Fly Your Flag Proudly

The Flag Page is your chance to see how you succeed in life, what motivates you and what makes you different from the people close to you.

It’s not a personality test, an aptitude test or an evaluation of your love language. It’s about what motivates you, what makes you tick. The final DVD in the Laugh Your Way To A Better Marriage seminar is an introduction to the Flag Page. Think of it as the banner that flies over your life. Historically, in battle, the colors are the motivation and the rallying point for soldiers. Your “flag” is that for your own life. In the “battles” of marriage, the conundrums of work, the daily complexities of life, what keeps you plugging on? What are you ultimately striving for? What, when you see this accomplished, allows you to sit back and sigh with satisfaction?

Prepare to hardly recognize yourself. When I clicked the last little box and my flag appeared on the computer screen, I felt like a foreigner to learn that I am from the “Fun Country.” I’m not especially humorous, I’m certainly not witty, comedy is not my forte. But, when I think about what motivates me, what my end game is – I want to make people happy. I love, love to please people. At the end of the day, if those around me have had fun, felt love, found joy, then I am deeply satisfied.

Patrick, as it turns out is from the “Peace Country.” That surprised me too. His talents are leadership, he’s hard as nails, his very career thrives on conflict, for crying out loud. But, when I look at what motivates him – truly, his greatest joy is to keep the peace. He is overwhelmed by chaos. What motivates him through a tough day is the promise of his comfy chair at home, escape from conflict, simplicity.

Yes, love languages are important and doubtless it is interesting to understand your spouse’s personality. But, I now realize how important it is to understand what motivates my husband. Obviously, a marriage is give and take. It’s leaning toward your spouse, working to please them, expressing your needs and sacrificing to meet the needs of your spouse. If you know what motivates your mate, then you can more easily to persuade them to come toward you and you can more willingly meet their needs.

I also found great joy in learning my own country. I was surprised to discover my native country, but thrilled to see more clearly why I do the things I do. I suddenly have an ever deeper craving to bring joy to others. I have a renewed energy to do what I was made to do, which in turn brings me even more fulfillment.

Go figure. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. What’s good for the spouse is good for the marriage.

Hysterical Marital Issues?

Two weeks ago, Patrick and I wrapped up our Sunday school class called, Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage. It’s a video series produced by Mark Gungor, head pastor of Celebration Church in Wisconsin. Patrick and I missed the first week, but had no problem jumping into the second video. We had a small class, probably the few bold couples who could endure Gungor’s humor. 

Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage is exactly what it says. Every problem you ever faced, argument you ever had, moment you nearly left – is fodder for mocking by the merciless pastor. Don’t get me wrong, Gungor is tasteful – moderately. Everything he says is entirely supported Biblically and the gospel message is threaded through every concept. However, as in his daily radio show, Gungor makes no effort to secure his audience’s comfort. Sex is wonderful. Pornography is a marriage destroying sin. Submission is badly misconstrued by the church as a whole. Women need to get over themselves and their expectations that men should behave like their girlfriends.

“I love to inspire people’s lives with truth and humor. There are a lot of performers that make people laugh, and there are a lot of speakers who give solid principles for living. I want to do both,” Mark says.  “Our secular culture over-romanticizes marriage and our Christian culture over-spiritualizes it. The reality is that relationships between men and women are very down to earth.”

Do you believe that? That relationships between men and women are really down to earth? In our marriage, absorbing that little nugget of truth, which dawned slowly on me like an LED bulb warming to full exposure, was life changing. Suddenly, we are more free to enjoy each other. Funny, my husband’s been telling me for years that I am too concerned about the state of our marriage. I have been constantly re-evaluating it’s health, worried if we are stronger than we were before, if we’re ignoring any warning signs, instead of simply enjoying the fact that we’re still together and applauding the nearly 10 years that we have loved each other.

For the rest of this week, I will introduce you to a few elements of Gungor’s ministry. It is multi-faceted, so you would do well to explore the site on your own, listen to his radio show and read some of his articles. Laugh hard, come back here and share your joy and relief with me.

So You Like Living in Prison?

Wanted: a woman with Angelina’s arms, Jennifer Lopez’ butt, Jennifer Aniston’s hair, Courtney Cox’s beauty spot, the flexibility of an Olympic gymnast and Jessica Alba’s legs.

No, as far as I know, that ad hasn’t been published anywhere. Thank goodness. But as I have been reviewing Setting Captives Free and sharing my experience with the In His Image study, I began to wonder: what image am I trying to portray? Truthfully, I’m not all that familiar with any of the aforementioned women, but I do see the tabloid covers at supermarkets. And I have never actually tried to imitate another woman’s physique, but I have obviously been obsessed with my own perception of the “perfect body.”

