Monday, December 24, 2012

Linus Monologue: A Charlie Brown Christmas

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation." 2 Corinthians 5:17-19

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What's the Point of Christmas, Really?

There is no point to Christmas if it’s noted only for its propensity to be a “holiday” in the sense of banks being closed, alcohol flowing, fatty food in abundance, free time, themed décor and materialism in the form of pricey or just exceptionally useless gifts.

There’s no point in any of it except for perhaps a chance to socialize or get a new iPad. And many people, if it weren’t for Christmas, would either wait for a birthday or a raise to go buy the iPad. So Christmas is reduced to a list that is “over” when all is checked off: visited the family, got the iPad, took a vacation from work, got some shopping done, caught up with correspondence, updated the family photo and tested out some new dip and cookie recipes. There may be a point if it’s about family photos and staying in touch with people from the past (but I hear Facebook is accomplishing this on a daily basis, so....)

Is there another purpose to Christmas? What about charity? Yes, the charity in December would most likely not happen if there were no such thing as Christmas. Intriguingly, what is it about the established “holiday” of Christmas that leads people to give? Many would attribute it to movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol” and the poem “The Night Before Christmas.” The feel-good prospect of giving is hard to resist. 

Thankfully, the United States is notorious for giving: to disaster relief, humane societies, and children’s aid organizations. And if that were the only point of Christmas--to take us into our pockets and unload some of our abundance to others—who would complain or find fault? But, like purchasing a new car, how long does that feel-goodness last (for the giver and the receiver both)? And how much do we need to broadcast or make a show of our giving in order for it to truly “feel good?” And when the ham dinner we donated is consumed by the receiver, are we still interested, say, in March? Or are we one-hit wonders? It’s better than nothing, sure, but therein lay a revelation. There is something about Christmas that gets us to do what we normally might not.

What is the motivation? Some of us are highly sentimental, like I used to be before becoming a Christian. I could be manipulated by emotional appeals. Not to mention the aspect of assuaging my guilt. But I also wanted the accolades of having given. I once donated “anonymously” and then told a bunch of people what I’d done. True, the organization didn’t know it was me, but others did, and they found out through me, the “anonymous” donor! Is part of our reason for giving or serving so that we can talk it up? I believe God desires us to get to the point where, whether we give anonymously or not, the point of Christmas--along with our Christian life--isn't about what we give or how we serve but what Jesus gives to us and through us to others. 

The point of Christmas is no different than the point of any other day. And that is, that when God is truly the One on the throne in the service He does through us, we have the privilege to experience the joy and awe of Him working through our person. We learn to trust in and delegate Him moment by moment to be our discernment, wisdom and service.

That is why Jesus came. His arrival in the manger is the hook on which this whole holiday frenzy called Christmas hangs. But Jesus is the one on whom each day hangs. 

He came to free us from ourselves, yet reconcile us to ourselves and others by reconciling us first to God. He came to make things right: our motivation, service, wisdom, discernment…our hearts. He came because, as someone explained in a children’s program I heard yesterday, we are out in Lake Michigan drowning in the pride of ourselves and we need a savior to rescue us. That is how God reconciles the world. By giving us the gift of the Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord, to knock God’s sense into us and bring us into His peace, joy and motivation, even in the emptiest and darkest of times. And on a daily basis--December 25 being just one of them.

If the tree lights just aren’t doing it for you this year; if the mint brownies don’t taste the same because Grandma is no longer around to bake them; if you have plans to go shopping for yourself during the January sales because you know whatever is under the tree will not satisfy; if all your giving of gifts leaves you hollow; and if alcohol only makes everything worse, then perhaps it’s time to find a quiet place and ask God to show you, personally, the point of Jesus Christ Himself.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10b

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’” 1 Corinthians 1:27-31

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” 1 Corinthians 2:12

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Go Tell it in the Mall that Jesus Christ is Born!

"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'" Romans 10:14-15

Saturday, December 15, 2012


"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Ephesians 6:12

Monday, November 26, 2012

How the Holy Spirit Works on All

Did you ever come across an explanation of something that finally put into words what you had been trying to say, but couldn't? 

Well, a daily devotional in Charles Stanley's October 2012 devotional magazine, In Touch, has done just that regarding the working of the Holy Spirit. 

