Archives for April 2012

Three Pride-Crushing Questions

I have been busy, busy, busy writing the workbook for the Bible study I am teaching in the fall entitled Becoming a Woman of Conviction in a World of Compromise: A Study in First Corithians. Since I haven’t had much extra time to blog, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and share a little preview from Week One of the workbook. You will be hearing a lot more about the study as it gets closer. Yes ladies, it is coming to a blog near you! 🙂

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This poem by Beth Moore has been up, down, and all around the world of women’s Bible study a few thousand times over the past few years, but just in case you haven’t seen it (or even if you have) it’s well worth a read because it really captures the dangers of pride that Paul has been drilling into us in the first few chapters of First Corinthians:

My name is Pride. I am a cheater.

I cheat you of your God-given destiny…because you demand your own way.

I cheat you of contentment…because you “deserve better than this.”

I cheat you of knowledge…because you already know it all.

I cheat you of healing…because you are too full of you to forgive.

I cheat you of holiness…because you refuse to admit when you are wrong.

I cheat you of vision…because you’d rather look in the mirror than out a window.

I cheat you of genuine friendship…because nobody’s going to know the real you.

I cheat you of love…because real romance demands sacrifice.

I cheat you of greatness in heaven…because you refuse to wash another’s feet on earth.

I cheat you of God’s glory…because I convinced you to seek your own.

My name is Pride. I am a cheater.

You like me because you think I’m always looking out for you.

Untrue.

I’m looking to make a fool of you.

God has so much for you, I admit, but don’t worry…

If you stick with me you’ll never know.

If pride doesn’t scare you, it should. If it’s potential to destroy you doesn’t force you to your knees in prayer on a regular basis, it should. If its insidious, deceptive nature doesn’t have you laying your heart bare before the truth of God’s Word and the convicting ministry of His Spirit every day, it should.

Proverbs 16:5 says that “everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.” James 4:6 says that “God is opposed to the proud.” Nothing builds a wall between us and God quite like the sin of pride. It pits our will against His like no other sin does. If you don’t want to experience the Lord’s presence, sense the leading of His Spirit, enjoy the sweet fellowship of His people, or see His awesome power at work in your life, just get stuck on yourself. Just demand your own way. Just act as though you know more about life than the One who created it. Pride is the quintessential God repellent.

Every outburst of anger, every fractured marriage, every word of gossip, every sexual sin, every grudge, every choice not to forgive, every church division, every prayerless morning, every occasion of nagging, every rejection or dilution of biblical truth, every act of blame-shifting, every pity party, every selfish complaint, every unwise use of money, every obsession with physical appearance, every instance of self-loathing, every “nothing goes the way I want it to” bad mood . . . every single area of disobedience in our lives is rooted in pride.  It’s  a “gateway” sin that stimulates our appetite for our own personal glory and kills our appetite for God’s. Sadly, a heart unmoved by a passion for God’s glory is a disaster waiting to happen. A life that worships self instead of God is doomed to self-destruct.

So don’t mess with this stuff!

But how do we avoid it? How do we protect ourselves from a sin that is so natural and so “at home” in our deceitful hearts?  For goodness sake, Adam and Eve lived in a perfect world where they enjoyed the unobstructed glory and presence of God 24/7 and they were still duped into believing that their way was better than God’s (Gen. 3)!  If pride can spring up in the hearts of people who lived in a perfect world, what hope do you and I have to overcome it?

Our only hope is to maintain a biblical assessment of ourselves. If we’re going to walk in humility, we have to know who we are and who we’re not from God’s perspective. First Corinthians 4:7 contains three questions that can help us do that. Ask these questions every day, “marinate” in the answers, and I think you’ll find it pretty hard to make too much of yourself. It can’t get a whole lot more practical than that!

  • Who regards you as superior?

News flash: You are made up of the same exact stuff as everyone else and are just as dependent on God’s grace as those you may be tempted to look down upon. God didn’t save you because you are amazing. You are amazing because He saved you. There are no organizational charts from God’s perspective. No CEO’s. No celebrities. Only servants. So regardless of how many people may “bow” to you, you must bow to Christ. He alone is superior!

  • What do you have that you did not receive?

First Chronicles 29: 11 and 12 says, “Yours O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty . . . Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all . . . it lies in Your hand to make to make great and to strengthen everyone.” James 1:17 says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”

I know you worked really, really hard for that college degree, you earned that position in your company by pursuing professional excellence, your kids are the way they are because you have spent lots of blood, sweat, and tears doing the hard work of training and discipline. Perhaps you have the things you have because you carefully planned and saved. I applaud your efforts. I think Christians of all people should be known for a solid work ethic and the pursuit of excellence, so good job mama! But can I remind you of something? You wouldn’t have a thing if it weren’t for God. We have what have – all of it – by His providential provision. Period.  When it comes to salvation, spiritual gifts and ministry influence, the same is true in even greater measure. I love what John the Baptist said about his ministry in John 3:27: “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.” He’s the same guy who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Pride dies when we understand the ultimate source of our possessions and position. It aint us!

