It’s About The Gospel, Stupid”

“If the Gospel doesn’t drive the church in every generation, then something else will.” Alistair Begg

As we watch the world slip farther and farther into the ever darkening abyss, I find that I struggle to come up with an appropriate Christian response. I have a tendency to be reactionary. I keep my soapbox at the ready because it’s hard not to beat people over the head with the truth. But as I watch our American society circle the drain with the disintegration of the family and the values that made our society strong in the beginning, I wonder what my response as a believer should be?  Do we fight, or do we set our eyes on heaven?

I realize this conundrum is nothing new for believers. If you take a look at the first chapter of Acts, you will see this dilemma began then. Following His crucifixion, Jesus appeared to His disciples several times over a period of forty days. It was during this time, recorded in Acts, that they asked Jesus if it was His plan to restore the kingdom to Israel right away. They wanted everything set right for them at that moment. Sound familiar?

There was a plan, but that was not it. Rather, Jesus told them to hang around just a bit, not to leave Jerusalem, for He was sending a great gift to them there and He didn’t want them to miss it. He was talking about the Holy Spirit that would descend on them at Pentecost. It would be the great launch the early church needed. Imagine if they had decided to bug out of town early and missed out on that!

Following these final instructions, Jesus ascended and was gone. Real supernatural stuff. The disciples were pretty amazed by it, transfixed actually, as you might imagine. They just stood there, forgetting everything Jesus had told them, and stared glassy eyed at heaven. I’m sure they wanted to follow Him, and couldn’t help in that moment thinking of how great heaven was going to be. Sigh.

But then two men dressed in white appeared to them and basically said, “What the heck are y’all looking at? Jesus will be back just like He left.” In other words, “Don’t you have something to do?”

Lots of believers are stuck between these same two options when it comes to, “What do we do now?” It might be helpful if those two guys in white could visit a bit more frequently. You know, sort of clap their hands in front of our faces, and jerk us back to reality.

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Some of us want to see the Kingdom of God put in place here and now. We believe it’s the only hope there is for our jacked up society. We want everything to be in order, for things to look like they are supposed to look, and for folks to act like they are supposed to act.

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Others of us want to isolate ourselves from the horrible world around us and just fix our eyes on heaven, waiting for the triumphant day of His return. We long so much for heaven, we don’t want to be touched by the chaos of this world.

Both of these positions seem right sometimes, but neither are what Jesus told us to do in His absence.

It was during the forty days following the resurrection that Jesus gave the disciples the Great Commission to go into all of the world and make more disciples. It was about the Gospel then, and it’s about the Gospel now.

Our job in the absence of Jesus here on earth is not to stomp our feet, start petitions, and fret over the state of the union. Neither are we to isolate and wait Jesus out, hoping for that break in the clouds.

Our job, while we wait for Jesus to climb on that horse, is wrapped up in the Gospel. We tell, we show, and we GO share the good news of the love of Christ for all people…while we live upright and holy lives. This world is not our home, and it’s getting easier and easier to see that as it looks less and less familiar to us. These are the last days, and there has never been a better time in the history of the world to be alive, but we cannot miss it. We can’t waste our efforts on fruitless endeavors. I have to remind myself again and again, “It’s about the Gospel, stupid.”

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Consider the Source

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalms 19:14

This verse was used often by the pastors in the church I grew up in as they would rise to deliver their sermons each Sunday. But this verse is not just for pastors, it is for us all.

I’ve been on a words kick lately. It’s just where I am right now. The Lord is teaching me that words matter. Seriously, they really matter. The words we speak to God in prayer matter, and the words we speak to and over each other matter.

But not all words matter equally because not all sources of words stand on equal footing. This is a tough lesson. I can remember when I was growing up and someone would say something that hurt my feelings. My mom would often say, “Consider the source.” Generally, she meant it to be a comforting statement… meaning that person’s track record was likely such that they had no business throwing stones at anyone else. It did usually make me feel a bit better, but hurtful words still hurt regardless of the source. Why do those words from unworthy sources still hurt?

