What’s Making America not-so-Great and Killing the Evangelical Church

      A few years ago I began writing a new manuscript. Thirty thousand words later and a two year sabbatical, I am once again reminded of the importance of sharing this message. So, below I have decided to share one of the chapters of this unfinished work with you, in hopes that God will speak to both you and me about the dangers of the Entitlement mentality. How often I forget to leave this door closed! Perhaps you can relate? It doesn’t take much effort to look around our world and our churches to see its nasty infiltration. Let’s pray that we, as a church and the bride of Christ, will come together–laying aside our expectations–and learn to be content with the peace of Jesus alone.

Excerpt from:

The Devil’s Alphabet: 25 Doors You Don’t Want to Open

CHAPTER THREE

Door #5: Entitlement

Counterfeit: easily offended, anger towards God, feeling as if we are owed something

            Truth: We have no rights, all our rights belong to God, we are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

The Origin of Entitlement

“For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.’” Isaiah 14:13-14, NLT

Most of us have heard it said, “Satan’s downfall was his pride.” But I would challenge that statement. Opening the door of entitlement often leads to other doors, doors like pride. But pride begins with entitlement. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines entitlement as: “the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something; the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).” Before pride, Satan saw something he wanted and decided he deserved what he saw. Satan saw God, His glory and His throne, and believed he deserved those things for himself. This entitlement mentality was the beginning of the end for Satan. It’s one of the things he used to tempt Eve as well; she doubted God’s word first, then began to believe she had a right to the knowledge God was clearly withholding from her. Whether we realize it or not, we stumble through this door more often than we think.

Entitlement Mentality with God

            Anger towards God, I think we’ve all experienced this at times. But what is the source of this anger? The source, more often than not, is an entitlement mentality. As Christians we tend to fall victim to thinking life is supposed to go a certain way because we’re obeying God. We’re promised blessings when we obey, right? While obedience to God is a promise of blessing, it is not a promise of good or pleasurable circumstances. The blessings we are promised aren’t necessarily material in nature (though they certainly can be). You’re going to read this repeatedly and I say it again now to continue to drive the point home: one of our greatest blessings is having a “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Peace has no price-tag, and those who have this peace know exactly what I’m talking about. The moment we start to believe God owes us something is the same moment our spiritual peace begins to erode because like it or not, our circumstances will not always be pleasant.

“Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into?” Romans 9:20-21, NLT

Those are difficult verses to swallow, especially if we’ve walked through the door of entitlement. It doesn’t help that there are an abundance of religious leaders today teaching and writing about things like health, wealth, and prosperity. This never ceases to amaze me. How can this teaching be so prominent when our Bible contains much of the opposite when it describes the lives of Christians? Look at Job! Look at Paul, John the Baptist, or pretty much anyone who followed the teachings of Jesus. They were persecuted, punished, tortured, and murdered because they followed God. Materially speaking, they were anything but prosperous. And while Job was wealthy, he also lost all of his wealth, health, and property; he even lost his entire family. None of his friends understood his suffering because of their own entitlement mentality. “Surely God only allows such horrors to befall the wicked, evil, and rebellious, not the righteous,” they reasoned. And the same thing happens in our lives. We suffer and our fellow Christians judge our spiritual lives because deep down they too believe good things are synonymous with obedience to God.

Sometimes life is great, we’re showered blessing upon blessing, good things raining down from the heavens abound. And other times it seems the only thing raining on us is hydrochloric acid; burning, painful, searing loss after loss. In either case, God owes us nothing. Certainly God wants to bless us, but it’s the spiritual, inner blessings He is focused on. It’s the transformation of us into the likeness of His Son that he knows will be our ultimate bliss.

As a mother, I strive to teach my daughter healthy eating habits, but that’s not easy with a young child who seems extraordinarily picky. Rest assured, when my daughter opens up her school lunch and sees fruits and vegetables, her reaction isn’t gratitude. ‘Round and ‘round we go fighting about it, but in the end she either eats the produce or goes hungry. She believes I am torturing her, but I know, as much as she dislikes it, that I’m doing the right thing for her body, growth, health, and development. I could let her eat artificial cheesy snacks and chocolate cookies every day, to show that I love her and care about her happiness, but a better way to show I love and care about her is to withhold those things from her, saving them as an occasional special treat. In fact, she appreciates those things a lot more when she doesn’t get them every day. Similarly, God wants to show us He loves us and cares for us, but His idea of love is far different (and greater) than ours. Our prayers sometimes sound like a six-year-old begging for cake; God hears those prayers, but many times chooses to answer with carrots and apples. When we have an entitlement mentality, the raw produce version of answered prayers or life circumstances will probably anger, baffle, and discourage us. When that is our reaction to the circumstances in our lives, we need to stop and ask God for a heart check, as we’ve likely walked through the door of entitlement.

Entitlement Mentality with People

            Let’s face it, God is God and He’s going to do and allow whatever He wants. For some of us that truth isn’t terribly difficult to accept. After all, He’s God and we’re not; but when it comes to other people, well now, that’s a different story. We expect others to forgive us, treat us with kindness, care about our hurts, ask us how we’re doing, sympathize and empathize with us, and basically fulfill our emotional needs in every way we were designed to get from Jesus. God forbid someone fail to meet our lofty expectation, that’s when our entitlement mentality rears its ugly head. We know we’ve walked through that door when we find ourselves easily offended, overly sensitive, resentful, bitter, gossipy, judgmental, and critical of others; basically an overall jerk of a Christian (those who knows me well are laughing right now, because they know I have struggled with all of these character flaws). Somewhere along the way, someone failed to meet our unspoken, assumed expectation, and that hurts, especially when we feel we’re entitled to a certain response or action from said person.

