Let’s get real.

I am a new mom.  My little bundle of joy is now 9 weeks old, and she came three and a half weeks early.  I have two sisters who have both had two children, I am involved in a small group and there have been three babies born in that group in the last 10 months.  I have a mom and a mother in law and a mentor.  And I am from the midwest, so almost all of my friends are married and have a few children.  You would think that with that type of community I would have had all of the support and insight needed to go through pregnancy – on top of my doctor’s input.

But yet, I got sick.  I try to take care of myself as best I can.  I run four to five days a week (I made it up to week 34 running) and I try to eat well.  But yet as I went through pregnancy I was terribly worn out.  I could not understand how I was such a wimp!  Everyone talked about the second trimester energy bump and how fun pregnancy was, but I was just sick and tired all of the time.

As I entered into the third trimester we found out that I had preeclampsia.  The doctor ultimately put me on bedrest and planned induction at 37 weeks, but I ended up delivering at 36 1/2.  My body was shutting down, the placenta was dying and the baby was at risk – she was not getting nutrients and had not grown in a few weeks.  No wonder I was exhausted.  The  closest anyone came to noticing was my parents.  They came into town to visit around 25 weeks and said that I looked bad.  Exactly what every pregnant woman wants to hear!  I told them that I was just pregnant and thought little of it.  I had never been pregnant before, I thought it was normal and that I was the weakest of my friends.

God has given us community for our Spiritual well-being and growth.  He has provided us with the local body of believers known as the Church to reach the world with the Gospel, but also to push one another on to maturity and to work together to glorify God and to fight sin.  We are all given different gifts and strength and they are given specifically to serve God by serving the Church (1 Cor 12).

“But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

– 1 Cor 12.7

We are commanded to look out for one another and to push one another on to holiness.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

And then we are given some really practical, yet strange sounding applications:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children

Titus 2.3-4

Have you not heard that every woman (and man), the moment they lay eyes on their newborn child immediately is overwhelmed by a love they never knew possible?  While this may not be the case for every parent who ever lived, it does seem funny that the blanket instruction for women in the church is that we need to be taught how to love our husbands and children.

Or is it?

Our culture is teaching us that love is essentially spoiling and unconditional affirmation, awarding effort instead of achievement and overall narcissism.  It takes very little mental effort to realize that we do, indeed, need to be taught how to love.  No marriage will survive if two individuals think that the other exists for their pleasure and service.  We must all learn how to put others before ourselves and die to ourselves.  We also must learn how to discipline when we want to spoil, encourage when we want to excuse and truly love our children by teaching them how to love God and love others.

But these things are not natural.  No one naturally dies to himself.  Therefore, the wise among us must know how to ask the right questions and diagnose the heart.  We need to develop Spiritual doctors among us, and we need to become them ourselves.  Only the doctor recognized and diagnosed my preeclampsia because she took my blood pressure, measured the baby, found unhealthy levels of protein in my urine and saw my face.  She knew the signs of the illness, she knew the potential consequences of the illness, and she knew how to give both me and the baby the best chance for survival.  My parents knew that I looked unwell but were unable to recognize the source of the problem and those who were closest to me who saw me get sicker little by little every day never noticed the problem.  Why?  Because it was gradual and they did not know the signs to look for or the questions to ask.  They are not doctors.  We actually do have one doctor in our small group Bible study, but he is not an ob-gyn and and he is not my doctor, so he never ran any tests on me, he never diagnosed the problem.

If we have never learned how to recognize, identify and fight sin in our own lives we are completely unable to help others fight sin.  If we have never learned how to die to ourselves and love one another Biblically, we will never be aware when our friends are selfish in their marriages or fail to love others well.  We must learn Spiritual maturity from those who have gone before us, apply it in our own lives, and pass it on to our community and others.  Paul shows such an example:

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

– 2 Tim 2.2

Our goal in learning is to apply truth to our own lives, and to teach it to others in such a way that they will be able to apply and also teach the truth.  We must have a multi-generational worldview in our Spiritual maturity and accountability.  We must recognize the signs of the sin, ask the right diagnostic questions and then set up a treatment plan to fight it and eradicate it from our lives.