Because there is power in the spoken word.

I am learning as I grow older that the words spoken about me that should matter the most are those spoken my heavenly Father. He has a lot to say about me. His words are neither words of flattery nor condemnation. They are truth, they are convicting, and they give me freedom to be who He says I am.

I still care what others say about me. I have people in my life to whom I have given permission to speak truth into my life. When they speak, I listen. I consider their words because of the high value I place on them as a person of influence in my life. I listen when they say good stuff, and I listen when they say not so good stuff. What these people say to me does not change their position in my life. Sometimes you just have to take your medicine.

…And then there are those scallywags in my life who throw words at me carelessly. Words that are meant to wound and do harm. It is against those people and their words that I guard my heart and mind. It is those words that I take captive, search them for any truth, and then toss away any untruthful accusations. It sounds simple enough, but it takes practice.

I have come to realize that at times, regardless of the source, I have cared more about what others say about me than what God says about me. Those words pale in comparison to the words my Father in heaven says about me. Here are some examples of what He says about His daughter. (If you are his child, He says these things and more about you, too!)

I am His child, adopted into His family. (John 1:12)

  • I belong

I am justified and redeemed. (Romans 3:24)

  • I deserve my place in the family

I am no longer a slave to sin. (Romans 6:6)

  • I am free from sin

I am set free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)

  • I am life giving

I am the righteousness of God in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

  • I am pure

I am God’s workmanship created to do good works. (Ephesians 2:10)

  • I have purpose

I have been chosen of God, and I am holy and beloved. (Colossians 3:22)

  • I am loved

Wow, those words make me sound awesome, don’t they? But with those words comes a mountain of responsibility. My life is no longer my own, it has been bought with a great price. I must learn to live by the power of those words, and  use those same words to be a blessing to others.

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

We cannot help the words that are spoken to us, but we can sure take control of the words that flow from our own mouths. We have to come to a true understanding of the power of our words to impact the lives of those around us.

I have a sweet friend who is a godly young mother. She understands the power of what God says about us, and she is teaching her young children this valuable lesson. Take a listen as sweet Isabelle tells her new baby brother what God says about him…

Just in case you missed it, Isabelle said, “You are beautiful. You are kind. You are smart. You are strong. You are going to do great things for the glory of God.”

Isabelle is three. Those are powerful words. Life giving words.

Imagine what this little bundle of joy will grow up to be as he hears again and again who he really is according to God’s word. 

Way to go, Isabelle!

Manipulation: The First Tool of the Devil

Back when I was a PICC nurse, it was my job to introduce myself to a patient whom I had never met, and in a matter of minutes, convince them to allow me to thread a small tube from their arm all the way up to a main vessel mere centimeters from their heart. Over the course of ten years, I did this thousands of times. Incredible. Once convinced, I would need them to give me complete control over their arm so that I could manipulate it into the position that served me the best. They were no longer in control, I was.

That’s one of the best pictures of manipulation I can come up with. Another, more academic definition I found is this:

“To change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s own purpose.”

Psychology Today says that Psychological Manipulation is an attempt to control the behavior of another person. Usually people who employ manipulation use guilt or sympathy to motivate people to do what they want them to do. Guilt and sympathy are two of the most highly motivating emotions we have. If we are not careful, anyone can use this tactic to control another person. A friend of mine used to say no one could touch her Irish Catholic grandmother when it came to using guilt to manipulate folks.

th.jpgManipulation is completely different from social influence. Having a healthy influence over someone is not control. Rather it is a normal part of healthy give and take in relationships. Influence is based on long standing mutual trust. Influence is Glenda the Good, while manipulation is that green faced Wicked Witch of the West. When I think of the people who have influence in my life, they have it because of their good reputation of trust with me, not because of any abuse of power they have over me.