See, people have often asked me how an individual comes to belief in Christ, and I believe the following explains the process. Then, people will ask me how the Holy Spirit works in a Christian's life, and again, I believe the following explains that process as well. Certainly one can delve more deeply into this. But for a plain-as-day summation, this is how the Holy Spirit began its work on me before I was saved, and how it works on me now that I am saved. 

Here it is:

"Jesus assured His disciples that it was to their advantage that He go away so the Helper could come (John 16:7). God sends His Spirit to convict people of their sin. Since the Holy Spirit is unlimited by time or space, He can reach out to every individual on the planet. However, His work differs with regard to believers and unbelievers.
God's spirit penetrates the unbeliever's heart and brings awareness of wrongdoing. He reveals that according to God's holy standard, that person has sinned and stands condemned by his or her transgression. Unbelief is the greatest sin against God, so every prick of the heart is meant to point out one's need for the Savior. 
As for believers, the Holy Spirit deals with us on the basis of our relationship with Jesus Christ and convicts us of disobedience to the Lord. In other words, He makes us aware of specific sins and God's attitude about such behavior. He also prompts us to confess our wrongs and repent, which helps us to become accountable.
Convicting believers of sin is an important part of the Holy Spirit's job, but He is equally delighted to make them aware of the Lord's approval. God commends righteous living, obedient actions, and loving acts done in his name.
While conviction is often uncomfortable for unbelievers and believers alike, it's a beautiful demonstration of God's love. He desires to bring us into the center of His will and keep us there for our good and His glory. The Holy Spirit's work makes that possible, if we choose to follow His promptings." 
From "The Nature of Conviction," Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, In Touch 

"But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. " John 16:7-13a

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Grateful That He Watches Over Me

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." Matthew 10:29-31

"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." Luke 12:6-7

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Can’t See Jesus? Get Out of the Way…

How you see yourself determines how you see Jesus: if you see yourself as being self sufficient, you won’t see any need for a Savior. This comment was made yesterday in a radio sermon by Dr. J. Vernon McGee.

Making a similar point is a quote I jotted down a few years ago from the Wall Street Journal which says, “Perspective is often the first casualty of self-righteousness.”

If our perspective of our self is based on our own high regard for our self, we are viewing our self from a warped perspective. We will be blind to the truth about ourselves, and that will blind us to seeing Jesus.

God is the one true plumb line against which we can measure ourselves. Only when we go to Him to see ourselves from His perspective will we see rightly.

And that’s a good thing. Because the last place I want to live in is denial, not to mention bondage to the darkness that is me. I don’t want to pathetically search and navel gaze into oblivion, making “me” a personal pastime, only to leave a “trail of busted stuff” (in the words of Dave Matthews) in my wake.

The old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The truth is, we’re all broke. And we’re excellent at breaking things and hearts. All of us. No exclusions. For those prone to using the “certainlywe’re notperfectwe’reonlyhumanafterall" line of thinking, stop a minute and ask yourself if that isn’t just the lamest excuse? So because we’re human beings we’re off the hook from change; from personal transformation? We can just carry on in our hit and miss pursuit of daily life because we’re not perfect? As if there is no number line when it comes to progress? Funny, man—imperfect as he is—has managed to progress and improve upon transportation, medicine, electronics, creature comforts, etc. But that same man cannot make the same progress in personal integrity? “I’m only human” is the fastest way to mediocrity and a wasted life.

It’s precisely because we are human, created by God, that we can progress. But only in the context of the author and finisher of our faith. He who created us also reveals how we operate. In His word we discover why we do what we don’t want to do and don’t do what we want to do. We also see the picture God has drawn for us of what life with him can be like, and it will contrast sharply with the picture of how we are living without Him.

The good news is that, over time, as we enter His presence and let Him work in our hearts, we will progress, in spite of our being fallen humanity. God is the one who makes it happen, but we are the ones who let it happen through our cooperation with Him. It’s a pretty sweet deal. We get to see who we are without Christ, and then who we can become with Christ. 

