“Return to your home and declare how much The Lord has done for you.’ And he went away, declaring throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him."- Luke 8:39
"So, Adam, what your story?" the young man said to his friend as he sat down at the table next to me at the coffee shop. With that one question, the young man unleashed many years of pain, hurt and frustration. The other man, in turn, listened with grace and compassion. As he responded, he used Scripture to pierce this man's heart and let him know that there was hope despite his circumstances.
Our stories are paramount to our witness as Christ's followers. Our testimonies are those stories and circumstances that have shaped who we are. Those stories can be used to proclaim God's goodness and presence in our lives.
We all have stories to share. Even if someone kept on the straight and narrow, that is still a story to be shared. How can someone have a good life without the Holy Spirit's guidance and the person's avoidance of sin? No one can live a good life without Christ. Otherwise, their actions are filthy rags in his sight. Our stories of hope and redemption help us identify with the world in a way that lets them relate to us, not be repelled by us.
God wants us to share those stories with the world. God doesn't need to be defended. He needs His people to speak about what he is doing in our lives today.
What's your story? How can you share that story with others?
"But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it on the day of judgment." Matthew 12:36
"Mom, Caleb is being mean to me," my daughter said as she came into the living room. A long vacation had long since begun, leaving within it two bored, cranky kids. Irritated about the interruption, I snapped back. "Go find something to do, or go to your room."
"I don't want to hear it anymore! That's it. Go to your room. You are being ridiculous!" My daughter, with a dejected look on her face, trudged up to her room, clearly not knowing why she was headed there in the first place.
With just a few words, I turned an otherwise happy child into a downcast one. It was like I let the air out of her tires, except I forgot to plug it back up when I was done. Without care and compassion, I had chipped away at her self-esteem. I dismissed her thoughts and feelings without listening to her. I was more focused on what I wanted to get done, than on mediating the situation properly. I let the words slip out of my mouth without thinking, and now, I could never get them back.
Words can be used as a catalyst for joy and hope, or they can be used as a weapon, destroying those who hear them. I could have taken a break from the situation or asked her to find a reasonable solution. But I didn't. I let unkind words destroy her fragile ego. For every word I utter, I will have to account for not only in God's eyes but also in others’ lives as well. What would people say about me if asked how I use my words? Would they say I use them as a weapon, wielding them around carelessly, or would they say I use them as a force field to repel the unkindness of the world?
How do you use your words: As an instrument of love and peace, or a weapon of destruction?
"Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church."- Ephesians 4:15
"What are you accusing me of? I don't like what you are insinuating," I shouted at a client. Although it was not directly stated, someone was calling my integrity into question-- and stealing my reputation as a result. At first, I addressed the client's concerns with patience and compassion, but as the argument escalated, simple concerns turned into character assassinations. As the conversation became heated, so did my temper. Soon the words I was allowing flow from my mouth were far from the kind and compassionate ones spoken just a few moments before.
It was easy to see that the argument was simply an attack from the enemy meant to divide us. But instead of taking a breather and reflecting on the good working relationship we had for months, the words I used (although speaking truth) were unacceptable because they were missing one important ingredient-- love. My heart was quickly emptied of compassion, kindness and gentleness and filled with selfishness and greed. Instead of laying down my rights, I was holding onto them for dear life. Instead of blessing the client, I was reacting out of past hurts and anger. I was speaking the truth, but certainly not loving the individual when I was doing it.
I find it interesting the distinct connection between our words and our hearts. We can say our hearts are pure, but are our words? Truth is only as good as a person's heart is willing to receive it.
Are you speaking the truth, only to have it fall on deaf ears? How can you change your words so the truth can penetrate the receiver's heart?
I have a confession to make: I don’t trust God.
I say I do, but my actions prove otherwise. I often question God when things happen that don’t fit my definition of justice. I sometimes doubt that God has my best interests in mind. In those moments, however, God asks me to trust Him, simply because He tells me to.
Jesus asked Peter to trust Him, too. In Luke 5: 4-5, Jesus’ words helped meet Peter’s need for fish: ‘“Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”’ Simon answered, ‘“Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”’ When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.”
Five words increased Peter’s faith. No matter how hard he tried, Peter could not seem to catch any fish. God asked Peter to believe simply because He told him to. Jesus blessed Peter abundantly because of his obedience.
