’re looking forward to seeing a blue-tinged moon, I’m sorry to disappoint. The term Blue Moon actually has nothing to do with color.

Each month out of the year gets it’s very own full moon. But sometimes, when a month has been really, really good, it gets seconds.

Actually, it’s just something that happens about every two and a half years. One special month will end up having two full moons. And the supermoon on January 31st marks the second full moon of January, thus making it a Blue Moon. But if a color change is what you’re looking for, Wednesday’s Super Blue Blood Moon has that in store as well!

Blood Moon

The third element of Wednesday’s astronomical extravaganza has to do with a total lunar eclipse, resulting in a Blood Moon. As the Moon lines up with the Earth and Sun, it will fall into the Earth’s shadow.

Normally, the Sun’s light reflects off of the Moon. However, with the Earth in the way during the eclipse, the Moon will take on a reddish tint, hence the name Blood Moon.

Will I Get To See The Super Blue Blood Moon?

Location is going to be key in the experience. Everyone will have the opportunity to check out the supermoon portion as the Moon rises. Unfortunately, though, only some areas will get to view the effects of the lunar eclipse.

NASA reports most of South America, Africa, and Western Europe will not be able to view this lunar eclipse. Bummer.

“For those in the Middle East, Asia, eastern Russia, Australia and New Zealand, the ‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ can be seen during moonrise in the morning on the 31st,” Gordon Johnston of NASA said.

As for the United States, the West Coast has the upper hand.

“Weather permitting, the West Coast, Alaska, and Hawaii will have a spectacular view of totality from start to finish,” Gordon says.

The East Coast will have a tougher time because of the time difference. The best chance to catch the Moon’s reddish hue will be early Wednesday morning, and watching from a high place with a clear view to the West is recommended.

Now, it’s not uncommon for lunar events to draw attention as potential signs of an impending apocalypse. And the Super Blue Blood Moon does sound pretty epic. So, does that mean we’ve reached the End of Times?

Nah, probably not. But it should certainly be a spectacular sight!

– cross walk

3 questions to ask yourself before you quit

January 25, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

From hearing from you, I can tell that some of you are about to quit. Some of you are wondering whether to quit your jobs. Some of you are wondering whether to quit ministries you have within your local church. Some of you are wondering whether to quit other aspects of your life that I don’t even know about. You’re discouraged and you’re ready to give up. Should you?

Maybe. I’m not going to say “Don’t Quit.” After all, some of you should quit, if you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing or that doesn’t fit with your gifts. I would ask you though, before you quit, to consider some things I’ve found helpful.

I’ve learned much from leadership expert Seth Godin, with perhaps the most important thing being this: “Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.” This is the thesis of Godin’s The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick). Godin is not, to my knowledge, a believer. But his insights on human nature often resonate with a biblical vision of the way of wisdom. Moreover, I like his writing because he’s not the typical leadership guru, saying “You can do it!” He doesn’t know if you can do it or not. He just offers tools to help you determine whether you can or not.

Godin identifies “the Dip,” what he calls the sinkhole that causes people to give up. At the beginning of a project, it’s fun. After years and years, there comes expertise and wisdom. In between, though, is “the dip.” Godin writes: “The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery; a long slog that’s actually a shortcut, because it gets you where you want to go faster than any other path.”

We fail, Godin writes, when we don’t quit the things we shouldn’t be doing. This is consistent with what the Bible tells us about the Body of Christ: the various gifts are distributed, all for the upbuilding of the church. Someone who tries to use all of the gifts, or those he or she doesn’t have, will not succeed. My deciding that I shouldn’t be a church planter isn’t a failure. The only way I can succeed at what God has gifted me to do is by letting others do the things I’m not gifted to do.

At the same time, though, Godin says that failure comes from people who quit things they should be doing too soon. If something is consistently easy, it’s probably something that doesn’t need to be done. A ministry, for instance, that is “safe” is probably a ministry that isn’t challenging problems, just repeating comfortable patterns that confronted problems already gone, or that belong to someone else. The resistance and discouragement you face is not necessarily a sign that you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing. In many cases, it’s merely a sign that you are actually leading, doing something not currently existing in your context, and thus needed. Godin tells us not to be the woodpecker who pecks twenty times on a thousand trees and gets nothing, but rather the woodpecker who pecks 20,000 times on the one tree and gets dinner.

If it weren’t for “the Dip,” everyone would be doing what you’re attempting. There would be no need for you. Your value comes in surviving that Dip, for the sake of the future. The way one tells the difference between a Dip and a cul-de-sac is the question. Godin answers that with three questions.

1. Am I panicking?

People often quit when they hit resistance, and are scared. I’ve known pastors who quit when certain people in their congregations start grumbling, only to then go to other congregations and start the cycle all over again. They have in mind the kind of ministry they want, that they see one of their heroes having. That hero, though, didn’t get there without grumbling and resistance. Read biographies. Or talk to your heroes. Or read the Bible!

2. Who am I trying to influence?

No place of service will please everyone. You shouldn’t quit teaching Sunday school because some of the teenagers in your class yawn and roll their eyes. You shouldn’t quit the literacy project for the poor because some people think it’s a waste of time. Whatever it is that God has called you to do, recognize that if there weren’t people who hate what you’re doing it would only be because you were not doing anything needed. You endure the naysayers for the sake of those God has called you to serve (sometimes the future selves of those same naysayers!). Paul did not yield to the opponents of the gospel of grace, “so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (Gal. 2:5).

The false gospel seemed “normal.” Paul didn’t care about being in the mainstream of his immediate context. He knew the Law and the Prophets, and the gospel he received from Jesus. As Godin put it elsewhere: “If you cater to the normal, you will disappoint the weird. And as the world gets weirder, that’s a dumb strategy.” Actually, it always was (1 Cor. 1:21-31; 4:1-20)

3. What sort of measurable progress am I making?

This is easier, of course, in a business than it is in an endeavor with intangible, spiritual effects—like serving in your church or leading a neighborhood ministry. Have people in your life that can counsel you—people that you respect for spiritual maturity, and seek their input. I’ve found some people who quit too soon did so because they were listening to advice about themselves from people that they would never listen to on any other topic, while ignoring those they did listen to on other matters who were encouraging them to keep going.

Read Godin’s little book. Quit the things that you’re not called or equipped to do. Persist in those things that you are. Discouragement is no sign you should quit, and, in fact, might be a sign that you are doing exactly what you should be doing. In that case, press through the Dip, carry the cross, and walk on to the crown.

– cross walk

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