  • Since you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? 

Pride is 100% pretense. It’s a sham, a fraud, an illusion based on a view of ourselves, our talents, our success, and our stuff that simply isn’t true. Pride says God needs all that. Truth is, He’d be just fine without you. Pride says “Look what I did!” (in the subtle form of a status update, of course). Truth is, you were just an instrument through whom God chose to work.

My three year old’s favorite word is “mine.” Yesterday we were at the park and every time another kid would walk by, he’d hold out his matchbox car and say (very loudly and proudly), “This car MINE!” I corrected him in a way he could understand but in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Boy, you are going to learn the hard way who that car really belongs to if you don’t stop throwing it in everyone’s face and start being sweet about it!” Unfortunately, Christians can have a “This mine!” complex. They can be downright nasty about it too. “This my Sunday school class . . . This my solo . . . This my (superior) theological viewpoint  . . . This my money . . . This my favorite worship style . . . This my kid (the perfect one over there) . . . This my favorite teacher/preacher . . .This my church!”  Keep it up and Dad’s going to have to teach us the hard way who our “stuff” really belongs to! Hmmmm . . . could the economic strife of the last several years have anything to do with that? Just thinkin’ out loud here.

I believe the perfect “bow” the tie up a this week of homework is James 4:7-10 which says, “Submit therefore to God . . .cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable, and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (emphasis added).

There you have it, clear as day: In God’s economy the way up . . .  is down. Don’t let anybody tell you different. Where pride cheats, humility liberates. It is the key that sets us free to enjoy the wide open spaces of a truly abundant life in Christ.

So, with my face to the ground, my eyes on the Lord, my heart for His glory, and my life in His hands . . . I’m ready to run free! Who’s with me?

Book Club: Twelve Extraordinary Women, Video 9 (Samaritan woman)

I think this one is my favorite AND I kept it well under 40 minutes! PROGRESS baby!

I apologize for not posting this last week. When I went to record my camera was dead and I didn’t build enough margin in my week for a do-over. So, it’s a little late. But, I have every intention of posting the next one a week from today, so we’ll get right back on schedule.

Enjoy! And as always, let me know what truth(s) in the chapter stood out to you!

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The Life and Death of Joy

The following scene has become pretty commonplace during playtime around here lately.

Shep ( 3 years old): Mom, come play trucks.

Me: Okay. What truck should I play with?

Shep: This truck. [He hands me his selection, I play for about 5 seconds, then he takes it back.]

Me: I thought that was my truck to play with?

Shep: No, you play THIS truck. [He hands me a different truck to play with and adds my old truck to his personal “stash.” I play with my new truck for about 5 seconds and then he takes it back.]

Me: You took my truck again. What am I going to play with now?

Shep: You play THIS truck. [He hands me yet another tuck to play with and adds my second truck to his stash. I play with my new truck for about 5 seconds and then – you guessed it – he takes it back and adds it to his stash.]

Me: Shepherd, do you want mommy to play trucks with you or not?

Shep: Yes. You play trucks wit me.

Me: Okay, then you need to give me a truck and let me keep it.

Shep: No, these my trucks, mom.

[Insert “the importance of sharing” lecture here.]

As Shepherd took the fourth or fifth truck from me the other day, I was struck by the fact that the scene being played out between me and my three year old is the same scene that plays out between me and the Lord on a regular basis.

I want Jesus to draw near to me. I want Him to interact with me. I want to feel His presence. I want to hear His voice. More than anything, I want to experience the abiding joy of walking with Him day by day.  To put it in the language of my three year old, I want Jesus to “come play trucks.”  There’s just nothing quite like the King of Kings and Lord of Lords stooping down into my little world and showing me glimpses of His glory in the various facets of my incredibly mundane life.  To me, that’s the substance of biblical joy. I crave it. I pray for it. I read books on how to get more of it.

And yet I’m torn.

You see, in order to “play trucks” with Jesus, you have to hand Him your stuff. In order to experience the fullness of His presence and drink deeply of His joy, you have to surrender what you treasure. In order to get those much-needed glimpses of His glory in the everyday “stuff” of life, you have to let go and give Him total control of what you hold dear.

You have to be able to say, “Whatever things were gain me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord” (Phil. 3:7, 8).