This requires vulnerability.  It requires true community.  It requires transparency.  And it requires a varied level of maturity.  Unfortunately, many of our churches are creating pockets of like-minded and Spiritual peers.  Small groups are popping up all around the country that are full of really solid and mature Christians, or young and immature Christians.  We like people who are like us, and therefore the young adults have their own thing going while the seniors have theirs.  The youth are led by those adults who want to relive their glory years of High School or even worse – we train the youth to lead the youth.  Yes, there are spiritually adept 16 year olds, but a baby Christian will learn infinitely more from an adult who was successfully fought sin and developed a relationship with God after navigating High School than someone who is in the throws of the same temptations and struggles.  This is why older women who have already raised their children are commanded to speak into the lives of women with children.  Men who are addicted to porn will find more help with a man who has overcome the same sin than a man who is struggling with the same sin.

So let’s get real.  Let’s find those who are further down the path than we and learn from them.  Let’s also find those who are just starting down the path and utilize the skills we are learning to teach them.  Let’s learn to diagnose our own sin, teach others how to diagnose their sin as well, and walk in community in a way that recognizes the subtle signs of it – because we understand the consequences of it.

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

– John Owen

Let not your hearts be troubled.

comfort

Does your heart ever grow troubled?  What types of things lead to those troubles?  The future?  Decisions?  Children?  Security?  Jesus spoke on fear, anxiety and discouragement quite frequently.  His basic logic was:  God is sovereign and in control, so do not worry.  It sounds so simple, yet the vast majority of us still get worried (or concerned) when we find ourselves in transition or need (or want).

Perhaps the most dynamic command to not fear or worry is this command and promise:

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way where I am going.”

– John 14.1-4

Fighting sin always begins in the mind.  We have to understand what God defines as sin and submit to His Truth.  Once we recognize what sin is and see it in our lives, we have to confess our sin and begin the process of repenting from it – by the power of the Holy Spirit.  When we are tempted or long to engage in whatever sin is before us, we can and must make a conscious decision to not sin.  Our emotions will be torn, but our minds are our strength.  After we successfully refuse the sin or temptation a few times, our emotions will catch up to the decision that we are making.  Thus we always begin by the “renewing of our minds” (Rom 12.1-2).

It is good discipline to intentionally claim promises of Scripture and to replace sin with a God-honoring activity when we are feeling tempted.  This keeps us from dwelling on the pleasures of sin or the immediate gratification we might seek.  Jesus regularly offered promises and hope along with His instruction to help us along this path.  For instance, “Do not let your heart be troubled” – don’t worry, don’t fret, don’t be anxious.  Instead, remember that we have an eternal home in God’s house and Jesus has prepared the way for us to get there.  He is, indeed, the way.  He utilized the same tactic when confronting fears and anxieties about our daily needs:

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?  And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?  And why are you worried about clothing?  Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?  You of little faith!”

– Matt 6.25-30

Jesus uses logic to confront fear and anxiety.  Have you ever been concerned about what you will eat?  Or not having clothing?  And I don’t mean having that dream where you are giving a speech naked.  We truly want for very little, but Jesus promises that God – who feeds the birds and clothes the fields with flowers will feed and clothe us as well.  He loves us and will provide for us in the ways He deems best.

 

What is so interesting about the first command and promise, however, is the fact that Jesus gave this command to not fear during the last supper.  He had already washed the disciples’ feet, He has already sent Judas out to betray Him, He has already predicted Peter’s betrayal and yet while explaining His death and departure He seeks to comfort the disciples.  This command/promise is actually a continual flow of thought from Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s betrayal:

Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me?  Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.  Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me…”

There is no break here.  Jesus is saying, I’m getting ready to die.  Peter says, I want to go wherever you go – I would die for you, and Jesus responds, you won’t even make it through tonight without denying me.  But don’t worry about it, I’ve got your eternity secure with God, just keep believing in God and in Me.

Jesus is just hours away from betrayal and the cross.  In fact, twenty four hours from this very conversation Jesus will be dead – and He knows it – and He is busy comforting the disciples about what is to come.  We see earlier in the chapter that Jesus’ heart was already troubled and in distress because of the coming events, not that He was stressed or worried in the way we get worried, but because He was dreading what was to come (John 13.21).  We can walk in faith and not desire to have to walk through what we are experiencing, as long as we claim the promises and obey throughout the trial.  Jesus obeyed and submitted to the plan of the cross even though He did not want to die on the cross and be separated from God.  He Himself claimed the promises and looked to the end goal when His heart was tempted and hurting.