It’s Not All About Me (or You)

“I’ll never forget the day I decided to try a new church. Just months after being widowed, I had moved and was looking for a church that was similar to the one where my husband had been pastoring. That day, I had gone through the process of finding the place where my children would go during the service and after leaving them in the capable hands of the teachers, I walked to the sanctuary. As people were milling around, I waited for someone to introduce themselves to me…but no one did. With my heart pounding and my hands sweating, I realized just how alone I was. New situations hadn’t bothered me before, but that was because I normally had my husband at my side.

“When I found a seat, I half expected the people sitting next to me to turn their heads and acknowledge my presence, but they didn’t. Then, as the worship began, I found myself fighting back tears. When your late husband was an amazing worship leader, pretty much any song sung in church reminds you of him. And so there I stood, alone, in an unfamiliar church, choking back tears. For a moment I was embarrassed because I felt I was making a scene. But that moment of embarrassment vanished when I realized my sorrow had gone unseen. For a while, that day really bothered me. How could those people be so self-focused that they didn’t even notice me? I felt invisible. I felt as if no one cared.”

Wow, that’s rough! Certainly my friend here had every right to be upset over the situation. I know I’ve experienced something eerily similar in many church settings, and I’m sure you have too. Unfortunately, it’s easy to walk in with expectations of how we are to be treated; failing to see that perhaps others have the same expectations of us. Before you know it, we’re all ticked off and offended with each other. Fortunately, God used the situation to speak to my friend about her own attitude, rather than the attitude of everyone around her (He has a way of doing that to us, doesn’t He?).

“Months later, as the intensity of my grief wore off I have come to see something. It’s not the people around me who have become more self-focused during my trials—it’s me. And honestly, at times I’m the most self-focused person I know. I had walked into that church feeling as if everyone should notice me. I stood during worship and had the audacity to think that the people gathered there would be looking at me instead of worshipping God.

“If I have learned only one thing the past few years, it’s that life isn’t all about me. And much like this memory shows, church isn’t all about me.”

It’s not all about me and it’s not all about you. The sooner we accept that truth the happier we will be. In a perfect world maybe our expectations of others would be met more often, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world full of difficult and unfair circumstances. One of the keys to living a more peaceful, less frustrated life, is to give our expectations to God, and leave our assumptions behind the closed door of entitlement. We’re going to be hurt and disappointed by people, because we’re all self-centered, sinful human beings, it’s a fact of life. We don’t appreciate it when others make assumptions about us and our motives, so it shouldn’t be a shocker that we need to treat others the same way we’d like to be treated—with grace.

Truth Encounter

            The door of entitlement is a tough one, one the Devil will place in our path time and time again. It’s what got him in trouble and what has plagued humanity from the beginning of time. The best defense is to get out of denial and admit we have a problem with this self-centered way of dealing with people and God. The following prayer can be used to help you refocus on the truth, and reject this door of entitlement. No matter what words you use to express your heart to God, say them out loud so the Devil can hear you and flee.

“Jesus, I know I’ve often walked through the door of entitlement, becoming bitter, resentful, angry, or offended with you or others over my unmet expectations. I now choose to give all of those expectations to you (take a moment to think about and name specific situations where you were hurt or offended by someone, or angry at God for allowing a situation into your life); my expectations of how others should act, my expectations of how you should answer my prayers, and my expectations of how I think my life should go when I am living to please you. In the name of Jesus I choose to reject the lie that I am entitled to anything, and accept the truth that it is only because of your grace I am even breathing at this very moment. I am not my own, but have been bought with the price of Jesus’ blood. Teach me how to bring glory to you through my attitude, and by showing grace to others as you have shown me grace. Thank you for freeing me from the bondage of entitlement. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

 

 

Why I Walked Away from Church and Christianity

Why I Walked Away from Church and Christianity

Part One: The day I stopped praying.

The look on her face said it all, fresh tears streaming down her cheeks, the loss and grief so evident in her eyes—in that moment my world changed, well, my spiritual world anyways. How could God let this happen again? I was so sure, we were so sure we knew what He was going to do for our friend. Both of us had reassured her how confident we were in God’s answer to our prayers. We kept telling her to calm down and relax, God’s got this. And then all of a sudden He didn’t “get” it. Cause if He did, He wouldn’t have let us believe He would do what He wasn’t going to do.

Anger and despondency towards God began to grow in my heart. So many ungodly people bringing children into the world with no problem, so many people choosing to kill their unborn children, so many unfit parents raising children, and yet when one godly woman wants nothing more than to raise more godly children, God says, “No.” Harsh. Unfair. Cruel.

I stopped praying that day. I didn’t know what to say to God anymore. Why bother? He’s going to do what He’s going to do, whether or not I ask for it. Whether or not I believe. So really, why should I even bother with it? I had literally been at the height of faith and belief one day, to the very bottom the next day, drowning in doubt and uncertainty.

Over the next several months a series of unfortunate events took over my life, as well as that of my friends. It seemed for all three of us, suffering and heartache have been the name of the game. After a while, after life has kicked your ass real good, hope seems rather elusive.

Part Two: The day I stopped attending Church.

