There are many good things in which we can involve ourselves, things that serve a purpose but at the same time rob us of the time and energy we need to achieve our true calling. This is a lesson I learned many years ago as I was confessing to a friend my burn out with so many good things (Optimist Club, United Way, and even Church activities) coupled with providing for my family, I was left exhausted. Instead of sympathy my friend offered me this stinging but loving admonishment, “Remember Tom, your family is your first ministry.”
I was reminded of this life-changing rebuke as I was pulling weeds in our strawberry patch this morning. Growing amongst my strawberries were a few beautiful young volunteer tomato plants. At that moment I was reminded of another piece of advice I had once received from a fellow gardener, “If it’s not where it belongs it’s a weed.” Though it didn’t feel right to do it, I took hold of those healthy young plants and pulled them out by their roots.
It is so easy to allow what is good to crowd out and ultimately replace what is best. Sometimes it goes against our very nature, but as we pursue what is best eliminating good things from our lives is just as important as eliminating the bad. The writer of Hebrews put it like this, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2. Not everything that hinders us is in and of itself sinful, but if we allow it to replace that which is best it serves a similar purpose.
There are many voices that fill our heads. Each day we are bombarded by radio, television, the internet, family, friends, co-workers, the public, and of course those inaudible words which echo – sometimes incessantly – in the private recesses of our mind.
Recently, my daughter Maggie and I spent the weekend being poured into by some amazing worship leaders and songwriters at the Kingdom Songs Retreat (KingdomSongs.org) in Franklin, Tennessee. The weekend was full of encouragement, teaching, songwriting sessions, and an optional open-mic night, where those in attendance could share a song. I decided against putting my name on the list because of course; “All of the songwriters and worship leaders in the room are way more talented than me, they had written better songs and certainly had better voices.” I was listening to the voice of fear – or maybe it was the voice of pride trying to assure I would not stumble over a word, miss a chord, or go flat in the chorus, I am not quite sure. Nonetheless, knowing I did not want to controlled by either, I picked up the pen and added my name to the list, not because I felt as though everyone needed to hear my song, but rather as a way to press against whatever it was that had lobbied so convincingly to keep me only a spectator.
Though this type of situation now happens infrequently, there was a time when I was controlled by many unhealthy voices; voices that validated fears and dismissed any positives in my life. Some, where spoken into my life by people whom I should have been able to trust, others were internal, but all served to squelch my joy and confirm my doubts. “If people knew the real you they would not like you.” “You’re a fake.” “Everyone else is better than you.” “How can you call yourself a Christian when you (fill in the blank),” and the list goes on.
The voices we listen to determine a great deal about how we live our lives; in victory or defeat, in sorrow or joy, in freedom or in bondage, in truth or in fear. Jesus said, My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. (John 10:27) To walk in our true calling, to be our true self, is to follow the voice of Jesus.
So how do we discern the voice of Truth and move beyond habitually yielding to those voices which seek to invalidate our call, silence our witness, and justify our destructive actions or complacency? By renewing our minds through the study of God’s word.
The apostle Paul encourages us, Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
The renewing of my mind began when I accepted as truth and committed to memory several key verses which define who we are as Christians:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 (NET)
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. 1 John 3:1 (NIV)
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 (NASB)
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:7-9 (NIV)
My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord or loathe His reproof, for whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights. How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. Proverbs 3:11-13 (NASB)
Committing verses, such as those referenced above, to memory allows us the ability to combat those destructive voices of fear, condemnation, shame, and guilt, which only seek to isolate and destroy. Realizing that God wants only the best for us; understanding the difference between discipline and punishment; and accepting our identity as a child of God; allows us to discern the voice of Jesus who is drawing us to Himself.
I confess, I have sometimes felt inadequate when asked my opinion on any number of subjects prevalent in the church today, only to have no definitive answer. But often, it seems, those are the very subjects that will – if allowed – divide us. I am not talking about those petty – though all too real – arguments about the color of the carpet in the church foyer. But rather, those things which, while bearing some theological semblance, have no real consequence on the practice of our Christian faith; a pre or post tribulation rapture, contemporary or traditional worship, the length of ones hair, and the list goes on.
But as I heard a friend say recently, “When we stand before the Lord these will not be the reasons we are welcomed into His kingdom, but rather that we served the least of these; those in prison, the widowed, the orphaned, the poor, out of a grateful heart.” John 15 tells us that when we abide in Christ we will bear much fruit. As we abide in Christ we serve, not out of obligation or as a means by which we receive salvation but rather out of a simple response to His great love.