Maybe you have fallen victim to manipulation before. Maybe you have used manipulation to get something you wanted out of another person. As a wife and mother, the temptation is there to use manipulation to get what I want from those that I love. I could easily resort to guilt or sympathy, but the damage I would do to the relationship would not be worth it.

Instead, when I want something from my children or my husband, I should just tell them the truth. I should prevail upon their sense of right and wrong. I can use the influence I have from years of trust and honesty to make a case for what I am asking of them. It would be easy to slip a heaping spoonful of guilt on the plate to push them over the edge, but that’s manipulation. That is not leading them to seek godly wisdom in the matter. The best thing I can do is present the matter, tell them to seek God, and then do what He says. Shouldn’t I want more than anything for them to follow God’s leading?

Using manipulation to get what you want out of a person discounts the Holy Spirit who is able to do so much more to motivate a person in the right way. We have to resist the temptation to “help” the situation along. God’s timing is perfect.

Manipulation does not foster a healthy relationship. I’ve been manipulated before. I didn’t walk away from those people hoping I could spend more time with them. Just the opposite. The first time manipulation was used on the earth was in the Garden of Eden by the serpent with Eve. It is the first tool of the devil. That’s not the kind of company we should be keeping.

Are you being manipulated? Don’t forget your rights as a person, and moreover as a follower of Christ, to live out the life He has called us to live.

You have the right:

  • to be treated with respect.
  • to express your feelings, opinions and wants.
  • to set your own priorities as set forth in God’s word.
  • to say “no” without feeling guilty.
  • to have opinions different than others.
  • to take care of and protect yourself from being threatened physically, mentally or emotionally.
  • to live a life that honors God- above all else.

A Little Cheese With That Whine?

I’ve been thinking a bit about prayer. Most of us believe it makes some kind of difference sometimes. Some of us wait until hard times come, and then we pour on the whine. Would you like a little cheese with that whine? Would you like me to call you a whambulance? We pray most often when we are running scared, and our prayers then sound a lot like a 911 phone call.

The Bible tells us that the god of this world is the devil, and he has limited powers here. His influence is greatest over those who do not accept Christ, but he still messes with believers from time to time. While Satan is roaming around trying to devour us, right now, God chooses most often to influence this world through the body of Christ who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is through this inhabiting that the work of the kingdom is done through us. God will not completely rule the earth again until Jesus returns and the devil and his company are vanquished forever.

So how does God work in this present darkness? Some, like the early Methodist theologian, John Wesley, think it is through prayer that God moves. John supposed that “God does nothing but in response to prayer”. Meaning if we don’t ask for it, it doesn’t happen. Wow, that puts a lot of pressure on us, now doesn’t it? But what if that is true? If it’s true, then most of us aren’t praying enough. Most of us better get off our duffs and start asking for stuff. Now by stuff, I don’t mean stuff. Well, I think even stuff is okay sometimes, depending on the motivation.

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The Bible says we have not because we ask not. It also says if we ask in accordance to his will it will be given to us. Every good and perfect gift comes to us from the Father of heavenly lights. We just have to ask. He will give us the desires of our hearts, the Bible says, but we have to ask according to His will. How do we manage that?

Prayer is talking to God. The more you talk to someone, the more you get to know them. I know what motivates my husband for the most part because I know him like no one else. Why? Because I have laid down and gotten up with him each day for 26 years. I have seen him under pressure and rested, attacked and praised, sick and well, and everywhere in between. I know him. I’ve spent time talking to him. A lot. Others may think they know him, too, but not like I do. I’ve put in the time.

The more time we spend talking to the Father, the more we learn his good and perfect will and what motivates Him. The more our hearts join with His, the more our requests will become in tune with what He would want us to have.

I did a word search on Biblegateway.com to find the word “ask” in the Bible. It’s in there quite a few times. It generally shows up right before the phrase, “and it will be given”. The “it will be given comes only after the “ask”. Now sometimes God just does stuff. Like Pentecost. No one asked for that. God just did it. But for the most part, we have to ask. When the sick came to Jesus, He would have them ask for their healing.

