When Loved Ones Fall Away, Part 2

If you’ve had a loved one turn away from God, you may have asked, “HOW?”

  • How do I know what to say?
  • How do I keep from being led by my emotions?
  • How can I make sure my own faith stays strong?

Thankfully, the answers to our questions can be found in God’s faithful Word.  I have a book coming out in February (Lord willing) that deals with what to do when loved ones fall away.  Each week in December I’ll be sharing some excerpts from the book.

From chapter one– KEEP YOUR FAITH IN GOD

God’s love is nothing like man’s imperfect love.  God’s love is perfect and everlasting.  When things are going well, we are secure in that knowledge.  But sometimes when our hearts are hurting, we forget the amazing depth and enduring nature of God’s love.  Could it be Satan whispers doubts in our mind about God’s love?  Like Mrs. Job advising her husband to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9), Satan’s lies begin with God to get us to turn away from Him.  When he tempted Eve, Satan mentioned God’s name three times (Genesis 3:1-5)!  To keep ourselves from ever believing Satan’s lies about God, we need to continually reacquaint ourselves with the love of God.  The Word is filled with the truth about God’s love.  Study it often so its voice will be louder than Satan’s.

From chapter four– SEEK GUIDANCE FROM GOD’S WORD

Emotions, both positive and negative, are powerful, and certainly our emotions are involved when a loved one falls away.  Our society places an emphasis on letting personal emotions guide important decisions.  “I have to follow my heart.”  “Do what feels right to you.”  The world’s mantra is that while rules are good, ultimately one should live by what feels right to them.  But feelings can be an unreliable and unsafe guide. “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9).  When Saul persecuted Christians, he wasn’t trying to be wicked.  He thought he was doing the right thing.  He was following his heart.  He didn’t realize his actions were contrary to God’s will.  He said, “Indeed, I myself thought…” (Acts 26:9).  He was convicted by his feelings.  His conscience never once made him question his actions (Acts 23:1).  Even good people make huge mistakes when allowing their feelings to guide them.  It wasn’t until Saul encountered Christ that he learned to “speak the words of truth and reason” (Acts 26:25).  Wise Solomon sums it all up by saying, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26).  When a loved one falls away, we must be aware of the danger of being led by our feelings.  It can happen without us even realizing it.  The way to safeguard against that is to stay in the Word.  “Let my heart be blameless regarding Your statutes, that I may not be ashamed” (Psalm 119:80). 

Next week’s excerpts will deal with the subjects of prayer and guilt.  I’d love to hear from you…Have you had a loved one fall away?  Have you had to make sure your emotional response stays in line with God’s Word?  What have you done to strengthen your own faith?

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When Loved Ones Fall Away

Few things in life are more heartbreaking than having a loved one turn away from God.  The disappointment, fear, worry, and pain can be overwhelming.  How do you keep a positive attitude, go on with your own responsibilities, and hang on to hope?  How do you keep from being guided by your emotions?  What do you do with the anger?  How do you make sure your own faith stays strong? These are the types of questions I struggled with, and the questions I address in an upcoming book.  Throughout the month of December I’ll be sharing excerpts from the book.  Today I’ll share the introduction.  My prayer is that this book will strengthen and encourage those who find themselves pleading with wayward loved ones.