I am so excited to see and feel the changes in my thoughts as I work through this study. It’s supernatural. Yes, Christ calls us to transform our minds – it takes work. But, He gives us all the tools we need for life and godliness and therefore to be obedient to this command. Through the simple act of obedience, putting my head and heart into His word, my face on the floor and my hand in His, I am changing! I can’t help but be transformed into the image of the one on whom I focus.

I strongly encourage you to enroll in one of the Setting Captive Free studies. No human being, this side of heaven, is so free that he cannot benefit from one of these courses. Choose a Bible study if you’re not sure where to start. There are self-paced studies offered on The Cross, Onward Christian Soldiers, Glorifying God, Philemon, Psalm 1 and Ruth. The site is available in nine different languages. You have no excuse!

Find Freedom Today!

Welcome to Setting Captives Free. Every day we help people just like you find freedom from habitual sins and learn to grow in grace. Our Christ-centered courses are free of charge and help people just like you escape impurity, over-eating, substance abuse, gambling, smoking and more. Join the more than 390,184 people who have benefited from Setting Captives Free. We’re glad you’re here, and we’re here to help!

Sick in Modern Idolatry

Setting Captives Free, is an almost overwhelming resource – or better said – collection of resources. I was introduced to it by another woman struggling through her husband’s addiction to pornography. Little did I know that God intended to use it to address my lingering love of my eating disorder.

Setting Captives Free offers online courses that address sexual purity, eating disorders, substance abuse, gambling, Bible study, self-injury and more. Listing Bible study as a category seems a little deceiving because the entirety of each program is laced with Scripture and the conviction that Jesus Christ is the only source of freedom from these behaviors – more accurately – sins.

Within each category, there is a listing of 3-6 individual courses focused on that issue. Currently, I am studying In His Image.

The goal of this 60-lesson course is your complete and final freedom from anorexia and bulimia.

The course is written by Setting Captives Free founder, Michael Cleveland and Kim Schmidt, who writes from personal experience. Here is a link to Kim’s brief bio, but she shares many more details of her story throughout the course.

Personally, for years through many treatment programs and professionals I was taught that my eating disorder and battles with food and exercise addiction were a “disease,” implying that it was something that happened to me without my choice. Not really. Yes, Satan is our diabolical enemy who prowls about like a lion seeking to destroy God’s creation, especially those in His Image (humans.)

However, especially as one who knew Jesus long before I ever began to idolize food and exercise, my descent into this hell was nothing short of sin. Like ancient Israel, I walked away from a loving, all-powerful God, into the arms of a tangible “king.” I wanted a god I could control. In deeper self-evaluation, I discovered that the driving force behind my eating disorder was a desire to prove myself independent, needless – that I was not weak like others – I didn’t even need food. In essence I wanted to believe that I was my own god and self-sustaining.

What an ugly picture. God is using this study, In His Image, to burn away my dross. Praise Him that in the midst of my sin, I was no less saved by the blood and grace of His son, Jesus Christ in whom I believed. But I also praise Him that He would not allow me to spend the rest of my earthly life wallowing in pathetic worship of a false and powerless god.

Post Script Miracles

This has not been my day. You know those days when you’re just “off”? My husband says he didn’t notice it, but my dog did. He moped around me, followed me everywhere and manipulated me with doleful eyes. Maybe he was trying to make me feel better, but it didn’t work. On top of feeling “off” now I feel guilty for not being a good dog mom.

Just this morning we studied the intrinsic value of our marriage partners. The teacher pointed out that in eastern culture, the emphasis is naturally on the value of who someone is. Consider even the recorded praises of the Jewish people to their God. Most of their vernacular is centered on who God is. “Give thanks to the Lord for He IS good.” Ps. 136:1 Whereas, in a western church service, you will likely here people praising God for all the good He has done. Both things are true: God is of utmost value and worth, God IS good; and God has done great and wonderful things.

Where am I going with this? After nodding in agreement this morning, I walked out of the church building into a world of disappointment in myself for not doing anything of significance, worth or value. It seems, my whole existence serves only to extend my life one more day. I live for the sake of living, get up for the sake of getting up – not because I’m contributing anything important or necessary to the world around me. Ever feel that way?

What’s the point of cooking fresh homemade cornbread, folding laundry, buying a sewing pattern, feeding the dog, reading a book, washing the car, sweeping the floor? All these things done once must be done again and feel like an exercise in futility.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? Ecc. 1:2-3 At least I’m in good company.

Post Script miracles. The tag line on my day.

A postscript, abbreviated PS or P.S., is writing added after the main body of a letter (or other body of writing). The term comes from the Latin post scriptum, an expression meaning “written after”[1][2] (which may be interpreted in the sense of “that which comes after the writing”). (Wikipedia) 

What is the fragrance that lingers in the room after I’m gone? What is the P.S. beneath my signature on every friendship? The miracle is that because Jesus Christ lives in me, I believe He is the lasting impression even after my most futile days.

