Thursday, December 18, 2014

Conviction #3 - Written by Derrick

This post was to go up last weekend; well we never got to finish it on time, so here it is. Sorry for the possible suspense, or anxiety that it may have caused. :) In case you haven't read the first two parts of the series, here is Part One written by Melyssa and Part Two written by both of us.


The last post that went up was not to be an overarching attack on Christian’s celebration of Christmas. I am harboring no judgmental feelings or attitudes toward anyone. I don’t want anyone thinking we are a family of scrooges sitting at home praying for misery upon you and your family. Nothing could be further from the truth. We want to spend time with you and have fun with you, and study the Word with you, we just will not be talking very much about Christmas trees, decorations, or presents. :)


Another thought that people have is: “Well, what do you have against Jesus’ birth??” Actually… nothing. We absolutely love the incarnation of Jesus. His story of entering into time as a man in order to save us from sin and redeem us from death, began in a manger in Bethlehem. It is an amazing story from beginning to end. Our choosing not to celebrate Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus birth as that is an event that consistently leaves us amazed and in wonder.


Also, in case you are wondering, our family is full of joy and happiness. It is simply that our joy has nothing to do with “Christmas spirit” and everything to do with enjoying God. We do not desire to rob our children of fun, nor do we desire to be unhappy, but rather we have found the things we enjoy about this time of the year really have nothing to do with Christmas. We enjoy family; playing in the snow, hot chocolate, making crafts and tasty treats, good food, and great times of worship through song and studying His Word. I still get awesome family time as I am on a school schedule, so I get two weeks off!! We choose to separate the fun and joy from the traditions as we believe that those traditions are not honoring to God.


That being said, the celebration of Christmas is only a small part in what has changed in our lives as God continues to lead us. We used it as an example, because not celebrating it makes us really weird to others, and I wanted to make sure that people knew where we are coming from.


The big issue that has been continually impressed upon is God’s holiness. That is the bottom line here. If I view God as the epitome of holiness, absolute perfection, then what should my life look like. Multiple places in the Bible demand holiness from the followers of God. We are to be holy as He is holy. (Lev. 11:44-45, 19:2, 1 Peter 1:15-16, 2 Tim. 2:21)


So, if God is holy, my life is to be a reflection of that holiness. I am not saved by that holiness, because it does not come from me. I am saved by His grace, and then I am given the ability to be holy as He is holy through His Holy Spirit. (2 Thess. 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2, Rom. 8:1-17)


As we study the Bible, and we have been discussing this on Sunday mornings through Leviticus and studying the glory of God, we see that God takes His holiness very seriously. He is neither to be trifled with nor to be taken lightly. We have numerous examples of people in Scripture who did not respect nor fear the holiness of God and received swift punishment. God is holy and expects holiness among all who are near to Him.


As I said, I have no holiness in and of myself that I can approach God. Christ has taken my punishment and has given His holiness in my place. And once this happens I can stand before God and not have to die for my sins… all thanks to Christ and His sacrifice in my place!


Once I have experienced this amazing salvation, my life no longer belongs to me, it belongs to Christ. That means, all of my desires, traditions, and things that I think are important, are now to be crucified with Christ. So that now what is important to God and what He desires becomes mine. My identity is no longer Derrick, but now a follower of Jesus Christ. When people see me, I do not want them to see Derrick, but rather a reflection of God and His holiness. (Gal. 2:20, Luke 9:23, Gal. 5:24, Rom. 12:1-2)


The only way that we can learn of God’s holiness and what is important to Him is in His word. If we want to grow, we need to be faithful students of God’s Word. We must go to the Scriptures for all things. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 tells us to test everything. Everything that is part of our lives must be tested in the light of God’s Word. Christians today are ok with not digging deeper. We are ok with not growing or learning. But if we are truly followers of Christ, we must be willing to put everything aside for the sake of Christ. He is our life now. Therefore, in order to understand what God expects from us, we must be diligently searching the Scriptures and allowing His Holy Word to guide our lives.


I did not begin to understand the implications until about 4 years ago. Since then, God has impressed His holiness upon me more and more as I have continued to grow in Him. I have a long way to go, but more than ever my desire has been to be molded and shaped by His will. I still fight Him on things from time to time, but I desire to test everything I do, say, feel, and think by the Word of God. I do not want to have things in my life that I hold on to, simply because they are important to me. I want to be willing to let go of all that is not honoring to my holy and righteous, King and Father.