Introduction

It has to be true that the greater the love one has for another, the greater the pain when that love is rejected.  A mere acquaintance who does not return overtures of friendship is no heartache.  A bond forged at youth camp which promises to keep in touch “forever and ever” then gradually fizzles out causes no tears.  But when a husband of twenty or thirty years spurns the wife of his youth in favor of a more youthful wife, the pain is unbearable.  A mother whose angry son has gone the way of the world and no longer wants anything to do with her feels like her heart has been ripped from her chest.  
    Consider the greatest of all loves–the love God has for His children.  Can we really adequately grasp the depth of God’s love?  Time and distance can douse friendships.  Unfaithfulness can kill marriages.  But nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38,39)!    Even when the children of Israel rejected Him and repeatedly committed spiritual adultery, God pleaded, “Return to Me” (Jeremiah 3:1).  God is the creator of man and the creator of love.  God IS love (1 John 4:16).  What immeasurable pain, then, God must experience when His children fall away!
    Hosea’s task was difficult and his message from God was an emotional one.  The faithfulness of the Israelites was described as “a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away” (Hosea 6:4 NKJV).  Hosea pleaded with the children of Israel to turn from idolatry by reminding them of the loyalty of God’s love.    God said He loved them from their youth, and He taught them to walk, “taking them by their arms.”  He “drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love,” and “stooped and fed them.”  God’s tender care for His people is very apparent, and so is His hurt as He declared, “My people are bent on backsliding from Me.  Though they call to the Most High, none at all exalt Him.”  None at all?  To spiritually lose one child is detrimental enough.  How easy, then, to understand God’s grief as He cried out, “How can I give you up, Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, Israel?…My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred” (Hosea 11:1-8).
    “How can I give you up?”  So many read this passage and feel their chest tighten with sympathy.  They can completely relate to this question.  Concerning a wayward loved one, many have thought over and over, “How can I bear to let you go?”  Nothing is more grievous than having a loved one fall away from the Lord.  Losing someone in death is painful, but Christians can look forward to that happy reunion in Heaven.  Losing someone spiritually is overwhelmingly painful.   In addition to the severed relationship, there is the fear of losing a loved one eternally.  There is the loss of being able to pray, “Lord, come quickly,” for instead there is a panic that He might return and it be too late for the beloved prodigal.  
    The Father knows how we feel.  He understands.  We can turn to Him for guidance and help.  As much as we want to wring our hands, weep, and wring our hands some more, we know that is not healthy after an extended period of time.  The purpose of this book is to discuss how to cope when loved ones fall away.  At the end of each chapter is a “Faith in Action” activity.  Sometimes it helps just to have something tangible to do.  To get the reader started, and to build a foundation for this study, there is even a suggested activity here at the end of this introduction.  Also at the end of each chapter are some thoughts shared by individuals who have had a loved one fall away from the Lord.     
    “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24).

*Faith in Action-  Go through the first several chapters of the book of Jeremiah.  Underline in black (representing sin) phrases like “they have gone far from Me,” “backsliding,” “forsaken the Lord,” “transgressed against Me,” “rejected,” and “My people have forgotten Me.”  Then underline in red (representing God’s loyal love) every time God says, “return,” “return to Me,” or “amend your ways.”

How to Write an Encouraging Letter

217829_4425502553842_1842029884_n**Disclaimer:  I chose to write this post because I have been the recipient of some great letters, not because I think I have mastered the art of writing encouraging letters.

Paul was a great encourager.  As we read through his letters, we find many expressions of love and concern.

“I thank my God for you…your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8).

“I rejoice that I have confidence in you in everything” (2 Cor. 7:16).

Paul also told people often that he was praying for them specifically by name.

“Always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy” (Phil. 1:4).

Those statements really lift the spirit!  The weather outside is turning cold…what better time to make a concerted effort to send more heart-warming letters?  To create a note that’s just right, we can remember the six S’s:

  • Keep it SIMPLE.  We’ll be more likely to write more often.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or elaborate.
  • Keep it SHORT.  It only takes a few minutes.  We can pack a lot of punch into just a few words.  A short letter can be easily read again and again by the happy recipient.
  • Make it SINCERE.  If we write as soon as we feel the emotion (gratitude, concern, etc.), the heartfelt words will flow and come across.
  • Use a STAMP.  I love the old-fashioned route!  What’s more exciting than receiving a letter in your mailbox?  Paper letters are lasting and special.  They give the recipient something to touch (as opposed to emails and texts), involving more of the senses.
  • Add a SURPRISE.  A touch of fun or whimsy is memorable.  Unexpected surprises bright anyone’s day!  Slip in a sticker, piece of gum, pictures, handmade bookmark, teabag, drawing…any small item that will bring a smile of pleasure.
  • Add a SCRIPTURE.  Even if I can’t think of anything eloquent to write, I know God’s Word is beautiful, enduring, powerful, and meaningful.  Some great options to include in a letter of encouragement:

Phil. 1:3

Philemon 1:4-6

Psalm 18:30

Phil. 4:6,7

Psa. 94:19

1 Pet. 5:7

Prov. 3:5,6

Isa. 41:10

John 16:33

Psa. 46:1-3

2 Tim. 1:7

Psa. 121

Jer. 17:7,8

For a lovely and well-written study on “how to get life-changing results from writing personal notes,” check out Special Delivery by Jane McWhorter.  (I do not in any way benefit from sharing this link.  I just think it’s a great book!)

Happy letter writing!

Prayer for Today:  Thank you, Lord, for the encouragement found in Your Word.  Help us to share that same love with others!

*This post can also be found at A Wise Woman Builds Her Home.

Religion or Relationship?