There are many ways in which we can serve, one such way is to partner with a local pastor in a far away village we may never visit, helping children to have not just their immediate felt needs met, but also allowing them the opportunity to find hope through the understanding that in Christ they have purpose, they have value, and they are loved.
Over the years, my family and I have received many beautiful letters from our sponsored children and their pastors helping us to see that our support is indeed having an impact in their lives. We would love to take this opportunity to introduce you to a child in need and join us in releasing a child from poverty in Jesus name through the ministry of Compassion International. To learn more how you can make a lasting difference in a child’s life please visit www.Compassion.com/FryeFamilyBand
Close-Knit Family, Family-Values, Family-Friendly: These phrases are used to appeal to our senses when looking for a new church, considering which movie to watch, or shopping for a new vehicle. The consideration of family drives many of our decisions, and yet we see regularly see families torn apart in so many ways. Divorce may be the ultimate divider, but maybe not. In the fifty percent of marriages that do honor their vows “until death do we part” it seems relational strife between spouses, siblings, and in parent-child relationships are often accepted as normal, causing many to dismiss the angst this strife often brings with a passing pun, or a barbed retort. Even in our churches, where we talk about the “abundant life” Christ has to offer, these struggles are often no less frequent; Why?
I have experienced in my own life the difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. This may speak of information I knew intellectually, though it took time, experience, and a few hard knocks, to make its way down to my heart. Or perhaps it speaks to the much easier route: Accepting God’s truth through faith from the beginning.
Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, he who builds in labors in vain.” To enjoy the fruits of the “abundant life” in our homes, necessarily requires the Lord’s building. This means – not necessarily the surrender of, but – the surrender of the right to our vanities. The release of those things which hinder us from allowing the Lord to build our homes. So how do we do this?
Like any investment, it requires a willingness to delay gratification: to deny selfish spending of our time, money, energy in the moment so that we might know a greater future return. This may require that we reorder our lives by; Forsaking the corporate ladder for the family tree, trading in our sports car for a minivan, or giving up the bowling league in favor of family-game-night.
However, it is more than simply spending time together, it is about making our relationship with our Heavenly Father and each other a normal part of our life, through – not just going to church together – but through leading our families in prayer, devotions, and simply looking for those learning moments to naturally talk about life, faith, and truth. By sharing our hearts, our passions, and our hopes with our families, through the Deuteronomy 6 method, as we get up, lie down, and walk along the path, and by looking for opportunities to play, work, and serve together.
We can live in the same house as utter strangers, or we can invest our time, our faith, and our love into the lives of our family members and in that process we allow the Lord to ultimately be the builder of our home.
This will certainly not negate the difficulties of life, but it will give us peace and hope and allow our families to thrive as we navigate through this life together.
Recently, I was writing a magazine article when I touched on the topic of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not just a fundamental, but also a familiar word to the Christian faith. So much so that it can – like familiar relationships – often be taken for granted.
While it is common to think of forgiving others as something we are extending “to” them. It is indeed far more. It is also about what we are doing “for” us. While forgiveness is an unselfish act, it is something that not only frees others, but also ourselves.
By clinging to bitter feelings of entitlement to: our pain, our rights, justice, and the like, we are distracting our focus and robbing ourselves of energy, joy, and peace.
Conversely when we come to a place where we are willing to forgive we release, not only the other person, but ourselves from the weight of the offense.
Something which often impedes our efforts to forgive is the unlikelihood, or indeed even the impossibility of the offending party to receive our forgiveness. Perhaps the person who has wronged us is unrepentant – refusing to even acknowledge grounds for the offense, or possibly they have passed on, left without a forwarding address, or simply refuse any effort to dialogue. Regardless we must willingly release the offense and all rights to its pain, consequence, and reparation if we truly want to live free.
For a long time I suffered under the illusion that forgiveness required two parties, one to extend, the other to receive. This is simply a falsehood, which kept me – and no doubt many others – from even attempting to release ourselves from its burden. Forgiveness is an attitude of the heart; something we need to extend to others and ourselves, as wells as something we need to graciously receive when we have been the offender. Sometimes, when forgiveness is extended reconciliation can take place. Often it cannot. While true reconciliation is dependent upon forgiveness, forgiveness can – and often does – function independent of reconciliation.
I have watch many lives, including my own, suffer under the weight of unforgiveness. I have also known the peace that can result only from opening my hands and releasing an offense I might have every right to claim. Neither choice is easy, but only one brings life-renewing freedom.