Christmas was something that simply did not pass the test. God’s strong words to Israel about mixing pagan practices with worship of Him finally did it for us. But Christmas was not the only thing to go. Another thing that had to go was my love for sports. I loved watching, reading about, and listening to sporting events. I could recite to you all kinds of stats and scores. But… how was God receiving glory through this? How was I reflecting His holiness in this obsession? Why would I not study His Word rather than study sporting events? Why would I not memorize His Scripture rather than memorize stats? My desire for His name to be exalted in my life led me to give up my obsession with sports.


Both of us can recount multiple areas in our lives that we have laid aside and put to death for His glory. Our plans, purposes, hopes, dreams, children, entertainment, hobbies, and… really everything, has been laid on the altar before God. The more we yield our lives to God, the more we give up and lay aside for His glory. And the more we lay aside, the more freedom we have felt. We can so easily become so encumbered by the worries, cares and traditions of this world. God is calling us to experience true freedom and true peace by separating us from the world and the world’s thinking. This freedom is felt more and more as we die to ourselves to become fully alive in Christ.


So, in the end, I am not that concerned with your stand on Christmas. However, I very much desire for all Christians to understand and experience what true freedom in Christ is like. Christmas has been a big one for us, but the more and more we separate from the traditions of men, we experience true joy and peace that Christmas never brought us.

So, what is it in your life? Where is your life more reflective of the world instead of the holiness of God? We have one call here on earth… to bring God glory. Where are you not reflective of the holiness of God?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Conviction Part #2: Our Story (Jointly Written by Derrick and Melyssa)

In our last post, we talked about how God has been stripping away our own prideful and selfish desires and has been replacing them with the desire to follow Him, completely. This is a process that will continue until we die, but it is a process that we have begun to openly embrace. Where before, we were resistant to conviction and change, now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, are open to His conviction and direction. This time around, we are going to look at a specific area in our lives where God has blown up our desires and replaced them with the sole desire to follow Him and worship Him as He has called us to.  Again, this is not out of a desire to bash you over the head in judgment, but rather to lovingly share what God has been teaching us. This is one example of how God has changed us, but there are many more areas of our lives that have changed and continue to change thanks to the conviction from God’s Word and leading from the Holy Spirit.

It is (we think) fairly common knowledge that we don't practice holiday celebrations as a family, particularly Christmas and Easter. If you didn't know that, now you do! It has been a progression for us and definitely not one that we have taken lightly! I can't even tell you how many conversations we have had on this topic over the last 3-4 years. This is our story of discovery, conviction, and change, specifically dealing with Christmas.

Both of us celebrated Christmas growing up, and did so into adulthood. Both of us enjoyed the traditions and sentimentalism of the season, more so Melyssa than Derrick. However, neither of us really had any real understanding where those traditions stemmed from. We were simply always told that Christmas was about celebrating Christ’s incarnation here on earth.

Now, I (Melyssa) really cannot remember what prompted me to do this, but I decided that I was curious about the origins of Christmas and wanted to learn about it. And of course, you can find the answer to just about every single question in the world by Googling it! What I found was shocking to me. I sat there, in my living room, looking at my pretty tree and decorations, and discovered one by one, that all of the things I thought were innocent and lovely were all rooted in the pagan worship practices centered around the winter solstice. Seriously...mind blown. I guess it is pretty common knowledge for most people, so call me ignorant... but I had no idea! I kid you not, my very first thought after reading that was...then why in the world would Christians celebrate it? I was jaded. I did not enjoy much about the holidays after learning this. It was just not the same for me anymore...little did I know that it would change even more as the years went on! But that year, I just went through the motions. I even asked Christians about it and they were like, "Yeah, I knew that, so what?" Once again, mind blown. I was surprised and taken aback by how casually this was viewed by believers.

When the next year rolled around, I decided that if almost every Christian in the world thinks Christmas is good, and holy, and beautiful, then I might as well join them! I explained away all my convictions by telling myself,  "It's been 'redeemed' for Christ!", "We can just make it all about Jesus and God will still get the glory." and "No one really thinks they are practicing pagan worship when they put up a Christmas tree, so does it really matter?" I started listening to Christmas music in October that year (I was pregnant and SO caught up in the emotion of it all!) and went all out with decorating, festivity, you name it. We had a gorgeous tree...I remember it well because it was our last.