Several months before all this, I had sat weeping in my Pastor’s office, confessing how I was at a point where I didn’t even want to go to church. That life had turned me into a cynic. How I used to be happy, positive, and outward focused, and now I was negative, cynical, and could barely get through each day. Church was torturous for me. Those who know me well know that I cannot stand lying and fake-ness. I don’t like being deceived, nor do I want to deceive others. So going to church every week, plastering on a fake smile and shaking hands with people seemed disgusting and reprehensible to me. I’d rather just sleep in, thank you very much. I left the church that day and really, that was probably the last time I experienced a deep connection in any way while in that building.

Sometimes you can feel your soul fading away. Hope running in the opposite direction while you watch helplessly. And then you just, stop, you give up, you quit trying. That’s pretty much how it went down for me. I tried to hang on, but seeing my friend suffer the way she did was the proverbial last straw for me. Of course, the ensuing tragedies to befall my life and that of my two closest friends over the next several months didn’t bode well for my dwindling spirituality.

Occasionally a glimmer of hope would shine through the deep darkness of despair but it was usually brief. Only lasting until the next setback in circumstances came crashing down. Of course, this is what I deserve, after all. You see, I’m not one of those people who believe God owes me something. Quite the opposite, actually. I see every “bad” thing as God giving me what I deserve for the many years I lived my life in rebellion. When bad things happen to my friends I feel crushed for them, they don’t deserve it. But when bad things happen to me, well, why not? You sow what you reap, after all. I’m just getting my just rewards. Eventually I succumbed to the belief that my life, despite my desire to atone for my bad choices, would never be happy, would never be “successful”. I would never be forgiven, but instead forced to live in a state of perpetual punishment. God was going to let me suffer forever. I gave up and basically told God, “I still believe in You, but I don’t trust you. And I don’t plan on talking to you anymore.”

Recognizing my starving spiritual state I immediately withdrew myself from ministry. I stopped going to church, except for the days my husband would drag me there, but sitting through the services proved to be quite uncomfortable. We started coming late and leaving early so we could just hear the sermon and avoid the mushy gushy singing stuff. It’s kind of ironic that my husband, new to the faith, turned out to be the stronger “Christian” than me, the one who spent most of her life in church. I never said this to my husband, but I often thought, “Just wait till you see what the Christianity stuff is all about. Just wait till you see what horrible things God allows in your life, now that you’re trying to obey Him. Good luck with that.” (I told you I was cynical!)

Part Three: The day I stopped identifying as a “Christian”

Another thing I “gave up” was social media. I took a huge step back from things like Facebook because I found myself constantly enraged at the BS I would read on a daily basis. The BS that came from none other than self-professing Christians. Combined with my lack of trust in God, I began to hate Christianity more than anything. Christians can be jerks, you know? I mean really. sometimes more than the average “heathen”…

You’re gay? You’re going to hell.

You believe in the rapture? You’re going to hell.

You believe in eternal security? You’re definitely going to hell.

You don’t have good theology (meaning you don’t share MY theology)? Better turn before you burn, my friend.

Oh my gosh, you have tattoos? You belong to Satan.

Christians can be the most irritating judgmental people on the planet. And I totally get why people walk away from their faith. Many Christians tend to spend more time fighting with each other about who’s right and who’s wrong and who’s really saved and who’s not (like that’s any of our business???). It’s DISGUSTING. I can only imagine how this type of “Christianity” pleases Jesus—which is sarcasm because I know without a doubt, it does NOT please Him. It seems a great deal of Christians have missed the point. You see, you can stand for something (or against something) without being an asshole. Seriously. You can say why you believe what you believe without insisting everyone else who disagrees with you is an idiot and clearly not “really” saved. I’m sorry, I didn’t know we had so many perfect Christians qualified to judge people’s salvation and spirituality! Maybe we should live by example and let the Holy Spirit be the convicting one. You and me, we make terrible Holy Spirits because that’s NOT OUR JOB.

Think going to the movie theatre is a sin? Cool, don’t go to the theatre. Live by example. But don’t tell me that I’m going to hell, or that I’m clearly inferior to you spiritually because I still choose to go to the theatre. Live out your convictions people. Actions. If someone asks why you have your conviction, by all means, share your reasons with grace and love.

“Dear children, let’s not merely say we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” –1 John 3:18, NLT
The other side of the see-saw.

And then there’s this other thing. The complete breakdown of integrity within the church. It’s like we’ve either got the Pharisees over here making a living out of judging everyone else, or we’ve got the Bible-is-optional group who believes actually following God’s word is up for debate if you’re a Christian. I’m talking about people in leadership positions who habitually practice lifestyles contrary to what is clear in God’s word. And let’s be real, it’s not too hard to figure out who those people are, because they’re the ones posting their personal drama all over social media. Of course, along with those Friday night drunken party photos, they’re also talking about how much God is blessing them in the church stuff their doing. Hmmm.

Am I saying you’ve got to be perfect to serve in the church? Obviously not. But have some integrity in your personal life? Yeah, probably a good idea if you’re in a position of leadership. And if you continue to struggle, admit it, and get help. And maybe step down from leading for a while. Positions of leadership really should be reserved for the spiritually mature (not perfect!). And while you certainly have every right to pick and choose what you want to follow or believe in God’s word, I also have every right to not allow you to be in a position to lead me or my family members because I flat out don’t trust you or your “commitment” to truth-seeking. (As I said earlier, going through a major season of depression and doubt, it was easy for me to withdraw from leading and serving because I knew I wasn’t in a spiritually healthy place to be telling someone else what to do! Common sense, y’all. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to teach people about defeating depression if you haven’t defeated it! Just like you can’t effectively teach kids about purity if you aren’t practicing it…etc.)

“Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?”—Romans 6:1-2

So yeah, sometimes Christians suck and sometimes I’m embarrassed to use the term or identify with it. In fact, every time a crazy driver going 10-15mph over the speed limit zooms past me and gives me a dirty look, and then I notice the church sticker on their car, I’m even more convinced how much I loathe the term “Christians”.

“Wow, Rebecca, sounds like you’re the one being judgmental.”

I knew you would go there. Listen, I’m not going to defend myself here. Maybe it is judgmental to expect integrity within the Church, especially leadership. Maybe that’s just asking too much. And yeah, it’s none of my business what people are doing in their personal life. But then again, they make it everyone’s business when they post it all over social media. So…

What I’m saying is, I recognize the irony of my argument. It’s flawed, I know. But it’s where I’m at right now.I’m a fan of “real talk” and honesty, whether or not that realness is “Un-Christian”. And I have to add, I DO have a small group of ladies who feel the same way about Christianity and the state of the Church. They’re just nicer than I am about how they talk about it. That’s a maturity thing, they’re wiser than I am. And thank GOD they put up with me and “get” me.

Part Four: The day I finally understood what it all meant.

One of my favorite shows is “19 Kids and Counting” which follows the lives of the Duggar family. A Christian family with integrity, who live by and teach their children the Bible. They receive a lot of criticism from, you guessed it, Christians. They’re too strict, they’re cultish, they’re obviously abusive. Blah blah. Everyone’s an expert. Anyways, I don’t care about all that. I love them and what they stand for.

Samantha (my daughter who just turned 7) and I were watching the wedding of one of the Duggar girls, actually the first girl in the family to get married. They talked about how they saved themselves for marriage, including their first kiss. This is something we have taught to our daughter and continue to reinforce. How important it is to save the gift of kissing and hugging for our spouse only. And what a special gift it will be to know that your spouse is the only one you have ever kissed and held hands with (about as graphic as we’re going to get with a 7 year old). With great excitement (and some tear-shedding), we watched Jill and Derrick kiss for the first time at the altar, on their wedding day. Sam explained how she would be very nervous to kiss on her wedding day for the first time. I smiled, a proud moment to hear such a thing from your child. To know that the seeds are sprouting. And then I bawled like a baby.

For the first time in several months God spoke to me plain as day. I finally understood why I had no choice but to trust Him and cling to Him no matter how ugly life gets. Because He is my daughter’s only hope in life, and without a praying, faithful mommy, she stands little chance of standing by her faith when temptation strikes. She needs a strong foundation. Without Jesus, there is no hope. Trusting Him is our only chance of making it through life. Even if that means sometimes (or most of the time) we don’t seem to get what we want.

I’m not saying all the depression melted away, but a great deal of it subsided. The fog began to lift. My daughter is the reason I gave my life to Christ in the first place after living many years in rebellion, and she is the reason I have to press on. I have to be the example, I have to live the example, because words are just words. People, especially children, can see through lip service. It means nothing. Showing what I believe through my actions says everything and that includes trusting Jesus when it doesn’t make sense. When it hurts. When it doesn’t seem fair. Without that trust, there really is no hope. No hope for my daughter to make it through life as a God-fearing woman of integrity. Jesus is her only hope. And I will spend the rest of my life on my knees praying for her to remain strong in her faith—much stronger than her mommy. That she chooses to cling to Jesus even when society (and likely other Christians) are screaming at her and calling her a right-wing lunatic. The only hope for her, for any of us, is Jesus. If you take that away, well then, you’ve got nothing to anchor your life on. Even with Jesus, tragedy and hurt is hard enough to deal with, but without Him? Not a chance. I would have given up on life by now, if it wasn’t for Jesus.

Why trust God? Because there is no hope beyond God and what He promises to those who choose to follow when nothing makes sense, when nothing is going “right”, when we’re not getting the answers we think we need. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.” God was here all along and I know that. But it was nice to hear Him speak once again and to feel the comfort of His presence. To see Hope again, after over a year of darkness.

In Conclusion:

In the end I have decided to walk away from the Church and Christianity, and embrace the Bible and Christ alone. I’ll worship with other Christians in a place called a church—whatever church God calls me to on any given Sunday. But I won’t make church and churchy things my idol. I won’t find my identity in church and activities, but in what God says about me. I won’t reach for redemption and atonement through works, because grace is free. I won’t search for accolades, because in God’s eyes, I’m already “one of a kind”. I refuse to insert myself into the holy huddles that plague every church. You know what? I don’t want to be part of the “in” crowd. I want to be part of Jesus’ crowd. Sometimes that means standing alone. But really, with Jesus, you’re never “alone”.

And I no longer identify as a Christian, but as a Jesus loving, truth seeking Christ follower. I’m not interested in beating people up with theology (which really only turns them away). I’m not interesting in debating doctrine. I’m interested in following God’s plan for my life and living out the truth of God’s word to the best of my ability and through the leading of the Holy Spirit. That’s really the life I’ve been called to and that is now the life I seek. I don’t want to be in any box but Jesus’ box. I want to live grace and be a beacon of grace because that’s all my life is—an outpouring of God’s immeasurable grace. I have no right or place to point fingers at anyone but myself, but at the same time, I will carefully choose who I will allow to influence my daughter and who I will sit under and learn from, because integrity is important to me. That is simply my personal conviction.