Once our self-esteemed selves get out of the way, the path is clear to see ourselves the way God sees us, and we begin to experience the personal transformation we have so long tried to bring about through our own efforts. Our perspective is reborn in His righteousness, and we accept, finally and gladly, our need for Him.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;” Isaiah 55:1

“Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” Isaiah 55:3

“Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” Isaiah 55:6-8

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thank You, Veterans

 National WWII Memorial, Washington DC

 Korean War Veterans Memorial, Washington DC

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, DC              
Photos, Barb Harwood, 11/2012

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations." Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, Saturday, March 4, 1865

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What a Wonderful World

"Many, O LORD my God,
are the wonders you have done.
The things you planned for us
no one can recount to you;
were I to speak and tell of them, 
they would be too many to declare." 
                                                Psalm 40:5

Saturday, November 3, 2012

For Some Perspective, Look Up at the Stars

Tonight, go out and look at the stars.
Let a contrite and humble heart confirm:
God is much bigger than all of us.
Our God who created the stars created us;
We don’t worship stars but Him.
Tonight, go out and look at the stars.
Know who we are in Him.

“He also made the stars.” Genesis 1:16b 

“Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said, ‘Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’” Job 38:1-4
“Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.” Job 38:18
“Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?” Job 38:31-33

“O LORD, our LORD, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8:1
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” Psalm 8:3-4

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. The LORD sustains the humble…” Psalm 147: 4-6a

“Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars.” Psalm 148:3

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tired of Politics? Que Sera Sera

Okay. It is an exasperated consensus among most of us that the presidential election cannot come too soon. Most people know who they're voting for, and have for quite a while, so wouldn't it be nice to ignore the junk mail, turn off the radio and TV and stop reading online news coverage and just kick back and remember what life outside of politics is like? 

In the days leading up to the election, I thought it would be fun to post some happy songs to help re-focus on the joyful side of life. This first song by Doris Day speaks to me, not fatalistically as some might interpret it, but humbly; it is an encouragement to do my part by praying and voting and then leaving the outcome to the Lord. 

Many folks feed an insatiable need to control through politics. But we are not in control. And so when people don't get their way in politics, they become angry and fixated on what is wrong, losing a balanced perspective. Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, writing about the Psalms for the JesusWalk Bible Study Series explains it this way:

Trust, he writes, "Begins with an attitude of humility. We can't rest when we feel we have to be in control. We can't relax when we have to feel like we're in charge." Wilson cites Psalm 131:1: 

"My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me."

Wilson continues: "Resting in God begins with humility--and perspective. He's (King David) not talking about squelching normal curiosity and inquiry. But there comes a point of obsession where we must understand. That attitude is part of the urge to control everything. There are some things beyond my knowledge. Therefore, those things that I can't fathom, that I can't understand why, I must be willing to let them go in order to rest in God."

We may not fathom why a politician thinks the way they do, or why people vote the way they do, or why the laws that are passed are passed. And we can't control outcomes; we can influence outcomes by prayer and voting and obeying God in His call on our lives. But we can't control outcomes other than how we personally choose to respond in any given situation. And even then we sometimes slip, later lamenting, with the apostle Paul, that we didn't do what we wanted to do but did what we didn't want to do (Romans 7:15). 

The only One who is truly in control at all times is God. And our trust, our "que sera sera," must be in Him: not the political process, or any given politician, or cause or law. Just Him. Que sera sera.

"But I trust in you, O LORD;
 I say, 'You are my God.' 
My times are in your hands;" Psalm 31:14-15a

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tony Evans: The Kingdom of God vs. Politics


The following quote is from Tony Evans, writing in his recent book, "Kingdom Man."  

     "What is important to notice about the progression of Psalm 128 is that God starts with the individual, moves to the family, moves to the church, and then moves to the society. That is how His kingdom works. His kingdom works bottom up, not top down. Yet everyone these days seems to be more concerned with what the White House is doing than what their own house is doing or what the church house is doing. When society functions according to kingdom principles, though, it parcels out the responsibilities for maintaining a healthy, functioning society into more areas than just the government. 
     A theological view of government is one that keeps the government small while respecting the influence of the church and home on a community. The church cannot afford to have the politics of men determining the operation of the kingdom of God. This is because God does not ride the backs of donkeys or elephants. He has His own kingdom agenda--of which government is a part--yet of which the individual, family, and church also play a large part. Whenever the church gets dragged down and divided over political sides, we have missed the kingdom. Just as the captain of the Lord's army informed Joshua before the battle of Jericho that he hadn't come to take sides, but that he had come to take over (see Joshua 5:13-14), the body of Christ must recognize that, for community impact to occur, we need to follow God's agenda. God's kingdom purposes transcend politics, personal preferences, racial divisions, and all other agendas. Only when the citizens of the King operate by the precepts of His kingdom will we see the transformation of our culture." 
         Tony Evans, Kingdom Man, page 195. 