After that year was over, we both knew that we needed to stop celebrating Christmas. The more we searched God’s Word, the heavier the conviction was on our lives. We needed to let God’s Word, not our emotions shape our actions. Since then we have strived to be faithful to God’s Word and be loving to others. Our desire now is humility, humility before God, and before others. We do not always say things the right way, we do not always know where lines should be drawn and when they should not… we are still works in progress, as we all are. However, our foremost longing is to see God glorified in our lives, and I know that the more we strive after Him alone; He will help us to work through those details.

We want to share some of the top reasons why we have made the decision not to celebrate Christmas. This list combines things that both of us find important. It also shows things that we have been wrestling with over the last 4 years. Here is our compiled, but not comprehensive, list of reasons why we do not celebrate Christmas.

1.       It is not celebrated in the Bible, nor commanded to be celebrated in the Bible. The apostles never celebrated, nor did the early church fathers.

2.       The origins and most common traditions of Christmas are definitively pagan, there really is no way to get around that. The tree, gift-giving, yule log, mistletoe, garland, caroling, Santa (nope, sorry, not a saint), elves, you name it.  As I mentioned, most think they know this, but most do not know to what extent these traditions are indeed pagan, and most do not know exactly what they were meant to signify. Please, if you are open to this, do some good research on the subject. It may take some time but it will open your eyes to what it is we are using to celebrate Jesus Christ. We must be careful not to allow the traditions of men to get in the way of what God wants. (Mark 7:8, Colossians 2:8)

3.       The pagan celebration was adopted by the church under the rule of Constantine, who “Christianized” the pagan celebrations in an attempt to allow people to become Christians and keep many of the same traditions. It morphed into a Catholic holy day where they attempted to infuse new meaning into the pagan traditions, most of which were retained in the celebration. The Bible speaks pretty clearly on not using pagan practices to worship the true God. (Deuteronomy 12:30-31) For instance, most in the church today would be very oppositional to the incorporation of Buddhist meditation practices into their worship services, even if they gave them new meaning. Yet, this is what we do when we use Christmas and Easter as celebrations of Jesus.

4.       Materialism. This one will probably be one that is a little easier to agree with for some of you. It doesn't take long to look around this time of year and see example after example of greed, materialism, selfishness, all in the name of Christmas. Think about how focused people are on what they are going to buy. How worried and obsessed people get about shopping and getting gifts for their loved ones and friends. How much money is unnecessarily spent on people who already have way more than they could ever need or want? Not everyone does this, and I am glad to see that there is a new trend of simplicity and "less is more". But, overall, this country goes absolutely nuts this time of year with spending. It's out of control. I think gift giving is sweet and thoughtful and something that we should all be in the practice of doing. But, the greatest gifts cannot be bought. The world tells us that they can, and we see ads everywhere we go telling us just what our loved ones "need" for Christmas. I'm telling you, there is only one thing we all need, and it's more Jesus and His Word.

5.       Christmas is always a let-down. It cannot live up the hype. It is so fleeting and filled with unrealistic expectations. Depression is rampant during this time of the year, due to the death or absence of loved ones and friends, or stress from the busyness and chaos. Our children become so hyper focused on gifts that they can think of little else, and then are let down when those gifts do not bring fulfillment. We put so much stock in traditions, that when they let us down, we feel angry and stressed. True fulfillment is only found in God, not empty traditions. (Psalm 63:1-8)

6.       The world celebrates Christmas, in fact the largest Christmas tree in 2010 was in the Muslim country of Abu Dhabi. The world listens to Christmas carols that contain lyrics about Jesus, but are lacking in the gospel. There is no sting of conviction from the true gospel found in Christmas. Most people love the idea of Jesus as a baby… He did not say anything controversial then. Let us be in the world, but not of the world. Let us present the offense of the gospel, the offense of the cross, not a watered down, muddled version of it. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, Isaiah 8:14, Romans 9:32-33)

7.       Our Worship of God should be enough. Many people feel they need these special days to “jumpstart” their faith, which it almost always does not. Our worship should be grounded in spirit and truth, and it should be daily and weekly. We do have a celebration given us, the Lord’s Supper. Let us allow that to be our reminder, pointing us back to God.