I will never really understand why God allows some things to happen, and I have since given up trying to explain the why’s or maybe’s of it all. I’ve learned through all of this heartache that what people really need is someone to listen to their hurts, be there for them, hug them, maybe send them a note of encouragement, and only give “advice” when it is clearly asked for. Hurting people don’t necessarily need answers and explanations, they just need someone to hear them and meet them where they’re at. They need someone to reach out and notice their need and show that they care. They need to know they’re not alone. They need to know that Jesus (LOVE) is their only hope.

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”—1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NLT

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PS–I realize I used some strong language in this post and, no doubt, offended someone. You can save your comments about it. I know I’m probably not a “real” Christian and am doomed because I used “unChristian” words. Thank you for wanting to warn me though, I appreciate it.

The Plank and the Speck–BE the Change: CHOICES {Part 3}

“How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”—Matthew 7:4-5, NIV

Possibly one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in my spiritual walk has been living in an “unequally yoked” marriage. The constant pull between personal convictions and trying to live in peace with my spouse has often been an excruciatingly intense struggle. These days, though, there are far more rainbows and roses in our relationship than storm clouds, but it took many years and a lot of personal soul-searching to finally reach that point.

 
I’m often asked by other women in difficult marriage situations (not speaking about abusive relationships, here) who wonder how I’ve come to be so at peace in my marriage, or how I cope with the challenges rather than throw in the towel. My response to them is not generally well tolerated. And most of these women who once wanted advice from me are now no longer speaking to me. So what have I said and done to tick so many people off?

 
I chose to focus on ME, repeatedly asking God to change my own heart, rather than that of my husband.

 
Novel concept, I know!

 
That’s not to say I always did so willingly or joyfully, but rather out of sheer necessity. When I first “came back” to God, I constantly prayed for my husband’s heart to change. Of course I wanted him to love Jesus and all that jazz, but my deeper motive in prayer wasn’t his spiritual life but rather my own comfort and happiness.

 

 

“When you ask you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasure.”—James 4:3, NIV

This is where many spouses are brought to the end of their rope, and what motivates them to try to find help or counsel, their lives have become a leaky faucet of misery as their focus is continuously on the wrong-doings of their significant other. I get it because I’ve been there! In my situation, raising a child in a home where my husband and I disagreed on so much was just plain hard. And if God changed my husband’s heart (to agree with me about everything, of course, and to pick up his dirty socks…) then my life would certainly be much more pleasant and stress-free.

 
But, God being, well, GOD, knew my motives were off. And instead of instantly “poofing” my husband into everything I wanted him to be, He instead chiseled my heart into the ever-changing diamond He is designing it to be. And that whole chiseling thing hurts. A lot. Because it reveals my planks, logs, beams, or whatever you want to call them, instead of the specks, splinters, or otherwise tiny dust particles in my husband (who IS a believer now, but still leaves his dirty socks on the floor. In fact, I’m looking at them right now…).

 
At first I too was a woman who scoffed at the notion that I needed to change instead of my husband. I hated that kind of advice with a passion. One instance I remember in particular was a valued and trusted friend encouraging me to be more intentional about sex with my husband. The nerve! Easy for her to say, she was in a peaceful happy marriage! But for me, sex was typically the last thing on my mind because I was too butt-hurt over all the horrible things my spouse did (things that don’t seem so horrible now, in hindsight). But you know what? She was right! And choosing to be intentional about our sex life before I actually “felt like it” (you know, choosing to show love with actions instead of waiting for my emotions to “feel” like doing loving things) helped our marriage more than the nagging or resentment ever did. The point is, my behavior needed to change first, before my emotions would follow.

 
So, when a woman comes to me and complains how selfish and awful her husband is (again, not talking about abusive relationships!) and I gently try to share my journey of personal transformation rather than justifying her complaints, she usually gets upset with me and seeks advice elsewhere. But I can’t in good conscience sit here and join the spousal bashing. We are in far more control over our happiness and joy than we think. It really is a choice. A choice that is rooted in desiring change within ourselves, and doing whatever it takes to let God work that out—instead of focusing on all the wrongs being committed against us.

 
Ultimately God helped me see that the only change I can control is the change in my own heart. So, over time my prayers changed from grumbles against my husband to repentance against the sins I was committing against him with my attitudes and behaviors. I sought to treat my husband as I wanted to be treated, whether or not I felt like he “deserved” it. This often meant embracing the role of “servant” (not in a slave kind of way, but in an acts-of-service-to-others kind of way). God repeatedly brought me to 1 Peter 3, and the need to show my husband with my actions rather than my preaching (nagging, Bible-thumping, etc.).

 
Is your spouse inconsiderate or selfish? Do they hold to different faith perspectives than you? Do they act in ways that disappoint and discourage you? My best advice is to serve your spouse in love, and ask God to see your spouse through HIS eyes rather than your own. This prayer is what opened the door of change in my own heart. In fact, asking God to see my husband through His eyes is what allowed me to finally see how the choices I had made out of anger or resentment had so deeply hurt him (see: Waiting for Redemption). Yes, I suppose it would be easier to just call it quits and throw in the towel. Sign some papers and wipe your hands of the whole thing. Find some other guy/gal who makes you “happier” and agrees with you about everything, but ultimately, those aren’t the solutions that will bring lasting peace and joy because the root issues (within yourself) aren’t dealt with, but rather denied and ignored. God wants to change us first, so that our life can be a witness to motivate change in others.