God speaks in a myriad of ways to us. He speaks through His word; through his people; through a whisper to our hearts. It’s whether or not I’m willing to obey those words tests my loyalty as a follower of Jesus.
God calls us to step out in faith, simply because He says so. Are you willing to take the challenge?
“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24
The knife went in, only a bit deeper this time. Some congregation members had spread gossip about my husband and I, ruining our reputation not only in our community but with our leadership team as well. People who we thought were friends became our enemies. I felt like I was walking to the guillotine to be executed the day I walked in to a meeting to confront our accusers.
Why do people in the ministry get treated this way? I thought to myself.
Insults were hurled; accusations were made; feelings were hurt.
After a hostile meeting, we, along with the accusers parted ways, but not amicably.
A myriad of emotions stung my psyche. Hurt. Betrayal. Anger.
They were supposed to be our friends. How could they do this to us?
As time went on, a new set of emotions emerged. Bitterness. Resentment. Rage.
I was hesitant to forgive and reluctant to trust anyone again.
As I reflected on my feelings, God reminded me of this verse in Luke 6:27-28:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
My friends have become my enemies, but that doesn’t mean they have to stay that way.
After reading that verse, I knew I had the best weapon of all—the gift of blessing. Satan was trying to steal our joy, but I wasn’t going to let him get away with it. As God always does, He allows us to take part in the redemptive work He is doing in the lives of His children, thwarting Satan’s plans to seek vengeance. That meant instead of seeking retaliation, I could seek to bless those who curse me.
Easier said than done.
I presented myself a challenge. For one week, I would pray a prayer of blessing over my enemies, in the hopes that it would not only change my perspective on the situation, but also my heart. Only God could want me to offer this to Him, because I resisted it with every fiber of my being.
Reluctantly, I sat in my chair and spoke this prayer aloud:
“Lord, please bless ________. I know he/she is my enemy right now, but please bring your healing to the situation. Turn our turmoil into peace, our sorrow into joy, and our despair into hope.”
On Monday, the words were like eating sour lemons—downright unpleasant. By Wednesday, they came a bit more naturally. By Friday, they tasted sweet like honey, rewarding not only them but me too.
Praying a prayer of blessing over my enemies is a tall order. When I think about the situation, it still brings up feelings of anger and betrayal. Yet Jesus afforded me that gift with His death on the cross. If He can bless His enemies, than so can I. It’s far from easy, but definitely worth it because blessing someone who hates me makes me love them even more. Every time I do it, something within me changes. My character becomes more like Jesus. The words become less bitter and a little sweeter. My thoughts are a little less angry and a little more peaceful.
I hope one morning when I utter those words, I won’t have to think twice about them. I hope they will roll off my tongue with ease. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m getting there.
My soul is feeling pretty sweet right now.
"But the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart, and these defile them."- Matthew 15:18
When I was a little kid, part of my nighttime routine was to brush my teeth in the bathroom. Placing the tube in my chunky hands, I'd gingerly apply the toothpaste to the brush, only to have it splatter everywhere. I'd grab the toilet paper, desperately wiping away the excess and trying to wipe the bristles in an attempt to put it back into the tube. But no matter how hard I tried, I could never put the toothpaste back into the tube. It was out, and there was nothing I could do about it.
It's the same with my words. Sometimes what comes out is encouraging and loving and comes from a place of love and compassion. Other times what comes out is vile and destructive and comes from a place of hidden anger and hurt.
My words are a by- product of the condition of my heart. When my heart is close to God and I have confessed my sin to Him, my words are encouraging and give life to others. When my heart is corroded, my words bring death and corruption.
The key to deepening our spiritual growth is to check the condition of your heart often. Don't let unconfessed sin corrode your heart. For out of your heart, your words result.
Do you have sin you need to confess to God? Is your heart right before Him?
“The sin of Judah is written down with an iron stylus; with a diamond point it is engraved upon the tablet of their heart, And on the horns of their altars.” Jeremiah 17:1
You’re no good.
God can’t use you.
You will never be forgiven.
These were just some of the words I was telling myself. I was caught in a habitual sin and could not get out of it. No matter how much willpower I exerted or how many times I confessed my sin to God, I still found myself entangled in sin. Frustrated, I gave up. I began to believe the lies I was telling myself. Like the scripture above, I had written my sin on my heart with an iron stylus, never to be eradicated.