8.       The final reason is one that has been impressed more and more on us as time has gone on. It has been even more convicting as we have been studying through the book of Leviticus. It is the holiness of God. God is holy and demands worship that is grounded in His word; worship that follows His commands. There will be one more post under this conviction heading, and we will focus on these questions: What is God’s holiness and how should it change how we live our lives? This has been the most compelling reason that has driven the nail in the Christmas coffin for us. We will dig into that more in the next post.


I want to restate, this is simply one of many areas in the life of our family that has changed due to God’s conviction on our hearts. However, it is a very controversial and misunderstood conviction. We wanted to share why we do what we do, that this is not some flippant, trivial decision that we have made. It is made through much prayer, study in the fear of the Lord. We pray that we will be open to searching the Scriptures to discover God’s will on this issue. Do not search or trust your heart or emotions, but rather let your emotions be ruled by His Word. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Conviction

This post is one that I have never wanted to write. But I'm going to do it anyway.

And this is definitely a "joint" post, meaning that Derrick is in on it 100% and may perhaps be writing some of it himself. At the very least, he will be carefully editing my words, for which I am so grateful.

Conviction. I used to think of that as an ugly word. Something I feared. Oh no...I'm convicted. Great. That means I need to either stop doing something I like doing or start doing something I don't want to do. Fun fun. Probably because it wasn't true conviction, but rather it was a sense of guilt and obligation, which is never very motivating.

It doesn't feel that way anymore, though. I find myself longing for conviction, change, and growth. Since truly surrendering my life to Christ about 6 years ago, I have begun to delight in God's Law like David so often talks about in the Psalms. Here is just one of the many examples:

Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life! (Psalm 119:33-40 ESV)

I used to think that life could be "in-between". I could have my comforts, my enjoyment, my fun, and also live for Christ. I thought that American culture and all of the material wealth and status that comes with it was some sort of special blessing from God. The whole "American Dream", was good, wholesome, Christian, and worth striving for.

I hope this isn't too shocking to the Christians reading this but....that couldn't be more wrong. Look what Jesus said the life of a believer will look like:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26 ESV)

I know it's not an easy pill to swallow...but Jesus is pretty clear about the cost of discipleship. Basically, everything this world tells us that matters, doesn't. And everything that God tells us in His Word that matters, does. The reason I long for conviction is because I desperately want more of Him and less of the empty, vain, temporary pleasures surrounding me.

Before I go any further, I want you to know I speak from a place of love, not judgment. The word "judgmental" gets misused more than any other word in Christianity, in my opinion. I hear it thrown out there just about anytime a person stands for the truth of God's Word. "What? You're saying we need to submit every area of our lives to God? How can you be so judgmental?" Let's take a step back and ask ourselves, "Is it really?" If a person is speaking from a heart that is soft towards His leading and truly desires to grow and possibly help others grow in the process, wouldn't that be a positive thing? Truly sinful "judgment" is when you are holding yourself up with pride while putting others down. If I come right out and tell you that you are a "bad Christian" because you don't do things the way I do, then that is wrong. But if a believer is just telling it like it is, sharing their convictions, and showing that his heart is to bring glory to Christ, there is no need for fear when others make such false accusations. Because God is the true Judge, and His opinion is all that matters.

I think it's important to clarify this before I go any further. Because a lot of what I want to share quite possibly could sound like it's coming from a place of pride. It is my hope and prayer that you will see my heart and know that it is in a place of humility that I bring this to you all. God has done so much in me. I am not the "me" I was, and it is all because of Him. I used to love the world more than Him, but He has done this in me:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV)

So, I don't speak for myself, as if I were someone special. I speak for HIM, who has given me a heart of flesh. I desperately long for His ways and it is my prayer that all believers will have that same longing.

I'm going to split this up into a few posts. Please, if you choose to read them, all that I ask is for you to open your heart and mind. I do not expect agreement, understanding, or approval. But, as this post is so fittingly titled, I am convicted that I should not keep quiet about some things that are so heavy on my heart. I plan to use a lot of Scripture, so it is more His words than mine. So, take or leave what I say, because I am just an imperfect human being. But, fellow believer, I pray that you will hang on His every word. Because it is His truth that truly sets us free.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

Installment #2 of this "Conviction" series will be published tomorrow. Stay tuned! :)