 
Whether we are dealing with a spousal relationship or another type of relationship (familial, friendship, coworker) the principle still applies: choose to ask God to change your heart instead of focusing on how you are being wronged. Choose to forgive. Choose to serve that person instead of gossiping about them. Choose to pray for a new perspective. Choose to ask God to help you love the person as God loves them.

 
Is everything perfect, now that my husband sits next to me at church every Sunday he’s not working, or now that he’s bought me more flowers in the last nine months than in the previous nine years? Of course not! If anything, I have come to see that no matter how “great” my husband is, and how much he “changes” still has little effect on my happiness, peace and joy. Why? Because my happiness, peace, and joy come from JESUS, not life’s circumstances. Certainly things are more peaceful around here, but my husband is still the same person with the same personality and quirks. Being a Christian doesn’t necessarily mean he picks up his socks consistently. I still have a choice every day whether or not I will serve, love, and respect my husband or nag, resent, and slander his character to my girlfriends. Sometimes I still choose the latter, but those instances are coming fewer and farther between as God continues to transform my heart to align more with the character of Christ. By choosing to BE the change instead of nagging for him to change, God has brought about peace within me and within our marriage. And, as an added bonus (blessing) I now get to enjoy things like going to church with my husband instead of going alone.

 
So, if you really want that person to get the splinter out of their eye so your life will be a little less stressful, I suggest asking God to remove the beam in your eye first. Be the example of change with your life, attitudes, reactions, responses, and actions. How you choose to behave/respond while under adversity will speak far greater volumes to the “problem person” in your life than begging God to change that person or nagging them into behaving how you’d like them to. Choose respect, forgiveness, mercy, service, and the greatest of these things, LOVE. Ask God to transform your heart into a 1 Corinthians 13 heart. It WILL hurt, and it WON’T be easy, but the peace that results will far surpass the temporary pain that comes from sacrifice, submission, and developing a life of humility before others.

 

 

 

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”—Matthew 5:5-9, NIV

***PLEASE NOTE: This article is NOT referencing marriages where adultery, pornography use, physical or emotional abuse, or other more serious offenses have occurred. This is not in any way representative of such deeper struggles and is not intended to brush those issues under the rug or blame those behaviors on the victim. We are each responsible only for our own choices and responses, not the choices of others! If you are in an abusive relationship, or have a spouse immersed in pornography or sexual sin, please seek the help of a professional. Your spouse’s choices are not your fault or because of anything you have done to “deserve” such treatment. You are not responsible for their actions/choices.

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See also CHOICES PART 1: Freedom to Choose

CHOICES PART 2: Careful, that Fence Could Give You a Massive Wedgie
I will be continuing this series on choices in much greater detail, if you haven’t already, please enter your email under the “Follow” tab to receive new posts in your inbox. No spam! Just new posts, (usually two to four posts a month at most). If you found this website to be of encouragement to you, please share it with your friends!

 

**If you are struggling in an unequally yoked marriage, and need resources for reading or help, please email me at RebeccaAarup@mail.com and I would be happy to share some books/resources that have helped me greatly along my journey.**

The Simplest Answer for Life’s Deepest Problems

It’s no surprise that, for most of us, our lives center around what is being done to us–through circumstances or other people. It almost feels as if we live in a constant state of reactions, rather than responses. Carefully consider the following quote. Read it a few times (I needed to read it several times to completely digest it). Really, if we saw each other the way described, if we treated each other this way, the deepest issues we face would melt away. Life would be about loving, not reacting.

Over the past year God has gifted me with two beautiful women who treat me this way. It is the first time in my life I have ever felt 100% accepted, loved, and like I belong somewhere. The first time in my life. They live out the truths in this quote, and I do my best–through the strength of Christ–to do the same with them. I truly believe this is what has allowed us, despite being deeply sensitive people, to have such a friendship and love for each other. As believers, we should seek this as a standard operating procedure in all relationships, whether with our employers, the homeless guy on the street, or the snooty pharmacist at the grocery store.

There are no ordinary people…

 

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feelings for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latita—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

 

–C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

*This article originally appeared in the Christian Online Magazine, September 2013 Issue*

Temple Maintenance: What’s Love Got to do With It?

(The Fruit of the Spirit Diet–Part 2)

I love lasagna, spaghetti, cheese…and just about anything pasta or cheese related. What about you? What’s that one culinary cuisine that tickles your taste-buds? Would you say you eat what you truly love on a daily basis?

But wait a second, first let me clarify what I mean by love. You see, in the Greek language there are two forms of the word “love” used prominently in the New Testament: phileo andagape. If you’ve listened to a sermon or two, chances are you’re at least somewhat familiar with these terms.

Phileo is best described as an affectionate love. It’s what we feel as an emotion. We love our spouses—we are affectionate towards them. We usually love our friends in an affectionate, emotional way as well. While phileo love is more or less from the heart, agape love is from the head. It’s an act of the will, an intellectual love—so to speak. It’s a choice. When Jesus commands us to love our enemies, He uses the word agape not phileo. In fact, agape is the word most frequently used in the New Testament for love. Phileo love is easier because it’s a natural emotion. Agapelove is a much more difficult, because it’s a command Jesus gives us, and it is a type of love we must willfully choose.