During the time of Jeremiah, Jesus had not yet served as our sacrifice. Therefore, the sins of the people were forever remembered, atoned for only with animal sacrifices. Those people had not experienced the hope that could only be found through Christ’s death and resurrection. The shame weighed so heavily on them it was difficult to overcome it.
But times have changed. Through Jesus, we have new life! No longer does my sin have to be written by an iron stylus on my heart. Instead, it is engraved on the palms of Jesus’ nail scarred hands, covered over by his blood.
Just as I don’t have to carry the burden of my sin; neither do you. No longer does our sin have to be engraved upon our hearts, a remembrance of our past failures. With accepting Christ’s hope and forgiveness, my sin is erased and my name gets to be written in permanent ink—into his book of life.
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"Again He said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.' Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, 'Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life."’ Ezekiel 37:4-5
At a recent speaking engagement, I was called to speak about the importance of small groups in a disciple's spiritual growth. But to be honest, I was experiencing one of those dry times, much like the above Scriptures speaks about. I was burned out on ministry, burned out on writing and burned out on life. I wasn't sure how I would make it through the talk, when this once very passionate topic now seemed lifeless and useless. As I practiced my presentation, I felt The Lord whisper to my heart, a feeling I had not experienced in quite some time. "I want you to forget what you have written down and just share your story," He said. The day came, and I still felt like I should share my story. I kept my notes in front of me, but relied on The Lord to give me the words to say. As I shared my story, the audience became engaged and became more interested in joining a small group within their churches because of what I had shared. Almost half of the audience signed up to join a small group!
My point is this: we all have times in our life when we feel "dry" spiritually. But by hearing and applying the word of God to our lives, not only do we resuscitate our own spiritual lives, we encourage growth in others' lives as well.
Are you going through a dry time spiritually? Who has God placed in your life that you can talk to who may be able to bring life back to your spiritual life?
"Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them round your neck, write them on your tablet of your heart."- Proverbs 3:3
In today's society, the world's sentiment is one of non-judgment inclusiveness of all groups regardless of their behaviors. Unfortunately, this sentiment is permeating the Christian church as well. This is causing the church body to cower in fear when it comes to loving others instead of confronting someone with the truth. While it is true that we need to love others just as Jesus would, we are also called maintain the purity of the church. This is maintained through judgment. A judge in a court of law evaluates whether behavior is right or wrong based upon the law and assigns consequences based on the violation of that law. We as the church are also responsible to evaluate whether behavior is right or wrong based on the moral law, dictated by the Bible. We are called to judge; what we are not called to is condemn based on that behavior.
We need to allow our truth to be closely linked to kindness.
Condemnation is waving an accusatory finger, robbing people of the hope made possible by Christ's death on the cross. Condemnation is Satan's job; not the church's. Jesus eradicated condemnation through his sacrificial death and resurrection. Judgment identifies action as being right or wrong, but extends a hand and says, "This is wrong. What can I do to help you get through this?"
Judgment without kindness is condemnation. Judgment cloaked in kindness leads to salvation.
"May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be pleasing to you O lord, my rock and my redeemer."- Psalm 19:14
I enjoy my time as a full time writer. Having eight hours a day to collect my thoughts allows me the freedom to start off my day spending time in God's word and prayer for inspiration. But when summer comes and my schedule changes to supervise (and entertain) my kids all summer, most of my writing goes out the window-- including my time in the Word. The longer I go without spending time in God's Word, the worse my heart becomes. Soon those negative thoughts that creep in my head go unchecked. The more those thoughts pile up, the more they make themselves home in my heart. Soon I'm chewing on those thoughts instead of meditating on the words from the Word of God. What results is anger, fear, lust, rage, etc. It's not pretty. I find myself raising my voice to my kids, and angry with everyone else in my wake.
However, the first day I crack open my Bible, those feelings disappear and are replaced by love, compassion and forgiveness- the true antidote to a heart corrupted by the disease of sin. The adage "You are what you eat" rings true, especially here. The more I chew on negativity, the more my words reflect my tainted heart. However, if I meditate on Scripture, the quicker my attitude changes.
How is the Bible the antidote to your diseased heart? What Scriptures do you meditate on to help change it?