Oh Jesus, that I might follow so hard after you, be so taken with your direction that I will not fear even when my daily tasks seem mundane and my life feels insignificant. For Lord, it is not your choice to make much of me. You created me so that you can live through me. Take even my pathetic shell and fill it with so much of yourself that even when I’m invisible, unnoticed and tiny, the presence of Christ will overwhelm each spirit in my presence.

And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. Is. 58:11

It’s The Least We Can Do?

Counter-intuitively, the church of Jesus Christ has historically seemed to flourish in the midst of persecution. In Iran, China and Ethiopia, Christians are hunted, hounded, harassed and often killed. Pastor Youcef was arrested nearly 3 years ago. He remains in prison in Iran for “offending Islam.” Recently, an execution order hung imminently over his head. It was denied following international indignation, yet daily he waits with no resolution. In spite of this, the church grows. In July 2011, it was reported that the Christian church in Iran was growing annually at 19.6%. [oprev.org]

In Turkey, Christians are getting tired. It’s been five years since three Christian men were bound, tortured and killed in Turkey. [persecutionblog.com] The church is barely hanging on.

“Within Turkish culture, Christians remain vilified and are treated as second-class citizens. The news media often portray Christianity in a negative light, and some church leaders rely on bodyguards and police protection. In 2011, a Protestant group documented 12 attacks against Christians, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom added Turkey to its list of 16 ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ this year.”

 There is another blessed outcome of persecution.

“Let the whole world bless our God
and loudly sing his praises.
Our lives are in his hands,
and he keeps our feet from stumbling.
You have tested us, O God;
you have purified us like silver.
You captured us in your net
and laid the burden of slavery on our backs.
Then you put a leader over us.
We went through fire and flood, but you brought us to a place of great abundance.” Ps. 66:8-12

As a grateful Christian, living in America, it’s hard to know what to say. I feel refined in my own daily life, sometimes I feel like the heat is more than I can bear. Why am I spared the sufferings that Christians in other countries experience? Does God know that my faith is not yet strong enough to endure? I pray that’s not the case!

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” Revelation 3:15-17

Often we feel like there’s little to do from where we sit. “All we can do is pray,” is a common, comfy-Christian refrain. First, there is no such thing as “only praying.” I think we see little because we ask little, we expect little, we endure little. However, there is something else we can do.

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:13

Stacy Harp is the editor of persecutionblog.com. I asked her what I can do, what we can do, to raise the awareness of the persecuted church and to increase the fervency of American Christians to support our brothers and sisters. Her first, specific request is that we write to Pastor Youcef.

Would you do that?

 

While Christians Are Being Killed

You know that question: “What were you doing on 9/11?” or: “Do you remember where you were when JFK was shot?”

What were you doing on your last birthday? I was enjoying a good, craft beer with my husband after a nice, normal morning at church. The weather was great, our windows were open, it was pure relaxation. Meanwhile, 6,599 miles away, in Nigeria, 9 members of St. Finbar’s Catholic Church were killed during a not-so-normal 10:30 a.m. church service.

What if there were youth stationed outside your church as security detail during your Sunday morning service? What if those youth had to detain a car loaded with explosives and self-proclaimed martyrs ready to detonate themselves as long as they could take you out with them?

“We attacked simply because it’s a church, and we can decide to attack any other church,” spokesman Abu Qaqa told United Press International (UPI). “We have just started.”

What would you do? A growing number of Nigerian Christians are reaching their limit. They have endured unprovoked attacks against their churches, their homes and their families. “We are tired of turning the other cheek,” one man explained in 2010. That was 2 years ago! Do you hear the echo of Habakkuk 1:2?

“How long, LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’
but you do not save?”

Clergymen gather around the coffins of the victims of the Christmas day bombing at St Theresa Catholic Church Madalla, during a mass funeral for the victims, outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, February 1, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Easter Sunday, I was again in church. We had entertained friends over brunch. I wept in worship, lifting my hands to familiar songs and resting in familiar words from the pulpit. I know that Jesus is omnipresent, I know that He is with me at all times, everywhere, but on Easter Sunday, there was another attack on Christians in Nigeria. This one killed several more people. Why do I imagine that His eyes and heart were drawn passionately toward His hurting people. That must be the definition of filling up the sufferings of Christ (Col. 1:24) He knows their pain personally.

I wonder if Christ will ask us one day, “Where were you when my people were being slaughtered because they dared to gather together and worship me?” What will I tell Him? Where was my heart? Where were my prayers? What are we doing?