For the most part we probably eat the foods we love (phileo). These are the foods we choose when we’re emotionally distressed (come on ladies, you know what I mean), when we’re celebrating, or when we’re craving something satisfying and delectable. I phileo-love lasagna; in fact I don’t have to think twice about eating it. “Me hungry, me eat lasagna now,” I growl in my best cookie-monster voice. But when it comes to taking care of my temple, I have to think a little harder about what I eat. Every day we’re faced with the choice to eat what we love (phileo) or eat out of love (agape).

“Let all that you do be done in love (agape).” 1 Corinthians 16:14

The Greek word for “all” in this verse is…well, ALL! All means everything. From the way we talk about or neighbors behind their backs, to the way we take care of our bodies (temple maintenance), all must be done out of love. This type of love can only be a choice, which means it won’t always be easy. Weagape-love Jesus, therefore we choose to obey His commands because we know He has designed the best plan for our lives—much greater than anything we could have dreamed up for ourselves. In the same way, to take care of our temples is to choose what we eat out of agape–love. We choose to obey God when it comes to gluttony, self-control, and healthy eating not necessarily because we always feel like it (phileo) but because we know it honors God and the temple he entrusted into our care. Being a good steward of our bodies is a testimony of our faith and how we view the sanctity of life.

“If you love (agape) Me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15

“But above all these things, put on love (agape).” Colossians 3:14

“Let love (agape) be without hypocrisy.”Romans 12:9

Truthfully, I’d rather eat lasagna every day for lunch, but if I did that (especially with the amount of cheese I use in my recipes) I’d have a serious coronary problem before long. So, rather than eating what I phileo-love every day, I eat out ofagape-love most days, so when I do indulge in the occasional treat, I know that I am not doing my body harm. God certainly wants us to enjoy food; otherwise He wouldn’t have given us taste-buds. But if that lust for food becomes unhealthy, we can easily take a good thing and turn it into a sinful thing.

We take care of our homes, cars, and personal possessions to show that we care about those things and their value. How much more should we show this agape-love to our own bodies? This is a choice that demonstrates not only respect for God’s creation, but agape-love for Him and His word.

What’s love got to do with it? Well, I’d say it’s got everything to do with it! What do you think?

© Rebecca Aarup

(To view other article in the series, “The Fruit of the Spirit Diet,” visit www.RebeccaAarup.com and click on “Temple Maintenance”.)

Fingerprints

Fingerprints

 

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, but I keep coming back to the fingerprints. If my funeral was tomorrow, what would people say about me? What kind of fingerprints have I left on their lives? I hope they’d say I’ve left the fingerprints of Jesus, but I’m not too sure that’s what I’d hear, if I could hear the people speaking at my funeral.

 

I think about the past, and the many years I lived for myself, for my pleasures, chasing the lusts of my flesh. I encountered many people during that time who knew my dad was a preacher, who knew I was raised in church, but who also knew I was “promiscuous” and no different than any other “worldly” person. Those people don’t know me now; they only know the “me” of that time. I wonder what kind of fingerprint I left on their life about God, the Church, and Christianity. Sometimes the thought is more than I can bear.

 

And I think of my husband. I wonder what he would say. Would he describe me as the “Proverbs 31” wife? Would he say I left the fingerprints of faith on his life, or the fingerprints of a control freak that was selfish and an overbearing nag? Would he be able to say he understood a little more about the Jesus I always spoke of, because of my character, or that my character conflicted with the Jesus I preached?

 

My husband has seen me from the beginning to the end, from the best and the worst. He met me in my addiction/eating disorder days, he managed to stick with me through my crazy days of psychotherapeutic drug treatments, he even stuck around when I over-compensated for my failures and became a Pharisee beating him over the head with my Bible. He still stands by me as I serve in church, write, and pursue an education in counseling. He’s a quiet man, but supportive of me in all things. Sometimes I think he’s left more of a “Jesus” fingerprint on my life, despite our differences of faith perspectives. Certainly God has used my husband to speak truth to me in ways I haven’t always understood and sometimes even resented. God is good like that, and I am grateful for all He has taught me through my marriage. I love my husband more every day, and hope that if he were to speak at my funeral, he would say that his wife failed in some ways, but Jesus changed her life for the better, and through that, made her a better wife and better mother. But, if I were to die tomorrow, I’m not too sure that’s what he’d say.

 

I think about my friendships. I have a couple great ladies in my life who have been a huge support spiritually. Though we haven’t known each other long, we are spiritual soul-mates. They sharpen me as “iron sharpens iron” and draw me closer to God just through knowing them. They are leaving the “Jesus” fingerprint on my life. But would they say the same about me?

 

Without a doubt I know some of the friendships of the past two or three years did not turn out that way. I’m pretty sure some of those people would describe the fingerprint I’ve left on them like a crime scene photo. Ugly, bloody, brutal—selfish, argumentative, judgmental. Much like the people who knew me during my prodigal years, these people know the me of the Pharisee years. And sometimes the thought of that is indeed, more than I care to consider. I have tried to “fix” some of these bad encounters, but sometimes the hurts inflicted burn the bridges beyond what can be rebuilt, at least on this side of heaven.