We must do the same.  Look to the promises.  Are you worrying about the future or eternity?  Jesus has prepared the way for us to spend eternity with God through His death and resurrection.  He has prepared a place for us to live in eternity with God.  Are you worrying about what you will eat or wear?  God knows our needs and will provide for us, in the manner He deems best.  This may mean that we go hungry at times, or that we do not get designer clothing, but it will all work out to our best and to God’s glory (Rom 8.28).  But let us fight those fleshly worries in our minds, and let us also follow the example of Jesus who, even though His own heart was troubled, comforted those around Him.

Here is a great fighter verse for those moments when you are afraid, worried or hurting.  Use this, along with any others you already have to continually transform your mind while you walk in obedience and give our hearts time to catch up.

“When I am afraid,
I will put my trust in You.
In God, whose word I praise,
In God I have put my trust;
I shall not be afraid.
What can mere man do to me?”

– Ps 56.3-4

 

How Should Christians Respond to Target?

target

The world is spiraling to her demise once again because Target has publicly announced that anyone may choose to use the bathrooms and dressing rooms in their stores according to the gender with which they associate.  As of this morning over 700,000 people have signed a petition to boycott Target, vowing never to shop there again while the LGBT community and those who support a progressive society are attempting to make up for the loss by shopping there in excess.  Did we not just go through this a few years ago with Chik-fil-a?  I would like to pose a simple question for Christians to consider in responding to the hype:

Why are surprised that the world is acting like the world?

This is not a new issue, folks.  I started college in 2001, and not only was my dormitory co-ed, so were our bathrooms.  This sheltered Christian girl who was not allowed to go to dances or wear a two-piece swim suit was dropped off by two terrified parents at a state university and after settling in my room and saying goodbye, I walked down the hall, into the doorless bathroom to see a guy standing at a urinal.  Shocked and embarrassed I blubbered, “Oh excuse me, I am so sorry” and ran from the bathroom to check for a gender sign.  There was no gender sign.  So I waited for him to leave and then I went in.  I never really got used to that.

I am now a 32 year old, married and five month pregnant woman.  Every time I leave my house to go on a run, to go to the grocery, or to grab a coffee with my girlfriends I get cat called, whistled at, approached, and I have even been grabbed and touched by complete strangers on the sidewalk and in stores.  This does not happen because I am some striking beauty, this is simply the reality for all women.  This is the culture in which we live.  The culture that tolerates, the culture that sexualizes, the culture that abuses children and women.  It is so normal, in fact, that my girlfriends and I have mastered the art of ignoring people and the topic rarely comes up in conversation.  It is what it is.

We have also mastered the art of knowing our surroundings and being wise.  If a man is lingering, you move on.  If a person approaches you in a parking lot, you quickly enter the car and lock the door.  We know that there is safety in numbers and that it is wise keep your cell phone visible so a potential threat knows you can contact the police if needed.  Some carry mace.  I know how to align my keys through my fingers to make a powerful punch and the sweet spots to kick.  It is all just common sense nowadays.

Because of the vigilance women and mothers must have over themselves and their children, we are keenly aware of the risk bathrooms pose.  This, again, is not news.  It is illegal to monitor bathrooms with surveillance, thus it is one place that a person is guaranteed privacy to relieve himself, and also the one place a person is guaranteed privacy to abduct, molest or harm another person.  Most mothers would never consider allowing their young children to make a bathroom run unsupervised and many mothers of boys will open the men’s bathroom to make sure it is vacant before allowing their sons to enter.  This has been normal parenting for years.

Enter:  the target scandal.  Target’s intention is to publicly state that someone who has made the transformation from one gender to another may now utilize the bathroom according to their new or associated gender.  Seeing as there is no way to police or monitor genitalia before allowing admittance, it is left up to the individual to choose which gender with which they associate.  Thus a man who is only starting down the road as a cross dresser and is still physiologically a man may enter the women’s restroom.  This new policy has been clearly exemplified by countless people filming and documenting themselves asking target team members to explain the new policy – one such film is going viral today of a man guaranteeing himself permission from the manager to use the women’s bathroom.