Jesus put it this way: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple . . . None of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his possessions” (Luke 14:26, 27, 33).

In these verses Jesus employs the method of exaggeration to make a really important point. He isn’t commanding us to feel hatred toward our family members and ourselves or to live on the streets without a dime to spare. What He’s saying is that our love for anything or anyone in this life ought to pale in comparison with our love for Him. Our love and commitment to Christ is to be so intense and all-consuming that every other affection in our hearts looks like hatred in comparison. Whoa.

Over and over again the gospels show us that when Jesus comes to “play”, He does so on His terms. And His terms include total, unconditional surrender of all that we are and all that we have to His Lordship. In keeping with our metaphor, He gets all the trucks. And even though I know in my head that His hands are the very best place for my “trucks” to be, it sure is hard sometimes to loosen my grip.

Every time Shep asks me to play, he has to decide what he values most: The pleasure of maintaining possession of his stuff, or the even greater pleasure of playing with mom. The reality is, he wants both. But he can’t have both. He has to choose.

And so do we.

The indescribable, life-changing joy that comes from experiencing sweet fellowship with our Savior is a gift for those with open hands, willing hearts, and contrite spirits.

Selfishness is the death of that joy. It cannot live in a stingy heart. It cannot flow through an unrelinquished life.

The bigger your “stash,” the smaller your joy.

So let me ask you, what are you going to do with your trucks?

The Day My Heart Dropped the F-bomb

I will never forget it.

Shepherd was a few weeks old, so I was a few weeks sleep deprived. Sleeping in increments of no more than 3-4 hours was doing quite a number on my mental and emotional state. So was nursing; changing diapers; hearing my baby scream ¾ of the time (my perception of things, which may or may not have actually been reality – probably not); watching way too much day-time TV; rarely having an intelligent conversation; looking at my post pregnancy body in the mirror; and wondering why in the world I didn’t like motherhood as much as “everyone else” does.

I was a mess. A depressed, exhausted, overwhelmed, discouraged mess.

One morning I was nursing Shep and our sweet, incredibly laid-back Boston Terrier sat down in front of the back door, which is his way of asking to go out. He’ll sit there for a while before he starts whining. If you ignore the whining, he’ll get his point across by barking. As Shep took his sweet time eating, the whining began. After a few minutes, it turned into barking. High-pitched, incredibly annoying barking.

As I listened to bark after bark, unable to get to the door and put an end to the irritating madness, something in me snapped. I couldn’t take it anymore. I finished feeding Shepherd, but him in his swing, barreled my way to the door, flung it open, and declared in a seething, angry whisper under my breath, “I am so sick of this F__________ dog!”

That’s right, folks. This Jesus-loving, profanity-hating girl who loathes the f-word more than I can even express watched it fly right out of her mouth. Not because of a near-death experience, not because I had been harassed or deeply offended, not because of anything else that some (not me!) might say warrants the use of such a horrible word, but because of a dog.

A sweet, gentle, mellow, innocent . . .  dog. (Isn’t he handsome?)

As often happened during that post-partum period, I started to cry. And then I started to weep. But this time it wasn’t the typical, hormone-induced “woe-is-me-I-can’t-do-this-anymore” cry.  It was the kind of cry that happens when God pulls back the curtain on the real you. When He gives you that high-definition, 3-D, IMAX theater view of your own heart.

The tears were tears of conviction. Tears of regret. Tears of longing to never, ever repeat what had just happened.

You see, my dog didn’t make me drop the f-bomb. Neither did the “pressure cooker” of caring for a newborn. My mild case of post-partum depression wasn’t to blame. My loneliness didn’t force the word out. I was not a victim of extreme exhaustion or out-of whack hormones.

All of those things mattered. They influenced me. They weakened my defenses. They weighed on me big time. They hurt me. They made it incredibly challenging to keep my eyes on Jesus. They made life really, really hard for several LOOOOOOOOOONG months.

But they didn’t make me sin. They didn’t make me drop the f-bomb.

I did that . . .  all by myself.

According to Jesus, my circumstances weren’t my biggest problem that day – my heart was.  He said it this way:

“Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34).

I can’t even begin to express the significance of that verse. Words are never accidental. They always have a source. And no matter what is going on around us, that source is always within us.

You know what I discovered when I took a good look into what “stuff” in my heart caused such fifth to come out of my mouth?

I discovered a deeply rooted desire for things to be more like they used to be, and a whole lot of resentment that such a thing was never going to happen.

I discovered anger toward my husband and even toward God that was fostered by a spirit that demanded relief and comfort.

I discovered an idol of my “ideal life” and personal ambitions which did NOT included 24/7 infant care.