My kids have asked a lot over the years. And if it is in my power, and it will bless them, I say yes. My kids also know me well enough to know ahead of time to what I will likely say yes. I’m guessing God loves me so much more than I love my kids. If the God provides for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, how much more then will he provide for us? Lots. I think lots.

Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. Is that even possible? Maybe. If we make absolutely everything a matter of prayer. If we are always in that attitude, then as we go about our day, we touch base on it all. I’m not saying this is an easy thing for me. I don’t have ADD, but I do have a problem sometimes with focus. I am distracted and I forget to pray. Now in light of all I have said about prayer and the benefits to me it can bring, that’s really stupid.

I have this idea in my mind that when we get to heaven, all the prayers that have been prayed on our behalf will be there on a reel for us to see and hear. That’s in my head, not in the Bible. Still, I’d want the people I love to have LONG reels. I would want them to see that I left nothing for them on the table unasked.

Watch Your Mouth

“But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12: 36-37

Ouch.

My kids didn’t grow up speaking with an Alabama accent. By the time they were talking much at all, we were living in Charlotte, North Carolina and so they all but missed out on having that nice Southern drawl. But they could always tell when Momma had been talking to Granma on the phone. For one, I would refer to myself as “Momma”. After a time of being out of the Deep South, my own accent had pretty much faded, but just a moment of talking to my mother brought it all back. Old patterns are sometimes hard to break.

Accents aside, patterns of communication are important. What we say and how we say it matters. I didn’t really understand that for a long time. I was fortunate to grow up in a family where words were not used to wound. There is great power in words, and for the most part, my folks used theirs to build me up.

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21

None of the words we say fall dead to the ground.

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I was a grown woman before I understood the practice of speaking life and speaking truth over someone. I was really good at giving compliments to people. Southern mommas teach that to their kids. Find something nice to say or keep your trap shut. But compliments are not the same as speaking life and truth, and yet there are worse things we can do than give a compliment.

A mother can look at her son and say, “You are lazy and you will never amount to anything.” Now it may be TRUE that the boy is lazy, but that mother did not speak Truth over her son. And that boy’s enemy (Satan) will be able to use that phrase like a recording that can play over and over again in his mind. It very well could be a self-fulfilling prophecy in his life. Have you seen that happen? I have.

Real truth only comes from one place.

Jesus says, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the LIFE.” (John 14:6) The Bible says that the WORD was God, and that the Word was WITH God, and that they Word became flesh and lived among us. (John 1:1) Jesus is the Word of God. The living word of God.

So let’s work this like an algebra problem. If Jesus is Truth and Life, and Jesus is the Word of God, then to speak truth and life into someone’s life, you must use the Word of God to do it. Now if algebra just made that much sense.

The truth of God’s word does not wound, shame, deposit guilt, and it does not manipulate… The truth of God’s word brings life, restoration, healing and real life change.

So if that mother really wanted to make a difference in that boy’s life, she should have thought more about her words. She should have ditched her hateful ones, and used God’s.

Maybe like this:

“Son, the Lord has a plan for your life and you are not likely going to find that plan sitting there vegetating on the couch. There is reward for you in hard work, but you won’t ever find a reward in laziness.” (Proverbs 16:9 and Proverbs 10:4)

Now neither approach likely would have gotten that boy to move from his lazy position in that instant. But the words of truth spoken over him would not wound him like the first example would.

It took someone speaking life and truth over my life for me to realize the difference between that and mere compliments or encouragement. Words of truth and life have greater impact. There is really no comparison.They can alter the course of a person’s life.

Now that I know about this stuff, I love it when I can do that for other people. You know when it hits the mark, too. They look up at you with wide eyes to see if you really believe what you have just said to them. And you do, because they are not your promises, they are God’s. And you know what God’s word says about those words? They never come back to us void. Never. The return on that investment may be long in coming… but it will come.