Is it uncomfortable?  Absolutely – for the vast majority of the American population – except in those cases where someone has successfully completed the transformation and we are unaware that they have changed genders.  Is it unsafe?  Yes.  But bathrooms have notoriously been unsafe environments for years.  Does it make the bathroom more dangerous?  This is a difficult question to answer, because Target has now made themselves complicit in the utilization of bathrooms by all genders, thus if a child is harmed by someone of the opposite sex in one of their bathrooms they will be held accountable on a much different level than a company that maintains normal gender differentiation.  And people will be much more on guard in the bathrooms at Target, making them more difficult targets.  Time will tell.

While weightily considering the safety and sociological implications of this decision, let us now consider the Spiritual aspect.  First of all, we must stop being surprised that the world is acting like the world.  We are all sinners, it is our very nature to sin, and apart from Christ that is all we can do (Rom 3.10-12).  As Christians we rely on the strength and power of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and to help us live righteous lives as an act of love for Jesus Christ.  But the world does not love Jesus, and therefore has no incentive to obey Him.  We should not be shocked when sinners sin – even within the Church.  None of us will reach perfection or true holiness until we are free from our flesh and in the presence of Jesus.

Secondly, we must remember that fighting a non-Christian’s sin is like putting makeup on a corpse.  Jesus said it makes people into “white washed tombs” – pretty and clean on the outside, but just a pile of bones on the inside (Matt 23.27-28).  Not only is it fake, it is worthless.  If a transgender person learns to accept his God-given sexual identity and even enters into a heterosexual marriage, he is still condemned to Hell apart from knowing and being forgiven by Jesus Christ.  This is true for every human being who has walked the face of the Earth, regardless of your sin of disposition.  Pride, lying, theft and deceit and  will eternally separate one from God every bit as much as homosexuality.  Unless we have been forgiven and saved by Jesus, we will all go to Hell.

Thirdly, we must remember that we – as Christians – have been placed in the world as a witness, as a city on a hill, as a testimony to the grace of God with one simple battle plan:  Make disciples of all nations (Matt 5.14, Matt 28.18-20).  In order to make disciples, we must be interacting with the world around us and proclaiming salvation to those who are not believers.  At the same time, we have been sternly commanded to be in the world but not of the world.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

– Rom 12.2

We can maintain a pure mind by meditating on Scripture, praying and spending time with God – our true treasure.  We must not love the world or the things of it:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

– 1 John 2.15-17

“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

– James 4.4

To love the world and the things in the world means that we do not love God and have made ourselves to be His enemies.  This is terrifying.  Thus Jesus prayed for His disciples and continues to intercede for us:

“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”

– John 17.14-18

Fourthly, if we understand that Jesus has left us in the world intentionally, to make disciples and to be a part of His plan for redemption, we must recognize the fact that we cannot accomplish this if we isolate ourselves from non-believers.  Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10.17).

“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?  And how will they hear without a preacher?”

– Rom 10.14

Thus we are left with a balance to uphold:  We are called to holiness and we must seek to obey God.  We do not love the things in the world and we look differently than the world because of our beliefs and habits, yet we must consistently and wisely interact with the world in such a way that we are proclaiming the Gospel, the lost are being saved and they are learning to obey God as well.  It will accomplish no good for the lost to obey God until they understand the Gospel and come to Him for salvation.

Lastly, there is perhaps the most difficult piece to this puzzle:  removing from the Church those people who embrace sin and will not obey God.  Scripture teaches us clearly and painfully that if a person claims to be a Christian but will not obey God (on any sin), then we are to remove him from the church (Matt 18.15-17).  This person is considered a non believer and the most dangerous kind because they understand intellectually the Gospel and the Word of God, but they manipulate and distort it:

“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people;  did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.  But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.”

– 1 Cor 5.9-11

So what does all of this mean about Target?  Target is most certainly not a Christian based company.  In fact, throughout the years they have been a progressively liberal company.  As we are deciding where to buy our groceries, clothing and household goods, do we judge each store based on their moral and ethical codes?  Do we only shop at companies that are openly run with Christian morals?  Or do we go to comfortable places, expecting them to not rock the boat?  I would be willing to bet that the owner of Walmart has some policies and ethics with which we disagree…

Do we consider our daily outings as opportunities to engage the world, meet non believers and share the Gospel?  Or are we simply going about our chores and hoping to be comfortable and left alone?