I discovered an enormous amount of unhealthy guilt that I didn’t enjoy motherhood as much as I should and that I was having such a hard time embracing it as a “high calling” and worthwhile ministry.

I had allowed my heart to become a seedbed of discontentment, fertilized by selfishness and watered by self-pity.

A heart like that can only fake a smile for so long. It’s only a matter of time before that junk starts to creep up to the surface.

And it may only take a dog to do it.

You have to know that my honesty has a purpose. It’s not to make you feel sorry for me or to solicit advice about how “baby number two” will be easier. This is not a post about the pressures of motherhood. And it’s not really a post about the tongue. It’s a post about the importance of our hearts. It’s a friendly reminder that the root of your problem with your speech or any other sinful behavior is not around you, it’s within you.

And did I mention that’s the best news you could possibly get?

Here’s the thing: You may not be able to run and hide from your family, “fix” your difficult husband, find a cure for your chronic migraines, “deal” with your grief, successfully potty train your stubborn toddler, escape your duties to care for aging parents, crawl out from your overwhelming work load, avoid the person who has hurt and betrayed you, quit your miserable job, find relief from your financial strain, or take that much-needed vacation. Sometimes you find yourself trapped in one of life’s pressure cookers with no end in sight, no one willing or able to take you off the heat, and no hope for relief.

But there is ALWAYS hope for your heart!

His name is Jesus.

His cross supplies its cleansing, His Spirit empowers its changing, and His Word directs its feeling. (Yes, you read that right. I wholeheartedly believe Jesus can transform our emotions!)

Are you ashamed of anything that has come out of your mouth lately? You can sit around and play the “if only” game . . .

If only I weren’t married.

If only I could get some “me” time.

If only I didn’t have such a dysfunctional family.

If only my husband hadn’t lost his job.

If only I could pursue my passion.

If only I could get rid of this pain.

If only these kids would obey me the first time I say something.

But “if only’s” make you a victim.

Owning up to and confessing the sin of your own heart sets you on the path toward victory.

I don’t know about you, but I choose victory!!!

Nothing has had a more profound impact on my spiritual growth than embracing the truth that I am my biggest problem. My heart is what needs the most change, not my circumstances. My words, my actions, my attitude, my parenting, my writing, my teaching . . . my LIFE – it’s all determined by what’s in my heart. And nothing in my heart is beyond Christ’s power to change!

The same is true of you.

So don’t neglect it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t underestimate it. And most importantly, don’t miss out on God’s gracious provision for it.

Because you just never know when a dog might get on your last nerve.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart by acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

It is Finished

crucifixionDr. Eric Frykenberg was a veteran missionary to India known for his great storytelling and vivid descriptions of scenes from his 50-plus years in Asia. One day someone asked him, “Dr. Frykenberg, what is the most difficult problem you have ever faced?” Without hesitation he answered, “It was when my heart would grow cold before God. When that happened, I knew I was too busy. I also knew it was time to get away. So I would take my Bible and go off to the hills alone. I’d open my Bible to Matthew 27, the story of the crucifixion, and I would wrap my arms around the cross.”

“And then,” Frykenberg said, “I’d be ready to go back to work.”

Am I writing to anyone whose heart has grown cold? Who’s just too busy? Who needs to get away with her Bible, open to the story of the crucifixion, and wrap her arms around the cross?

Can we take a few minutes and do that together?

I know there’s a good chance you are reading this on your phone or tablet in car line, in a waiting room of some sort, or in one of the few places a mom can read without a child interfering – that immensely treasured sanctuary often referred to as “the bathroom.”

So, since you probably don’t have a Bible handy, here’s an excerpt from John’s account of the crucifixion, which will be focus of our time with each other today. If you are one of the fortunate few that is at home . . . in front of her computer . . . with no screaming, fighting, whining, or PBS Kids in the background . . .and your Bible is not buried under the mountain of clean laundry you just dumped on your bed . . . and you have extra time to kill in the middle of the day (i.e. pigs are flying) – go ahead and read all of chapters 18 and 19. Seriously, you won’t be sorry.

John 19:28-30

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. 30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

Here’s the phrase I want us to “marinate” in for a few minutes. (I already shared my favorite word in the Bible. Can I have a favorite phrase too? If so, this is it!)

It is finished!

Three simple words . . . volumes of significance!!!!

Forgive me for a second while I give you a little word study. I am, after all a Bible teacher and proud to be counted among the mighty army of “Bible nerds” out there. 🙂

The phrase is three words in our English translations, but only one word in the original Greek text – tetelestai. The same word is used in verse 28 where it is translated “accomplished” (NASB) or “completed” (NIV). It’s from the Greek verb that means “to bring to an end, to complete, to fulfill.” In the business world of Jesus’ day, merchants would use the word to mark a debt that had been “paid in full.