Attacks Claimed by Boko Haram

July 2009: Attacks and clashes in Bauchi and Maiduguri leave 800 people dead.
December 2010: Bombings in central Nigeria and church attacks in the northeast kill 86 people.
June 26, 2011: Attack on a Maiduguri bar kills 25 people.
August 25, 2011: Attacks on police station in Gombi and two banks kill 12 people.
August 26, 2011: Suicide bomber kills 23 people at U.N. building in Abuja.
November 4, 2011: Damaturu, Potiskum bombings kill 65 people.
December 25, 2011: Christmas Day bombings across Nigeria kill 39 people.

taken from: Voice Of America, http://www.voanews.com

 

 

Shhhh…It’s the Quietest Gospel

The Quietest Gospel. Kind of self explanatory, but Wax explains there are a couple angles. For the sake of baiting you to read the book, I’ll only explain the version that I struggle with the most.

The conservative version maintains the appearance of prophetic speech by speaking out against certain sins. But it often reduces the gospel announcement by relegating its implications to personal fulfillment in a way that makes the church irrelevant to public discourse. (pg. 140)

Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow Him. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (quoted on pg 140)

The problem is I observe plenty blatant sins in my daily life. It’s easy enough (though sometimes I wimp out even still) to declare that am pro-life and abortion is wrong, that taking God’s name in vain is a sin, that stealing is wrong and so is sexual immorality and lying and abuse and sorcery and… you get my drift. Many people, priding themselves on morality, would support these assertions. However, the true Gospel calls me to more than that.

Where is a Christian living out the bold apostolic Gospel that defies evil even when to do so will cause pain? Where is the Christian willing to take the true Gospel for all its political assertions, for its nitty-gritty implications on everyday life? I suggest to you that there aren’t many living in the United States.

It is frequently heard from our pulpits, “Just preach the gospel.” I have heard many Christians say, “I don’t really say much about my faith, I just hope people see Jesus in my life.” That’s not the Biblical Gospel.

Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, Amos, and Ezekiel had no trouble holding together the proclamation of good news with the prophetic call to care for the poor and needy, to stop economically unjust practices, and to return to a heartfelt worship of God.” (pg. 145)

I think on a smaller scale of other examples of a quietest gospel: when we’re afraid to raise our hands in church or kneel in worship because of what others may think; when we don’t give money to that homeless person because we don’t know their real motives; when we don’t tell the truth about where we’ll be on Sunday morning when asked to make other plans. Anything sound familiar?

This morning I began my quiet time as usual with my journal open on my lap. Suddenly, after a few pages of drivel and standard prayer requests, the Holy Spirit dug deep into my heart. He asked me, “Abby, if there were no hell, would you love me?”

What?

“If there were no eternal consequence to sin, no fiery hell to be avoided, would you love me? Or would you say, ‘A little longer, I’ve almost got it right down here;’ or, ‘I’m actually enjoying this for now.’ How passionate is your love for me? Is it greater, louder, more fulfilling than your comfort, your reputation, your self-esteem?”

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. Hebrews 12:1-4

The Moralistic Appeal

On Monday, I confessed several ways that I see the moralistic gospel veiling pride in my own life. Continued reading reminded me of a specific instance, or several instances.

When I was 14, I began a long struggle with anorexia. I endured hours and hours of counseling. I was treated from every angle – coddling and compassion for the disease that assailed me, conviction and chastisement for  yielding to a sinful addiction. At first, it was easier to lean into the people who felt sorry for me. But, as God has peeled away the scabs of pride, painfully revealing my frailty and failures, I realized that I had been lured into sin.

Personally, my eating disorder was a mask for pride. I had invented my own moral code: extreme bodily self-control. I berated myself for succumbing to food or a shortened workout. I looked down on others who couldn’t mortify their own desires. So pride festered, manifesting itself in my own bodily destruction – what sin will always do.

When I married, my wonderful husband turned out to be human too. I won’t confess his weaknesses, but he had a few addictions and failures of his own. I mounted my moralistic ladder and instead of displaying Christ’s love to him, I preached a moralistic gospel. He didn’t measure up to my personal moral code, he wasn’t reading the Bible as much I was, he wasn’t seeking Godly counsel as I was, he wasn’t fighting his demons as valiantly as I was. So I lambasted him for his shortcomings. Regrettably, I even doubted his salvation.

Case in point – a moralistic gospel.

If I can refine one nugget of gold from the years of my eating disorder, it is that God used it later in life to show me how patient, graceful and forgiving He had been toward me. God even showed me how my own family had displayed the true gospel toward me in the midst of my eating disorder. In this way, He convicted me of my counterfeit life-preaching toward my husband. If God stooped so low as to redeem me from the pit of rebellion, how could I insist that anyone else climb out of the pit, clean themselves off and then present themselves to the God of Grace?

Wax’s chapter on the moralistic gospel in Counterfeit Gospels, rings true in my own history. I pray the Lord to keep me humbly in the center of the one true gospel.