Every decision parents make is a calculated risk for their children.  Do we pay big bucks to have them in an exclusive school?  Do we separate them from the world to protect them from bad influences?  Or do we send them to the public school to be a light?  Do we take them downtown to meet the homeless and serve at soup kitchens to share about the love of Jesus?  Or do we take them on play dates with Christian friends who are closely supervised by their Christian moms?  I would argue that a balance is best, all unified by continual teaching about the love of Jesus and His expectations of believers.

The Bible does not say “Do not shop at Target”, and the Bible also does not say “Shop at Target”.  This is a decision that we as believers must make based on our commandment to make disciples and also to be holy and protect our children and ourselves.  We must be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves (Matt 10.16).

Let us also be careful to not overreact.  The world is sinful and is going to remain sinful.  We will not change that by being hateful and mean.  We can and must stand up passionately and continue to speak the Truth, but we must do so in love.  We should also be intentional to weigh the implications and risks, making sure to teach our children how to maintain integrity and obedience to God while actively loving and making disciples of those around us.

So pray about it.  Ask God what is best for you, your family and for those people you might meet at Target.  Continuing to visit Target with the intention of putting employees on the defensive while being filmed serves no greater good:  this decision was not made at the store level and at best they have been given a few talking points to parrot to concerned customers.  Instead, let us be concerned about their souls.  Let us be ready and prepared to offer jobs or help find work for those employees who decide they can no longer work for such a company.  If you believe the allowable risk to be too great, then shop somewhere else or confront Target on the corporate level based on the safety issue alone.

Let’s not make fools of ourselves.  We are all fighting a variety of sins in our lives, and we must humbly acknowledge the fact that God is in the process of sanctifying us.  It is our joy and our honor to proclaim that grace to people who do not yet know Him, and if we taint our testimony with ugliness we are not only pushing people away but we are in fact in sin ourselves.

Is it OK if Christians Curse?

cursing

My small group is reading through the extremely convicting and difficult book of James.  These days we are reflecting, as a group, on the fire from Hell that is our tongue and the reality that the one who can tame the tongue is perfect:  meaning that no one is capable of taming the tongue.

But at times, the application of such deep, gripping truths is difficult.  For example, let’s observe the elementary question that is prevalent today:  Should Christians curse?  Traditional upbringing and church life says, “Of course not!”  We do everything in our power to not use any profanity, any four letter words, and anything that is foul.  Children of Christian parents get their mouths washed out with soap for using four letter words, and Christians in [traditional] church judge one another harshly for their choice of words.  The other end of the spectrum says, “I am relevant, and this is not directly taking the Lord’s name in vain, so this vocabulary is fine”.  Such an argument and mindset is from the fatalist Christian who believes that “we are all sinners”, so why even try to stop?  Just enjoy it.  God will forgive me.

Both positions are wicked from the core.  To clean up vocabulary and enforce regulations alone is moralism.  To give in to weakness or use filthy language to be relate-able or because it is a loosing battle is a lack of faith and dishonoring to God – cheapening grace and putting Jesus back on the cross.

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

– Eph 4.29

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth.  What is unwholesome?  The Greek word here most literally translates as rotten or spoiled – as in a fruit.  This helps clarify the imagery that James gives us:

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.  Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?  Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs?  Nor can salt water produce fresh.

– James 3.9-12

And Jesus explains it without mincing words:

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”

– Luke 6.45

From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  Whatever is filling up your heart is what comes out of your mouth.  This is why Jesus said,

“It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”

– Matt 15.11

If our hearts are filled up with wickedness and rottenness, that is what will flow out of it.  If we are rotten trees, we will produce rotten fruit.  And thus we prove ourselves to be defiled (and not saved).  Rotten trees do not produce good fruit.  It is bad from the core.  Christians should not produce wicked, rotten, or unedifying talk.  Period.