“It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship.”  I saw this quote on a t-shirt and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  I’m not entirely sure of the intent of the message, but it sounds like rejecting one in favor of the other.

Religion, by definition, is something we all have.  It’s simply our beliefs about how we got here and why we’re here.  Perhaps some dislike the word because they’ve been exposed to people who have given religion a bad name.  Or maybe some equate religion with a list of rules, and they disregard submission and authority in favor of freedom and grace.

Relationship is certainly essential.  We’re to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind (Matt. 22:37) and we’re to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:39).  Those who fail to nurture loving relationships lack the crucial essence of Christianity.  “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).

Christianity IS a religion.  The Bible tells us there’s a difference between a religion that’s worthless  and a religion that is pure and genuine (James 1:26,27). The hypocrisy of some may have tainted how some view religion (Matt. 6:1ff), but God says that true religion is acting out our love for Him and His creation.

If it’s the rules of religion that some reject, let’s remember what Jesus said:

  • “If you love Me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
  • “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23).
  • “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

A relationship with Jesus involves following His rules.  It’s almost like someone asking me if I’d rather have my husband’s love or his commitment.  I want both.  His love is key in having a good, happy relationship and his commitment means he will follow through in areas of honesty, protection, and providence.

It’s not religion OR relationship.  It’s both.  A relationship with God means following the pure religion He has outlined for us in His Word.

Prayer for Today:  Help us, Lord, to show others pure religion by our love for You and for them.

 

10 Things I Want My Sons to Have When They Leave Home

Our sons are almost 21, almost 19, and 16 years old.  I want them to be happy and healthy, but more than anything, I want them to have their own genuine relationship with God.  Here are 10 things I pray they will have when they leave home:

I.  HONESTY

God is love, so when I hear that He hates something, it catches my attention.  Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven things God hates, and lying is mentioned twice!  Honesty tops my list of Ten Things because of what honesty prevents:

  • Deceiving self.  Self-honesty is crucial to personal Christianity.  How will my sons know if they’re in a right relationship with God if they’re deceiving themselves in their self-evaluation (1 Cor. 11:28)?  The Bibles says, “Test yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5).  The very word test implies honesty.
  • Making excuses.  Excuses are cover-ups for short-comings.  They’re what we come up with when we try to remove the blame or responsibility for something.  ”Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure.”  I want my sons to build their houses on the rock.  According to Jesus, that means they will hear His words and DO them, not make excuses for what they’re not doing (Matt. 7:24).
  • Moral Dilemmas.  Dishonesty leads to moral dilemmas in so many areas of life– business relations, taxes, academics, moral ethics.  Dishonesty produces a life of double standards.
  • Distrust.  One lie can destroy years of trust, trust that will take a long time to be restored.  A dishonest person won’t have good relationships with coworkers, with elders, with his wife & children, or with his church family.

II.  PURITY OF HEART

As a mother of three boys, I’ve felt many moments of indignation at all the sexual impurity bombarding us from all sides.  Purity of heart made my list of Ten Things because if my sons don’t have pure hearts:

  • They won’t see God (Matt. 5:8).
  • They will be in a war waging against their soul (1 Pet. 2:11).
  • They will be instruments of unrighteousness (Rom. 6:13).
  • They will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21).

With our sex-saturated society, the idea of raising pure-hearted boys may seem to be an uphill battle against overwhelming odds.  But our young men need to know that God’s promise still holds true:  “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

III.  COMPASSION

My sons will be guilty of hypocrisy if they’re big on keeping the law but lack compassion (Matt. 23:23).  Some do what they’re supposed to do and say what they’re supposed to say, but they’re hard on others.  They speak harshly of the shortcomings of others and act morally superior.  This is a heart problem.

Compassion will motivate my sons to see the good in others, to look for ways to build up and encourage, to see souls as the Savior does (Mark 6:34).