The spiritual significance is obvious (and exciting!). The Bible makes is ever so clear that we are all spiritually bankrupt. While the vast majority of people believe they can pay their sin debt off themselves through good works, that’s simply not the case. Our good works are like minimum payment on an enormous credit card balance – it doesn’t make a dent because the debt continues to accumulate. The alternative is to rely fully on Jesus’ ability to pay off your sin debt for you– which He did on the cross, declaring, “Paid in full!”

But it’s even bigger that that . . .

Most of us tend to view the Bible as a storehouse of little “truth-nuggets” that we can pull out and use in a pinch. If we are afraid, we find verse on fear. If we’ve gotten our feelings hurt, we find a verse on forgiveness. If we have a need, we find a verse about God’s sufficiency. If we are experiencing hard times, we find a verse on trials. You get the idea.

While I’m all about hunting down verses that apply to our specific situations, we need to be careful not to miss that fact that the Bible is much more than a source of user-friendly nuggets. The Bible is a story. More specifically, it is the story of a Holy, Sovereign God who devises a one-of-a-kind plan to rescue and restore a relationship with His fallen, sinful creatures who He loves.  At the very center of this one-of-a-kind rescue plan is the cross of Jesus Christ. Every verse, every chapter, every story in the Bible ultimately points us to Jesus and His sacrifice. 

The reason I bring this up is because it is a vital part of comprehending the magnitude of the words, “It is finished.” What you and I need to understand is that when Jesus uttered those words, He was not just referring to His life on this earth. Nor was He merely referrign to our sin debt. With those three very simple words Jesus expressed the profound truth that the divine rescue plan that God instituted way back in Genesis . . .

The plan that continued to unfold in His dealings with Israel throughout the entire Old Testament . . .

The plan that made shepherds rejoice when a little baby was born in Bethlehem . . .

The plan that would obliterate the curse of sin once-and-for-all . . .

THAT plan was accomplished . . . completed . . .fulfilled. As Jesus breathed His last and experienced the full outpouring of the Father’s wrath on the cross, God’s rescue mission was FINISHED! That means nothing else was necessary. The sin debt of all those who had or would call on the name of Jesus was paid in full. For spiritually bankrupt people like you and me – that’s incredible, life-changing news!

So, how does this phrase/word help us wrap our arms around the cross? How does it refresh our hearts and renew our minds? How does it energize us to get back to our less-than-perfect lives and ministries once our kids realize that we’re hiding out in the bathroom?

This is how . . .

Because it is finished, you don’t add anything to the saving work of Jesus. Everything that must be done for your salvation has ALREADY been accomplished! Your works magnify the glory and goodness of the Father, but they don’t secure His favor! That was true the day you got saved (if you are a believer), and it is still true today! As a mama who hates to “break the rules” but is well acquainted with failure, I cannot even express to you how freeing that truth is!

Because it is finished, you don’t take away anything from the saving work of Jesus. There is nothing you can do as a believer, no amount of failure or sin that can disqualify you from the blessings that God bestows on those who are His. You can’t undo what Jesus has already done! When God looks at you, He sees the finished work of Jesus on your behalf. He sees the words “PAID IN FULL” written across every sin you have or will commit. Those words are written across that abortion, that affair, that divorce, that period of life when you completely walked away from everything you knew to be true. When Jesus cried “tetelestai,” He was inviting all who call on His name as the only means of salvation to walk in complete and total freedom from the shame and guilt of confessed sin.

By now, I’m sure your brief window of opportunity to peruse the blogosphere, check up on your Facebook news feed, or thin out your inbox is all but gone.

What isn’t gone is your opportunity to make this Easter about a whole lot more than bunnies, ham, pretty dresses, and those milk chocolate Cadbury mini-eggs with that hard candy shell. (Which happen to be my favorite. My address, in case the Spirit moves you to send me some, is 2629 Brookv. . . 🙂 )

Have fun, hunt for eggs, do your best to steal candy from your kids without them noticing . . . but don’t forget to marinate on what Jesus accomplished, completed, and fulfilled so that you can really experience His amazing grace even when –no, especially when – your family members declare that you must leave the bathroom immediately, surrender your Kindle, and clean up somebody else’s poop (that may or may not be deeply entrenched in the fibers of your family room carpet).

By the way, I have really, really enjoyed “wrapping my arms around the cross” with you today, friend. We should do this again sometime soon.

 And now for one of my favorite songs . . .

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