But Paul’s instruction is not to focus on the rotten fruit and to purge it.  Paul teaches us to only let “such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” proceed from our mouths.  So in short, do not replace a profanity with a word that resembles it.  Do not refrain from taking the Lord’s name in vain by saying, “Oh my gosh”.  Do not use words like “damn” which hold unspeakable terrors, and do not replace “damn it” with “dang it”.  Instead, fill up your speech with words that edify the listener and glorify God.  When you enter a crisis, instead of ringing out an expletive, cry out to God for help.  Instead of cursing a bad situation, humbly turn to God and ask Him what His intention and purpose is in the situation.  Instead of wicked conversation like gossip and slander, build people up and praise God.

Morality is not Christian.  Building people up and glorifying God is Christian.  Giving up on the battle to fight sin is not Christian.  Replacing bad habits and tendencies with God-honoring ones is Christian.  God is not concerned primarily with what does not come out of our mouths and hearts, but with what does.  If we are able to clean up our speech in such a way that no questionable words come out of our mouths, but we never glorify God with our hearts or words, we are still as sick and hopeless as the one who curses like a sailor.

“Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.  So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.”

– James 3.4-6

Our mouths pour out what fills our hearts.  And thus James paints this vivid picture that our mouths set the entire direction of our bodies and our lives.  It is how we communicate and let other people know what fills us up.  So to train them to morality simply set us on the course to Hell, with gold plating.  We must be filled with Jesus and holiness, and our mouths pour out Jesus and holiness.  All of the time.  Making the most of every moment.

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

– Col 4.6

Standing on the Promises

standing on the promises

Knowing God and fighting sin can be a daunting task at times.  The more we get to know the Scriptures and the heart of God, the more deeply we see sinful roots running through our hearts.  When we first come to salvation we usually focus on the “big sins” and rely on God for the strength to discipline our mouths and habits, but as we learn more about the fruit of the Spirit and glorifying God in our every activity, we realize that it might be impossible to do anything with truly pure motives.

If we focus on the difficulty of the task, we can be defeated.  That is why we should learn the Scriptures and meditate on God rather than ourselves.  If we keep our focus upward instead of inward, we can rejoice in His greatness rather than our shortcomings.  We can focus on grace instead of failure.  Taking thoughts captive and claiming scriptures and the promises of God is the key.  God’s promises will never fail.

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I now can see
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me;
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
List’ning every moment to the Spirit’s call,
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.

 – Russell K Carter

The Fear of Flying.

airplane

Have you heard the news?  Planes have been falling out of the sky lately.  Malaysian Airlines lost a plane, Air Asia also lost a plane in the South Pacific, and most recently Germanwings had a pilot intentionally down an airbus in the Alps.  This, of course, has reignited for many a deep-seated fear of flying.

I have never been a very fearful person; I was always the child who was willing to try.  I climbed trees, straightlined down mountains on skis, taught myself how to do all sorts of flips off the diving board, and rode horses as fast as they could go; I enjoyed going fast.  As an adult, I ride a motorcycle, and travel wherever the road (or air) will take me; I just enjoy experiencing life.  In 2008 I moved to SE Asia.  Shortly before I arrived, there was an airline called Adam Air who lost two jets within a year.  Consequently they went out of business, but air travel was not the most certain thing in my host country.  Shortly after moving there, a few more planes went down, one even crashed in the city where I was living and killed 27 people on board.  I only lived a few miles from the airport and could often hear planes flying overhead.  The entire first year that I was in country I went to language school so that I could function in the country, and part of our discipline was reading the newspaper.  One day the local newspaper listed every plane and helicopter that had crashed in the past year in this country alone.  It nearly filled the whole first page.

Suddenly, one day, fear gripped my heart.  It was a new experience for me, as I used to love flying.  Heights never bothered me, and the excitement of going somewhere had me always ready to board the plane.  But here I was, as far away from home as I could physically be, terrified of air travel.  As I finished up language school, I began preparing for my job which required me to fly at least two, and up to six times a month.  I began scheming with my partner how we could drive instead of fly.  This was impossible, of course, in a country where there are no highways!  I had a slew of meetings where I had to travel to other countries back to back, and the simple act of driving to the airport would all but send me into a panic attack.