IV.  HUMILITY

If my boys leave home without humility, they leave home without having the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5-8).  Humility had to make my list of Ten Things because without it, my sons will head for destruction and dishonor (Prov. 18:12).  Humility affects their very relationship with God:

  • How close they’ll be to Him (Psa. 138:6,7)
  • Whether or not they’ll be guided & taught by Him (Psa. 25:9)
  • Whether or not they receive His grace (James 4:6)
  • Whether or not they’ll be exalted by Him (2 Pet. 5:6)

V.  SELF-MOTIVATION

Laziness can become a lifestyle.  In my [humble] opinion, there are a few habits that prevent men from really making a difference:

  • Dressing sloppily because they’re too lazy to tidy up
  • Keeping a disorganized office or work space
  • Being late to work or appointments; missing deadlines
  • Needing someone else to prod them along in order to complete assignments or commitments

Self-motivation, on the other hand, promotes:

  • The ability to tackle hard things instead of avoiding them
  • Discipline in areas of time-management, healthy eating, and exercise
  • The internal drive to always do their best
  • The desire to look for ways to serve and be involved, instead of waiting to be asked or waiting for someone else to take care of it
  • The wisdom to know when to ask for help instead of making excuses

VI.  GRATITUDE

Gratitude is the opposite of self-pity.  I don’t want every conversation my sons have to revolve around how hard things are for them.  I don’t want them to be needy for attention and sympathy.  I don’t want them to have a difficult time being happy and content.  They can’t be grateful and feel sorry for themselves at the same time!

Gratitude sees the blessings in life and sees problems as opportunities for growth.  Self-pity thinks, “Woe is me,” while gratitude quietly waits for God to fulfill His purpose in difficult situations.

My sons are going to face difficulties.  They’re going to be treated unfairly.  They’re going to be disillusioned at times.  Their mindset will determine how they handle it.  They can wallow in self-pity and complain about their circumstances, or they can be grateful for what they have, Who provides for them, and where they are going (1 Thess. 5:18; Phil. 4:11).

VII.  RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY

If my sons are allowed to disrespect authority in the home, they will carry that disrespect into the rest of their lives.  God commands His people to show respect for authority:

  • Children to parents (Eph. 6:1,2)
  • Wife to husband (Eph. 5:22-24)
  • Members to elders (Heb. 13:17)
  • Citizens to government (1 Pet. 2:13-17)
  • Servants to master (Eph. 6:5-8)

When rebellious men in the Lord’s church disagree with a decision made by the elders, they’ll say, “I don’t care what they say; I’m going to do it the way I want.”  Obviously these men were never taught to respect authority.  I want my sons to understand the importance of respecting authority even in times when they think those in authority are being unreasonable.  Those in authority who abuse their position will one day answer to God.  My sons need to make sure their own actions glorify God.

VIII.  FRIENDLINESS

Concerning friendliness, someone wrote, “It’s amazing what a warming influence it can have on an otherwise dreary world.”

Whether they’re going off to college, visiting a new congregation, or greeting their future in-laws, I want my sons to be able to initiate warmth and friendliness.  I want them to be quick to smile, greet, and assume the best in others.  I don’t want them to sit back and wait for others to approach them.

IX.  COMMITMENT

A lack of commitment will make my sons give up when their marriage relationship gets rocky.  It will make them neglect evangelism after only a few rejections.

Commitment will keep my sons from giving up or giving in.  It will be what keeps them going back to a job they dislike so they can pay the bills.  It will keep them knocking on doors to set up Bible studies.  It will motivate them to make the right choices and say the right things regardless of how they feel.  It is 1 Corinthians 15:58 lived out on a daily basis.
X.  FAITH
When my sons leave home, I want them to have a real, personal, genuine faith.
  • When my sons hear something different from what they’ve always been taught, where will they turn for answers?  My prayer is that they’ll always turn to God’s Word to define and secure their faith (Rom. 10:17).
  • When my sons feel discouraged, who will they lean on?  My prayer is that they’ll lean on the Lord (1 Pet. 5:7).
  • When they feel like they’re all alone in terms of moral convictions, what will they do?  My prayer is that they’ll have the courage to stand for what’s right even if no one stands with them.

For the faith of my sons to be real and enduring, it must be built on Scripture.  Not on family traditions or feelings.  Not on the level of love we have for them.  Not on our level of good works, or theirs.  For their faith to be living & powerful, it must be rooted in the Word of God (Heb. 4:16).

My sons may be in a new environment, but God’s Word will remain the same.  They may be surrounded by new people, but God’s Word will still hold true.  They may be tested in ways they’ve never been tested before, but God’s Word will always carry them through.  IF it’s the foundation of their faith.

Prayer for Today:  Lord, you know my daily prayer is that my sons will always put You first.

*This post can now also be found at A Wise Woman Builds.

Bible-Marking FAQs

Bible-marking is an easy way to prepare yourself to be able to study with others, answer questions, or teach a class or devotional.  If you’re unfamiliar it, check this out or check out the Bible-marking feature at Come Fill Your Cup.

Today’s post will consider some questions I hear most often.  If you think of another that isn’t mentioned, please share it with us!

