Picture this: the Bible belt, early Sunday morning. You’ve been up since the crack of dawn because your toddler wanted grits and milk well before 6am. Soon after the grits ended up smeared all over the kitchen, you realize time has warped to 8am, and you have forgotten to iron everyone’s “church clothes” the night before. Your spouse has successfully managed to sleep through the grits plea and the grits graffiti, and is just now shuffling out of bed. You, on the other hand, are already tired and extremely agitated. Spouse-Dear proceeds to get themselves ready for church while you do everything else for everyone else. Finally, kids are dressed with no major wardrobe disasters, everyone makes it to the car with no major wardrobe disasters, but you’re still going to be late. After literally battling for a parking space and taking an additional thirty minutes to get the kids signed into children’s church, you are seated in the sanctuary. The Praise and Worship leader takes their place on the podium, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord!” They continue through the applause that erupts. “No one should have to make you praise the Lord in this place! Amen?!” More applause. “This is the day the Lord has made and I WILL rejoice AND be glad in it! Now, get on your feet and give God a hand clap of praise!” You stand. You clap. You’re annoyed. No, no one should have to make you praise but at this instant in your life you are simply over it.
Truth be told, you are only on your feet because the person with the microphone is relentlessly yelling at you. You’re tired of seeing your pastor pour his (her) all into their calling while people sitting around you are playing Solitaire or scanning Facebook on their tablets. You are done hearing parishioners fuss out ushers because their favorite seat is occupied. It urkes you to see that weird old guy give you that creepy wave and wink. The thought of all the evil faces you will soon see in the church parking lot when service is over irritates your ulcers. It feels like everyone is “playing” and all you want is to “feel” again. You’re all churched out and something has got to give, quick, fast, and in a hurry. This is not at all an uncommon crossroads. Lord knows I have certainly been there myself. But there is always a reason for every season, and as corny as that sounds, it’s true. It was at this very crossroad that I learned the importance of self-evaluation. At this point I had to question, was I so caught up in practicing religion that I had neglected my relationship with Christ?
Famed author George Bernard Shaw once stated, “Christianity might be a good thing if anyone ever tried it.” Perhaps he too was all churched out. During his lifetime legalism and religion reigned. Questioning God was unheard of and missing a church service of any type was your one way ticket to hell. Truth be told, many of us were raised with similar ideals. Now, the routine is unfulfilling and exhausting. Thankfully, God always has a truth for our trial. There is a revelation in the Book of Revelation, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forgotten the love you had at first,” Revelation 2:4 NIV. There is nothing new under the sun and the issues we have with only practicing religion and not growing the relationship, the church of Ephesus had also. Ephesus was at one time “on fire for the Lord”, as we would say in our modern church lingo. But they had gotten away from what was most important to the Father, love. Love is the essence of God. Love is the main thing religion always manages to eliminate, and that void leaves us longing, begging, searching for what we know is better. To get back to the love we had at first, we may just have to step back and reignite our personal relationship with the Master.