"Blessed are all who fear the LORD, 
who walk in his ways.
You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours. 
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your sons will be like olive shoots
around your table. 
Thus is the man blessed
who fears the LORD." Psalm 128: 1-4

"So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God." Romans 14:12


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Spoken Word: Sin

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." John 3:16-18

"This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." Romans 3:22-26

Friday, October 19, 2012

Charles Spurgeon on Religious "Sacrifices"

Charles Spurgeon, 1834-1892, was an English Baptist pastor at New Park Street Chapel in London for thirty-eight years. He has written many books and sermons that I believe to be some of the best Christian writing to be had, not only for its sound handling of Scripture, but its unmatched beauty. The quote below comes from Morning and Evening, revised and updated by pastor and author Alistair Begg.

"Never forget that to keep strictly to the path of your Savior's command is better than any outward form of religion; and to pay attention to His precept is better than to bring animals or other precious things to lay upon His altar. If you are failing to keep the least of Christ's commands to His disciples, I urge you to be disobedient no longer. All the pretensions you make of attachment to your Master and all the devout actions that you may perform are no substitute for disobedience. 'To obey,' even in the slightest and smallest thing, 'is better than sacrifice,' however pompous. Forget the Gregorian chants, sumptuous robes, incense, and banners; the first thing that God requires of His child is obedience; and even if you gave your body to be burned and all your goods to feed the poor, if you did not listen to the Lord's commands, all your formalities would profit you nothing. It is a blessed thing to be teachable as a little child, but it is a much more blessed thing, when one has been taught the lesson, to carry it out to the letter. How many adorn their temples and decorate their priests, but refuse to obey the word of the Lord! My soul, do not share in their deceit." Charles H. Spurgeon

"But Samuel replied, 
'Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.'" 1 Samuel 15:22-23

"For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord..." 2 Corinthians 4:5

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The God Who Hears Everything

One of the things that amazes me in the marriage ministry my husband and I are involved in is how calm and composed people are when they are with us in a mentoring session, but how opposite of that they say they are at home, when they think nobody is looking.

I’ve heard men and women admit to being snippy, irritated and downright angry at their spouse or children on a consistent basis, yet when they sit down for an hour or two to discuss some pretty tense issues, they remain calm or even downright gregarious. So it’s difficult to imagine this same person losing it at home. But I know it to be true because all I have to do is to remember what I was like before I became a Christian, and when I, too, thought no one was looking.

People can project a jovial, sweet demeanor of integrity in public and maintain it for a few hours through sheer willpower and a deep motivation to promote their best selves. But even that facade, when taken on the road, say, on a weekend trip with friends, a church mission trip, or maybe an extended visit with relatives, can crack. Time, familiarity, and stress win out over all efforts to be an outwardly nice person.

It was only when I was brought into a relationship with Jesus that I understood that God is the God who hears everything. We can't hide how we treat our families from God.

When my thoughts, (which will lead to my actions and reactions) are selfish, self-centered and sometimes downright mean, I don’t like how I feel. I am thrilled that I can immediately repent of them and hand them over to God, in full agreement with Him that these thoughts must exit my person and never be allowed to take root. The actions, mood, and emotional stability coming out of that cleansing process are pleasing to God, and thus, to me.

It’s not easy. It’s not easy to be slighted, misunderstood or ignored. Our flesh wants to lash out. Our flesh wants to get the last word. Our flesh wants to fight for our rights. But God’s way is different, and His Holy Spirit always--I repeat always--lets us know when our thoughts are going opposite of God.

It takes practice to say, “Okay, God, you’ve got this; I give it entirely to you.” For me there was always, and still sometimes is, a “yeah but….” or there is this notion that, “I’ll sit down with God and ask His forgiveness later, but boy am I going to say to this person exactly what I’m thinking right now.”

But God is privy to exactly what’s going on in every situation. Just knowing that allows me to hold my tongue and immediately look to Him to deal so I can let go (of my emotional reaction, paranoia, hyper-sensitivity, irrationality, legitimate hurt, etc.). It doesn’t mean I don’t talk things out with people or that I just sit back and expect God to run my relationships for me. It means I stop reacting to my self and others and respond to God. And responding to God may mean holding my tongue (perhaps until I cool off and take time to pray and read Scripture so I can objectively work out the situation later). That is incredibly freeing and keeps my heart, relationships and standing with God pure.