Maybe it is commonplace in your family for words to be used to wound, and you find that like my Alabama accent, it’s easy to slip into that mode without notice. We can undo a lot of things we do in this life, but we cannot take back words once they are spoken. There is the power of life and death in the tongue. It is up to us to choose life.

The Blessing and Burden of Motherhood: A Look at Mary, the Mother of Jesus

I’ve thought a bit about motherhood lately and what it is supposed to look like, and that has led me to think about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Now there was a young woman called to be a mother in a big way. How often does God ask a person to be the mother of His only son?

Um, once. Just the one time.

God has a plan for each of us, and he had a monumental one for Mary. It would be both a blessing and a burden. God knew that if Jesus was to arrive here the conventional way, it would require a mother, and He “highly favored” Mary for that position.

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I had a Catholic friend explain to me that the reason they petition Mary with their requests is that if they can get Mary to go to Jesus on their behalf, their prayers will surely be answered. Jesus does what Mary asks. Well, sometimes He did. Mary did ask Jesus to help at that wedding reception when they ran out of wine, and He did that. (John 2) But then there was that time when His brothers and mother asked to speak to Him and he absolutely would not go to them. (Matthew 12) And there was that time when Mary and Joseph actually lost Jesus. Imagine their conversation.

Mary: “I thought he was with you!”

Joseph: “You said you were getting him!”

I’ve been there… just not with the Savior of mankind.

When they did find Him, He was a day’s journey back in Jerusalem in the temple with the elders. Mary confronted Jesus over this perceived disobedience, and He told her He was being about His Father’s business (Not his mother’s). (Luke 2)

So in an attempt at not offending my Catholic friend, (I do love you, and healthy debate is good for both of us, right?) if Mary is actually sitting at Jesus’ feet in heaven and petitioning Him day and night for our requests, does that really sound like so much of a reward for being Jesus’ mother? The Bible does say that we have an advocate with the Father, but it says that it is Jesus. Not Mary (1 John 2:1). That would make her the advocate to the Advocate with the Father. Putting that burden on Mary turns her into sort of a lobbyist for our special interests. I’m not convinced.

So I was delighted when we took a look at Mary this last Sunday at church. Our pastor brought out the verse at the end of the crucifixion where Mary is present, surrounded by friends, in support of her son (John 19:25). Mary hung in there with Jesus when it would have been easy to turn away and be spared that pain. She was witness that day to something no mother should have to see, but there is an important pause that takes place in that moment. Jesus takes a minute and considers her there in his darkest time; He looks upon the woman who gave so much for Him.

In that moment, the part of Jesus who was fully man, was about to end. Yet He realized that while He would no longer need her in that role, she would still need attention. Jesus gave over Mary’s position in His life, to John, His close friend. The purpose to which Mary was called had been fulfilled.

As Jesus’ humanity left him and He became, once again, fully God, it was time to change Mary’s role. Mary would not be His mother, but His sister in the family of God. We might like to think that Mary has a super special place in heaven, she is certainly deserving, but there is no mention of that in the scriptures. (Some believe that the woman mentioned in Revelation 12 is Mary, but most Bible commentators believe it is, in fact, the Church.)  I am sure her reward is great, however, and I definitely look forward to meeting her one day and hearing the stories of what it was like to be the mother of the Savior of mankind.

All of this in no way discounts the role Mary played in the history of the world. Of all the young women of all time, God chose her to do this amazing thing. No one else can lay claim to that. It was both a blessing and a burden. Yes, I shall like very much to sit with Mary and talk. It would be a great honor.

Motherhood is indeed a blessing and a burden that most moms carry well. While Mary is certainly deserving of great reward, she would likely say being Jesus’ mom was reward enough. Mother’s Day is coming this weekend, and we have become conditioned in our society to expect a reward on that day for being a mom. I celebrate as a mother because God chose me to be mother to Landon, Ryan, Laura, and Evan. Being their mom is reward enough, and they honor me best as they give their lives fully to the Lord and live lives that honor Him. I could not ask for more.