One can never lose their salvation, but we all get worn. Life will bring out the weariness in you. While it is critical to be connected to a church home, we must learn how to earnestly seek God for ourselves. Bible study with your church family is vital, but private Bible study is incomparable. Once you accept Christ into your life, the same Holy Spirit that raised Christ from the grave is the same Holy Spirit that resides in you! You can read the Bible and the Holy Spirit will allow you to understand it, to apply it, to feel it. Certainly, we need pastors and ministry leaders and Sunday school teachers to accurately communicate the Word of God. Yes, that is essential. But just as we should grow and mature in our physical lives, we should be constantly maturing in our spiritual lives as well. Pastors and ministry leaders are imperfect human beings, as we are all imperfect. People in places of authority are there because God allowed and they should most certainly be respected; but they cannot be your sole connection to the Lord. You have to put forth special effort in your relationship with Christ so you can hear (via the Holy Bible) the Holy Spirit clearly and accurately. You won’t always be able to make it to church, Pastor won’t always be crunk, and the choir won’t always sing the right song. Your beautiful children will not always be angels. Your loving, adoring spouse won’t always be attentive. You won’t always be able to get someone else to pray for you. Your favorite radio station won’t always have the best playlist, and your MP3 player will eventually need to be recharged, “but the Word of the Lord stands forever” (1Peter 1:25a NLT). Store the Word of God in your heart because you will not always be able to get what you need from another source. Learn to worship outside of the walls of the sanctuary. Every once in a while, trade in the 11am service for a family picnic where you and yours have family devotion and experience God through His magnificent creation. Instead of going to mid-Bible study because that’s just what you do on Wednesdays, why not reconnect with an old friend by having a Bible study across the miles one of those Wednesdays? Instead of hours at choir rehearsal, spend that time singing at a senior citizen’s home. Please do not go telling folks that some blogger lady said you don’t need to attend church. That is totally NOT the message here. Hebrews 10:25 is clear, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” My point is this: all relationships require some level of intimacy. The same is true with any Christian’s relationship with Christ. When you are all churched out, it’s time to focus on the intimacy you are lacking with the Lord. Maybe you have been limiting God’s move in your life because you are too focused on getting the classes completed and the assignments done. Of course those things are important to growing in your faith, but everything has a time and a place. If you are just going through the motions, not applying what’s taught in the classes, not retaining any of the information, what’s the point? Other people realize when your heart isn’t into something. Consider this: the moon is the brightest light in the night sky, yet it doesn’t give off any of its own light, but reflects the sunlight. Similarly, we will never shine on our own. There is nothing about our humanity that can fill the void of cold dark religion. We need the Son’s light to reflect on us. That won’t happen unless we get up close and personal with God.
No matter how hard your work to keep on the mask of the happy church-goer, someone is being impacted negatively by what they perceive as a front. That is damaging to your witness as it turns people away from the faith. There is no condemnation in Christ, but He is going to hold us accountable for all of our actions. I personally do not what Him to tell me I was responsible to turning people away rather than helping people to Him. The thought of that burdens my heart in a major way. So to borrow a phrase from my Pastor, sometimes we have to unplug from the wall of life. Our society is a multi-tasking, over achieving, you-snooze-you-lose type of culture, yet God tells us to take it one day at a time. It is wise to plan, but sometimes plans fail. Processes fail. The norm fails. Every day we will not feel the Holy Spirit, because again that’s just life. However, the older Saints put it this way, “I wouldn’t serve a God I couldn’t feel sometimes.” They were able to feel Him because they knew to worship with their whole life, outside of the building. They didn’t get all churched out because they knew how to stay all churched up on their own. Maybe things were less complicated then. Maybe they had fewer distractions and more reasons to rely on One bigger than them. Perhaps. I can’t tell you why our predecessors were able to do it. I just know the how. Go home, Friends. Go back to your one on one time with the King. The Andre Crouch put it like this, “Take me back, take me back dear Lord to the place where I first received you. Take me back; take me back dear Lord where I First believed. I feel that I’m so far from you Lord but still I hear you calling me. Those simple things that I once knew, their memories keep drawing me. I must confess, Lord I’ve been blessed. But yet my soul’s not satisfied. Renew my faith, restore my joy, and dry my weeping eyes. Take me back, take me back dear Lord. Take me back!”
For two weeks, we were captivated by the London 2012 Summer Olympics. We set the DVR on our television sets, downloaded the app onto our smartphones, and we even followed the action online. We cheered when athletes won medals, but we just lost our minds when our country brought home the gold. We celebrated when records were broken and history was made, as if we were right there in London. Similarly, when our favorites lost or were injured we sympathized with their hurt. We cringed when the look of pain shot across their faces. We sat in respectful silence when we saw them cry. The Olympic Athletes are the best in the world at what they do. They trained and sacrificed for that moment since they were children. Almost every parent of an athlete who was interviewed mentioned what a financial strain their athletes’ pursuit was for the family. Yet, they did what was needed to support their child’s gifts and dreams.