“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.” 1 Chronicles 28:9

“O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.” Psalm 139:1-4

“Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Psalm 141:3

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Gossip as Idol

Did you know that I once lived in Chicago or that I got a “new and very important job” or that my 21-year-old son bought a house? No? Well, neither did I! Because these statements, though completely untrue, were presented to me as fact by people who had heard it through the grapevine.

And try to refute such things! I’m the “horses mouth” and when I say, “No, I have never lived in Chicago,” those supposedly “in the know” respond as if I’m lying! Their neighbors, family members and Facebook seem to hold more credibility than me, who really should know whether or not I ever lived in Chicago, had an “important” job or could now visit my son (who will first need to pay off his student loan and secure employment, go figure) in his new house!

So how do these rumors start, and why such credibility attached to them? It’s like when the Bible talks about wolves in sheep’s clothing coming into the church to bring a slightly—or not so slightly—different truth than the apostles taught. These people seem knowledgeable, often pose as being “concerned,” and speak so convincingly! And they do it out of a desire to take any scrap or portion of their own “understanding” and run with it to feed their self-esteem and need to be noticed.

I know about gossip. Before being saved out of the mire of darkness, I licked my lips for gossip right along with the next person. There was an importance and status that came with being “in the know” and drama and attention that came with that. Not only was it great to be the bearer of any kind of tidbit, it was then an opportunity to sit around and ignorantly and at length discuss that tidbit. The funny thing is, I thought I was a good person and that my mindless bloviating made the world a better place. In reality, though, what was happening was that I was craving significance and superiority.

Even if I felt a twinge of guilt about my conversations, I couldn’t stop. Like a package of Oreo cookies where the good and healthy person is convinced they can eat just one, only to find 30 minutes later that they’ve consumed the entire first row, gossip is nearly impossible to resist once we’ve gotten a taste.

“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8). 

The key is to not desire the Oreos in the first place; likewise with gossip.

And that’s where Jesus comes in. Twelve years ago He began a long and arduous work on my heart, which continues to this day. Of all the sins He has had victory over in my life, including drinking, frustration, needing to control, woman’s liberation worldview and New Ageism, just to name a few, the fleshly worldly sin of the tongue has been the most difficult. James affirms this when he writes: 

“Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go” (James 3:4).

To bask in the victory over other sins but not allow the Holy Spirit to tame our tongue is to taint, pretty much, every aspect of our walk with Jesus Christ. Like a ship needs a pilot to control the rudder, we need the Holy Spirit to steer our tongue.

How do we begin this transformation to being led by the Spirit? Well, one way is to no longer spend time with people who gossip. Just like I needed to stay away from alcohol and places with alcohol before I actually desired to stay away from alcohol, we can stay away from places of gossip-temptation while God creates in us a desire to not gossip (and He does that when we ask him for a desire to not gossip and then go to the Word and prayer). Only then can we begin to stand firm in Him instead of in the world.

I am beginning to let God test me with people who inevitably will say something negative and mean-spirited about someone, or will share someone else’s news instead of letting that person share their own news. I have verses in my head to guide me and keep me from slipping, and pre-planned statements so that I do not engage in the babbling. These situations always make my heart race, probably because it truly is a form of spiritual warfare. If Satan can make us slip with our tongue, it proves that our hearts are not with God and it blocks others’ glimpse of God in us.

I must also let God test me in my own thought life, to see if I can refrain from being the originator of gossip and general editorializing. It’s a discipline I cannot accomplish without a constant engaging of the Holy Spirit, along with daily prayer and Bible.

And the Bible verses on speech are endless! The two that convict and encourage me the most are:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah 6:5-7


“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” James 3:9-10

God hears everything even before we speak it. Sobering. We must begin with our hearts. James 1:5 says:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” 

Wisdom is a heart issue and will replace idle talk; wipe it off the map! As born again believers, God’s wisdom is where we must desire to live. And when we do, by His grace he’ll get us there.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.” Proverbs 4:23-24

“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” Proverbs 11:13

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18

“A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” Proverbs 16:28

“Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” Proverbs 26:20

“But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Matthew 15:18-19

“We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.” 2 Thessalonians 3:11

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Entitlement as Idol

This past weekend I turned 50 years old, and only by the Grace of God. I say that because many people resent growing old instead of seeing it as Grace. They resent growing old, I believe, out of a sense of entitlement to staying young. People feel entitled to not age in years.