A well meaning Christian counselor prescribed me Xanax and a more potent medication to help.  I tried the meds, but they would make me fall asleep until the plane started moving, and as soon as we pulled onto the runway for takeoff, I was awake and as terrified as ever.  For one meeting I flew with a good friend and coworker who had three children at the time, and she joked as we boarded the plane that “God would not down a plane with such cute babies aboard”.  There was a slight comfort in flying with friends, but those 3 hours were still torture.

I started my job, and my partner and I decided that we would drive (a two day drive, instead of a 2 hour flight) for our first trip.  The day before the trip, plans changed and he decided that flying was the only option, so I chose to stay home.  At this point I realized there was a serious problem:  I was incapable of doing my job.

At the time I was working on my Master’s degree from Southern Seminary, and as part of the degree program I was required to take two counseling classes.  I signed up for my first one, and in the intro lecture the professor said we were each required to have a “Personal Sanctification Project”.  “Pick one thing in your life that you would like to change”, he said.  I knew exactly what I wanted to change.  I did not consider it sin, but I knew that I needed to conquer this fear in order to do anything – even if it was just to get home!

The personal sanctification project was an issue that we would bring to the Lord.  We were required to journal about the issue, anything the Lord was saying to us, any verses that He was pointing out to us, and how we were progressing with it throughout the semester.  The premise of the course was the assumption that any issue that was not a chemical or physical imbalance was truly a discipleship issue.  Two weeks into the course he addressed the “sin of fear”.  The second of the three lectures he actually focused on the fear of flying.

Now, in my mind, my fear was justified.  I am not an illogical person.  I like to think, reason, use my logic and make informed decisions.  The risk of flying in this particular country was higher than most, and planes crashed regularly.  I could have argued my logic to anyone, and many people shared my fear.  No one approached me and said, “Alison, your fear is a sin”.  But if they would have, I am confident that I would have defended myself adamantly.  But God had prepared my heart and readied me to hear this exhortation from a professor on a videotaped lecture.  Jesus commands us not to fear.

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

– Matt 6.34

He simply asked the question, “What are you afraid of?”  He than began to reveal the fact that fearing death is, at its root, a lack of faith.  “Do you truly believe that when you die, you will enter into eternity with Jesus?”  he asked.  Conviction hit me hard.  I had not stopped in my anxiety and terror to consider that if we crashed and I died, I would get to go to my eternal home.  Yes!  He was right!  The logic began to set in, but it did not alleviate the fear.

At the time I was reading through the book of Hebrews in my quiet times, and as I began the very first chapter, verse three stood out to me:

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.”

Jesus is upholding everything that exists in the world by His word.  He is continually speaking you and me into existence.  He is speaking the airplanes into existence!  If He were to stop speaking, we would cease to exist.  Poof!  We would be gone.

So there I was, left with a promise that God is sovereign, He is in control, and He is literally speaking me and the airplane into existence.  I was also left with a command to not fear, and the reality that letting fear take root in my heart was sin, it was disobeying Jesus and it was a lack of faith.  I began to pray that verse to God.  “God, I know you are speaking me into existence and that you are in control.  I am going to get on the next airplane and trust your plan.”

I did not have to wait very long to follow through.  The next week we headed off to the airport.  I did not sleep the night before.  My stomach was upset the whole morning.  I sat terrified in the waiting room.  And I got on the airplane.  I prayed, “God, I know you are speaking me and this airplane into existence.  If we crash, I am coming home to you.”  I prayed that over and over for the entire two hour flight.  I was terrified.  But I got through the plane ride.  For the next six or seven flights I prayed that prayer without a breath in between.  I was on a flight that landed so hard that the oxygen masks fell from the ceiling.  I was on another flight that flew through the heart of a storm, but upon reaching our destination the airport had no electricity and therefore no runway lights (it was at nighttime), so we turned around and went back to our departure city.

I obeyed in fear.

But then, one day, just as suddenly as the fear gripped my heart, it was gone.  I was in the same country, had the same job, flew the same airlines, and suddenly God relieved me of the fear.  God gave me the faith to truly believe that if I did die, it was to my benefit, and the spirit of fear was overcome.

Fear is a type of temptation.  It can be a healthy reaction.  If an oncoming car swerves into your lane in traffic, adrenaline starts pumping and you react quickly.  If you are riding passenger when a car swerves into your lane, your fight or flight reaction kicks in, you might yell, you might gasp, you might grab the handle of your door.  This is a God-given response to danger.  But if you give in to the temptation to allow fear to reign or govern your feelings or actions, you have given in to sin.