The competitors talked about the burden of the emotional and mental workouts. They sacrificed things we take for granted. They all put their whole being into their craft. And we, the people, respect that. We are encouraged by their tenacity. We are warmed by their humility. We are impressed by their courage. We are inspired by their success. Perhaps that is why we took it so hard when we witnessed a dream deferred due to injury. Perhaps this is why it pulled at our heart strings when our favorite Olympian had to admit that he/she simply was not good enough at the moment when they needed to be the best. Maybe we felt so connected to them because we can’t help but honor their earnest hard work and unwavering dedication.
Consider this, what if we put Olympian size effort into our walk in the Christian faith? How can I possibly compare Christianity to the Olympics, you ask? Well, I don’t think it’s that farfetched at all. It is not uncommon for life to hand us, regular ole, every day, non-Olympian people a defeat or two. We have our share of heartbreaks just like the competitors that captured our affection. We have all been there. It’s tough to get back to your regular routine after the Lord calls your mother home. The stress of being unemployed can suck all of the wind of hope out of you. The pain of seeing your precious baby grow up to become a devoted criminal can make you feel like a failure. Life can really dish it out and we can’t compete on our own. Thankfully, we don’t have too. He has given us everything we need to get past the defeats and live a life of joy regardless of what is going on in our world.
He allowed His Son to make the sacrifice that closed the gap between us and Him. He made the Holy Spirit to reside within us to direct our paths. And while He is seated on His throne, He promised to never leave or forsake us. He vowed to give us everything we need not only to survive, but to live life to the fullest. He even told us it is wise to plan, but don’t give into anxiety about whats come. “I tell you not to worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to Him than any birds!…Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, He will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?” Luke 12:22-28 NLT.
The Olympians, that our cultures adore, possess an immense amount of faith in what they are capable of accomplishing. They have to. You don’t become elite being full of doubt. And you don’t become the greatest by comparing yourself to something less than the best. Before the Olympics began, Oprah interviewed several previous gold medal, record setting Olympians. One of those legends was Carl Lewis. During the conversation Carl Lewis made the statement that Olympic athletes didn’t train to compete against other athletes. He said they trained to compete against perfection. It’s no coincidence that as Christians we’re being made perfect. Don’t let that phrase overwhelm you. Being made perfect in Christ just means that He is in the process of making us complete and whole in Him. The caveat is that we have to be willing to be molded to be more like Christ. How many times in our personal Christian journey have we fallen short, but then took the stance, “Well at least I’m not as bad as so and so.” While many hard times are beyond our control, many of our choices could simply be better.
If we want the best the Lord has to offer, we have to be willing to give our best to Him. No, Salvation is not earned. Jesus covered that debt. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love because He loved us first (1 John 4:19). But just as we respect, enjoy, applaud, and honor those world class Olympians, who give their all to be perfect, shouldn’t we desire to give our all to the Master? “And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ I answered, ‘A plumb line’. And the Lord replied, ‘I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore their sins’ “ Amos 7:8 NIV. A plumb line is like a modern day level. A level is used when building something to make sure it is straight up and down. A plumb line was used to make sure the object that was being built was upright. As were move along our Christian journey, God is building us (making us perfect) and desires that that we are built upright. Therefore, His plumb line is not other flawed humans. Using other people to determine our level of perfection will leave us crooked and unstable. We may have the illusion that the walls of our lives are built properly and sturdily. But when the storms come, those walls will be crushed, and so will our spirits. On the other hand, if we use Christ as our plumb line, the walls of our lives don’t just look good, they will actually be the best. Lives built on godliness are solid to the core. Lives build on the Word won’t collapse when life hits you from behind.
So what’s the formula? How do we become gold medal Christians? Do we need to cut back on fats and sugars and add more lean protein and whole grains to our diets? Do we need to take our workout routines to another level? Well, I’m sure that couldn’t hurt. But the course to giving God your best was laid out for us centuries ago in Deuteronomy 6:5, “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” Truly love Him, then live out that love for Him in all of your decisions, in how you spend your time, how you spend your money, how you treat others, how you treat yourself, live it out in every single thing aspect of your life. And when you are at your weakest, He will be at His best. But you have to love Him more than anything else. You have to give your heart to Him. Then, while life comes at you full force, you would have already been in training. You will be prepared for the competition, plus Grace and Mercy will be on your team. The heavenly hosts will be cheering you on. And just like the Olympians, your proud Father will beam with pride as you cross the finish line covered in the radiance of victory.