But as a born again believer in the triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I understand that there is no room for entitlement in any aspect of my walk with God and under His authority and in the saving work of His Son on the Cross.

John MacArthur, in a sermon that you can access for free on his Grace to You website, writes,

“…some of the imagery that's used of salvation is, one, that we're born again; and two, that we've been resurrected. And how many dead people caused their own resurrection? And how many babies, before they were conceived, did something to lead to their birth? The answer is absolutely nothing.” John MacArthur, Sermon BRG-90-20

We are not here because we brought ourselves here out of our own volition. Therefore, we are entitled to nothing. Every day, every hour, is a gift of God. Why would I resent growing older when each day is a gift of the Lord, and for His purpose and glory? (plug in anything one feels entitled to: blond hair when we have brunette; a 3,000 square-foot-home when we have only a 1,500 square-foot-home; a new car vs. old; a leadership position vs. a secondary role; a man’s life vs. that of a woman’s; a woman’s life vs. that of a man’s, etc. etc. etc.)

I am not my own, I was bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Not only did God hold me in His creation before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) but once here, my gift of life, re-birth and days—not entitlement of life, re-birth and days—is of God and the saving work of Jesus on the Cross. God created me and Jesus His Son gave Himself for and to me, and I am now to give myself for and to Him in every thought, motivation, word and act. I am not entitled to go about in resentment arising from an idol of entitlement!

Yet many people do go about in that sense of entitlement, and miss the point of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit completely.

I thank God for the 50 years he has given me, and for the last 12 in which I have had the privilege of living in His kingdom on earth. I know that each day brings me closer to my true home, with Him in heaven. Until that day, God alone is entitled to my life: God--the one who sees me as the apple of His eye (Psalm 17:8) and who “created my inmost being” and who “knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).

All sense of entitlement is removed as “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:14-16).

“Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath. Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.” Psalm 39:4-6

“But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7

“Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us, no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.” Psalm 40:4-5

“For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Romans 14:7-8

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God…” Galatians 2:20-21

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Desire for What He has Already Given Us

I realized this morning that I spend a lot of time praying for things God has already given me. I pray for patience, love for others, compassion, discernment. Or I pray He would remove a character trait or behavior. But this morning I realized that I’ve missed the point of 2 Peter 1:3-4: 

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

Truly amazing! God has given us everything we need for godliness. Yet when we look at the end of the passage we see a disconnect: and that is evil desires. It isn't the qualities of God that are lacking, it is our desire for them.

It almost knocked me off my chair when I realized that I don’t need to be praying that God will remove a critical spirit from my life, or disorganization or jealousy or whatever it is any of us prays for God to eradicate. What I need to pray for is the desire to not be critical and the desire to be organized. I can pray all day long for God to remove a critical spirit from my life, but if I don’t truly desire for it to be removed, it won’t be removed! And the reason we don’t desire a particular sin to be removed is because we are still somehow enamored with it. We still desire it’s presence more than we desire its absence! Our corruption remains due to our evil desires.

It’s like a little boy praying that God would clean his room, even though the child doesn’t really desire a clean room. He may be praying for a clean room to get his parents off his back, or because his friend is coming over, or because he just knows that a clean room is what good children should have. But the child really doesn’t desire a clean room. 

When it comes to sin, we may be praying for a sin like gossip to be removed, but secretly clinging to our warped love of that sin. We may pray for gossip to be removed because we know it’s wrong, or because we feel guilty after wards, or because we want to be more like so and so who never says a bad word about anyone! But until we truly pray out of a pure desire to not gossip--meaning that our desire is to line up with God's desires--that sin will most likely remain.

2 Peter tells us that God has given us “everything” for godliness. In 2 Peter 1:5-7 we read that we are to add to our faith "goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” 

God has given us these qualities as a baseline, if you will. Only He can activate and increase them in us when it is our desire that He do so.

So my prayer this morning is not for God’s grace, mercy, truth, compassion, etc. My prayer is for the desire to live in the mercy, truth, compassion, wisdom, discernment, and love that He has already put inside of me, and to do so in increasing measure. I thank God for the fruits of His Spirit that I have only today fully realized already live in me; that He has so generously promised and provided everything I need to be in His will in all areas of life.

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.” Galatians 5:16-17

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:24-25

“I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:8