How do you determine which topics to mark?

LISTEN.  Listen to what your friends, neighbors, family members or co-workers are discussing.  Is there something that confuses them, such as reconciling the existence of pain and suffering with a good God?  Is there something they’re struggling with, such as discouragement or a specific sin?  Also listen to sermons and classes.  When you hear a lesson on grace or prayer, start jotting down the Scripture references for later study.  Neal just preached “Parenting from Proverbs” this past Sunday and I thought, “That’d be a great Bible-marking topic!”

PREPARE.  Many topics will be geared toward your own personal Bible study opportunities.  You’ll want to be prepared to answer questions about salvation, worship, authority, the organization of the Lord’s church, etc.

PRACTICALITY.  You could Bible-mark just about any topic, but not every topic needs to be Bible-marked.  Ask yourself the purpose for marking.  Will it be helpful in teaching others?  Will it be beneficial for your own spiritual growth or encouragement?  Will it be something you could use when called on to give a devotional?  The purpose of Bible-marking is to be prepared for study, sharing, and growth.  If a topic doesn’t fulfill any of those goals, there’s really no need to Bible-mark it.

How do you keep from proof texting?

STUDY.  Proof texting is using Bible verses to try and prove a point without considering the entire context.  Passages pulled out of context can be used to prove just about any opinion or viewpoint and that can be very dangerous.  It’s vitally important that quality time is spent in study to make sure we’re never guilty of misusing Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15).  It’s easy to pull verses out of context.  It takes work to understand the context.  Because we’re accountable for what we teach (James 3:1), we better take the time and trouble to study, study, study.

When more than one topic uses the same passage, how do you know which verse goes with which topic?

COLOR.  The pigma micron pens come in a variety of colors.  Using different colors for each topic will allow you to keep your topics clearly marked.  For example, the topics “Plan of Salvation” and “Sinful Past” share a verse, so at the end of that verse there are two passages listed.  Because those topics have been marked in different colors, I know which verse to go to for the “Plan of Salvation” and which one to go to for “Sinful Past.”  If you ever find that you used the same color in that situation, simply note the topic initials next to the passages you’re supposed to go to next.  For instance, write “Acts 2:38 (PS)” at the end of the verse.

How do you know when to underline, circle, or draw a square around certain words?

STYLE.  It’s all completely personal.  Use your own style to determine what you’d like to mark in each verse.  The point is to draw attention to what needs to be emphasized for the topic you’re studying.  If you’d prefer to circle instead of underline, or use highlighters instead of pens, go for it.  If you don’t like to write notes in your margins, that’s okay.  Everyone has their own style and preferences.  When it comes to marking verses, you get to choose what works best for you.

How long does it take to put together a Bible-marking topic?

HOURS.  But how many depends on the topic itself.  If it’s a deeper subject, naturally it’ll take longer to study.  If it’s a topic you’re more familiar with or one that you’ve recently studied in a class, you can prepare it for Bible-marking in only a couple of hours.  Again, the time is mostly devoted to making sure no passages are misused or taken out of context.

With the exception of making sure all passages are used accurately, there’s really no right or wrong way to Bible-mark.  Everyone has their own learning style, study habits, and personal preferences.  The idea is to just get into the Word and look for ways to easily share it with others.

Prayer for Today:  Thank you for Your Word, Lord.  May we always be ready to share it!

 

 

Entertaining Without Offending Your Soul

A friend of mine has entered the world of published authors!  Kelli Hughett has written Red Zone, a romantic suspense novel that will be released next month.  Kelli is a preacher’s wife and home school mom who lives in the charming town of Windsor, CO.  Since inspirational suspense is my favorite genre, you can imagine my excitement over participating in Kelli’s launch team.  Her book arrived in my inbox yesterday and I look forward to reading it during some flights this weekend. On her blog, Kelli writes, “I hope you’ll find my books entertaining without offending your soul.”

Entertaining without offending your soul.  What a great objective!  I’m going to keep those words in mind.  I’m going to share them with my sons.  The Bible warns us that there are activities which “war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).  Whether the entertainment comes in the form of reading books, watching movies, playing video games, laughing at YouTube videos, or listening to music, we need to make sure what we’re taking in doesn’t offend the holiness we have put on (Col. 3:1-17).

“…In speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:12).

Prayer for today:  Thank you, Lord, for Kelli’s example of how we can use our talents to promote Your desire for righteousness.

Kirt & Kelli Hughett