“But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

– James 1.14-15

When you experience fear, because you will experience fear, turn immediately to God in prayer.  Examine your faith.  Ask yourself what it is that you are truly fearing.  Claim promises of Scripture.  “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor 5.8).  “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory” (Phil 4.19).  “All things work together for good for those that love God” (Rom 8.28).

God is in control.
He is speaking you, and your vice into existence.
Ask Him to give you victory.
He will direct you out of sin, and into faith.

Hold the Line

nehemiah

Israel has an extensive history documented in the Old Testament.  After being taken into captivity, Nehemiah (who was working as the cupbearer to the king) was given permission to take some of the Hebrew people back to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls.  Other people in the land were not happy to see this work taking place, and they conspired to fight against the Hebrew people, but Nehemiah had a plan:

“From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah.  Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon.  As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me.”

– Neh 4.16-18

Half of his work force stood guard.  They stood opposite those who were building the walls with their weapons drawn, watching.  Waiting.  On the alert and on the defense.  Everyone who was working had either a weapon in hand or a sword bound to his side.  Everyone was ready for battle.

Paul tells us that now, being Spiritually bound together as the people and body of Christ rather than a geopolitical nation, our primary battle is not against a physical enemy but Spiritual:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

– Eph 6.12-13

Paul goes on to explain the elements of the armor of God, girding of Truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of the Gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation and the Sword of the Spirit (the Bible).  The armor is how we protect ourselves and “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph 6.16).  But the one who fights for us is God.  The war has already been won.  Jesus went behind enemy lines and defeated the capital.  But there are still a few battles being forged until the king takes complete control and forces the enemy into submission.  And we are on those front lines, in the power of the Spirit.  Once we are clothed for battle through salvation, with Truth and faith guarding our hearts and righteousness as our defense, how do we fight?  Paul tells us in the very next verse:

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

– Eph 6.18

Prayer.  John Piper uses the analogy that prayer is our war-time walkie talkie.  He says that if we try to use it as a peace time intercom to call the butler for a fresh pillow, it will malfunction.  It was created for us to have immediate access to the commander in chief.  We are in a Spiritual battle, not for the outcome of the war, but for our holiness and for the salvation of souls (as God sees fit to allow us to be a part of His work in saving others).  Prayer.  Paul was on the front lines.  He was building the wall.  He had the walkie talkie in his hand and was praying continually while He preached the Gospel and got caught and put in prison, so he radioed back for reinforcements:  “Pray at all times!”  “Be on the alert”  “With perseverance and petition for the saints!”

God is the sovereign one who has won the battle, who is in control of all things, and who defeats our Spiritual enemies in and through us.  We need to petition Him and to be alert to see the schemes of the enemy.  We do that through prayer.  Without prayer all of our wall building efforts will be futile.

Nehemiah knew that everyone must be prepared.  Those building the walls had their swords on their hips.  Those bringing supplies carried stones in one hand and a sword in the other.  But half of the people were designated simply to stand guard.  How many people stand on the alert in prayer for our Churches and missionary efforts today?  No one is excused from the responsibility to pray.  But there should be a substantial portion of our congregations who invest and spend the bulk of their energy on intercession for the Church, for the battle, for the work!

Prayer is not a transition in a church service.  Prayer is not an opportunity for you to bring your wish list to Santa Clause.  Prayer is your walkie talkie to communicate with the commander in chief while you and your army lay it all down and fight.

So what does this look like?  How many people on your Church staff are employed simply to pray?  How much time does your church staff spend in prayer?  Is your prayer meeting at church the least attended meeting?  How much time do you spend in personal prayer, interceding for the saints, the missionaries, the church, the efforts to reach the lost and to fight for holiness in your own life?  Without prayer everything else will fail because we will be rogue units functioning apart from the master battle plan.  We will not receive battle instructions without radioing back to headquarters.  If we do not pray, we will not conquer.  Let’s unite in prayer.  Let’s establish the line of support, understanding the battle plan, alert and attentive to the enemy’s advances, and under the clear instruction of God.