 

And maybe most importantly, I wonder what kind of fingerprint I have left on my daughter’s life? Have I displayed the “Jesus” in the Bible verses she has memorized? Or have I displayed the version that says, “I only approve of you when your behavior is good.” If she were to stand at my casket, could she say her mother showed her Jesus? That her mother was real, honest, authentic, open, and also caring, compassionate, and ready to show grace and mercy?

 

Last weekend Pastor Pat delivered an excellent message (as usual) about “time”. Afterwards we received a sheet of paper to map out our life plan. It contained some key steps like identifying important relationships, our priorities, and how we want to be remembered. I haven’t been able to fill mine out yet. I’ve been somewhat paralyzed as I wait for the doctor to call me with the news. Perhaps the road I thought I would travel will not be what I envisioned even a few weeks ago.

 

Either way, I’m in a time of contemplation. No matter what happens, I know God has used this “illness” to get my attention and get me thinking about the fingerprints I am leaving on people’s lives, what I can do to possibly clean the messy fingerprints off the past and create new ones, and what I must surrender to God today so the new fingerprints reflect Jesus, not Rebecca.

 

 

Finally, I think of a message a great man of God and influential teacher in my life delivered a couple years ago in church. I’ll never forget these words, “The only thing that matters in life is your answer to this question: what have you done with Jesus? What have you done with Jesus?”

 

I’m not sure what’s in my future, but I know this: Jesus has set my heart free, and I hope and pray you have experienced that same peace and freedom that surpasses any human understanding. If you haven’t experienced this full life that Jesus wants for you, won’t you consider doing so today?

 

Having lived life “my” way I can say the end result is never worth the perceived freedom of making your own choices. God’s way is really better, really. It gives meaning to life, and a future beyond the few years we have here on earth. It makes all of this pain actually worth something. And even the happy times are more meaningful when God is present.

 

How do you want to be remembered? What kind of fingerprints are you leaving on the lives of others? What can you do to allow God to change that this very moment? We can’t change the past, but God promises that He will make even our ugly failures work for our greatest good if we would only choose to love Him today (see Romans 8:28). Today is the day to make new fingerprints. Friends, please don’t delay. You don’t know what tomorrow holds, but with Jesus, you can know that your tomorrow is safe and secure no matter what life throws at you. And that is the only place to be. His fingerprint of peace rests on my heart; I hope it rests on yours.

 

“This is my comfort in my affliction, for your Word has given me life.” Psalm 119:50

 

Even the Pomegranates Cry Out

Chop. Chop. Chop.

I seem to have the best God-moments when I’m feverishly hacking away on a helpless piece of food, trying to work out my anger. It has come to be a habit. We fight—I cook. It’s how I wrestle with my emotions, think, pray, and take several deep breaths while annihilating a target other than my spouse.

“Ok, God, I know what you said in 1 Corinthians 10:13, I’ll never forget that verse…but, I’m starting to think You enjoy taking me to the edge of what I can handle.”

Chop. Chop. Chop.

Silence.

“Ok, You’re not talking. That’s ok, I have plenty to say…”

If God could get frustrated, I am sure I’d be His number one cause of irritation. “Oh, here’s Rebecca again, whining like it’s the end of the world. If only she knew how bad it could really be, maybe then she’d be grateful.”

Of course, I know God isn’t really thinking that towards me, in fact, what He is thinking about me is too mind blowing to comprehend. For example, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—the fruit that will last.” (John 15:16)

Oh, and speaking of fruit? Yeah, I was carving up several pieces of fruit to make a fresh fruit salad while conversing with God in a less-than-humble way.  He never spoke to me in those heated moments, not audibly at least. But He did find a way to cut through my incessant ramblings of self-pity.

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy seeing God in nature—all facets of nature from animals to the weather to food. My social media friends are well aware of this due to the multitude of pictures I post of the food I’m cooking, the clouds in the sky, or my dog acting exceptionally cute. Creation is beautiful, and in it I am made aware of God’s presence in the details.

Slice. Slice.

285-Pomegranate

 

And then it opened and my breath was taken away. As the crimson juices ran over my fingers and the seeds spilled out my thoughts were interrupted. “Oh, Lord, it’s so beautiful! It’s like a honeycomb giving birth to rubies!” And for a second I was so captivated by the gorgeous intricacies of that pomegranate that my self-centered complaints were replaced with worship and gratitude.

How could I ever doubt a God who took so much time carefully designing every piece of fruit to not only taste good, but look good as well? But doubt I do—and often. It’s so easy to forget in the heat of the moment. To forget all things good and grateful and focus on the ugly and distasteful.

Fortunately, God is not surprised by any of this. He knows what I will say, how I will react, and whether or not I’ll confess it. He knows I will continue to grieve His spirit unintentionally when I allow bitterness to take root, and He knows the exact moment I will fall on my knees and give it all to Him and choose peace.

When my voice fails to speak of His love, surely the pomegranates cry out in my place.

“My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” Psalm 63:5  

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profilepic3Rebecca Aarup is a health columnist for The Christian Online Magazine, a contributing writer for Encourage 365, founder and creater of S.E.R.V.A.N.T. Sisters, and has written devotionals/studies/articles for a variety of other publications. She just released her latest Bible Study The Word: Six Lessons from Psalm 119 which is available as a free download on her website or in print form from Amazon. Beyond writing, Rebecca is a wife, home-schooling mom, and Bible student at Liberty University. She lives in Glendale, Az with her husband Chris and 5 year old, Samantha.  You can read more from Rebecca by subscribing to her blog (it’s free) and following her on twitter and facebook.