My step aerobics instructor is incredible. Not only did she commit to teach the class at our church twice a week, as a volunteer, but she has transformed the “just step aerobics” into a full body workout. She’s a wife, a mother of three, a full-time employee, and she is totally dedicated to what she considers ministry. This workout class isn’t just some wimpy little freebie minimal workout either. When you walk (crawl) out of that class, you will know you had a “for real for real” workout. Our instructor believes in giving her best and she encourages us to give our greatest effort as well. Often she tells us, “Don’t stop because it hurts! Keep moving!” Now, I have to admit, when I first heard that, I thought she’d lost her mind. How in the world was I supposed to keep moving when my thighs felt like 400 pounds of lead and my calves were burning to no end! Then two years ago, I experienced a pain like no other. I gave birth to our almost 8 pound baby boy. I found out why it’s called labor and I also discovered that no matter how bad those contractions hurt, I couldn’t stop birthing. When one of those can’t-walk-can’t-talk contractions hit, there was no way I could say, “Hey, Doc, you know what? Since this hurts so unbelievably bad, I decided to keep the baby close to me right here in my belly…forever. How ‘bout we stop these contractions and then everyone could just go on home?” Had that even been possible, I would have missed seeing him smile at me for the very first time, the most incredible blessing ever.
In an effort to have a more active lifestyle, I take some sort of activity break during my workday. Today I decided to walk the stairs from the 8th floor to the 20th floor. I was once again tempted to stop not even halfway through because it hurt so much. I was panting and my entire lower body was aching relentlessly. Then I was reminded, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” (Psalms 30:5b KJV). I will never reach my weight loss goal if I give up every time exercising gets uncomfortable. I would have never experienced my baby squeezing my finger for the first time if I had given up during hours and hours (and hours) of labor. I would have never completed my Master’s degree if I’d quit because the classes were hard. Our marriage won’t last if we throw in the towel every time the going gets tough. I won’t maintain my career if I “go off” whenever I feel agitated. The point: I have to get through the night in order to make it to my joy.
How can my faith mature if it’s never tested? What type of witness would I have if I waved the white flag whenever the cards of life dealt me a lousy hand? I hear you saying, “But you don’t know my story. You don’t know what I’ve had to endure.” Yes, you are absolutely correct, I don’t know. But I do know my God, and His promises to His children are the same regardless of your situation. “He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten as we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed,” (Isa. 53:5 NLT). You see, Friend, He knows a little bit about being hurt, both physically and emotionally. He knows what it’s like to feel forsaken during your darkest, most painful hour. Yet He promises never to leave or forsake us. You’ve heard it time and time again, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength,” (Phil. 4:13 NLT). It’s in your hurt that you have the opportunity to apply this mighty Word, from our mighty God to your overwhelming issue. Test out the promise! Through your tears, cry out to Jesus. Praise Him in your season of pain. Watch Him work a miracle on your behalf. He will get you through the hurt, but you have to be willing to keep moving during the process. He knows exactly how you hurt, but He knows how to heal you as well. “There is hope for the helpless, rest for the weary, love for the broken heart. There is mercy and healing. He will meet you wherever you are. Cry out to Jesus. Cry out to Jesus,” (Third Day).
I’m sure you remember Yolanda Adams singing, ”There is no pain Jesus can’t feel. There is no hurt that he cannot heal. For all things work according to His perfect will. No matter what you’re going through, remember God only wants a chance to use you. For the battle is not yours, it’s the Lord’s”! God knows and He cares what you’re going through. He allows testing sometimes in order to see what’s really inside of you. Will you pout or shout, will you really trust him like you say you do, knowing that ALL things work for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28)? Whatever God allows, He fully equips us for and He has a purpose for. If He brought you to it, He’ll definitely bring you through it! That’s not a catchy Christian clique, that’s the Word! Weeping may endure for a night; “but joy” really does come in the morning. How can you get to your “but joy” if you give up in the midnight hour? I want my “but joy” blessing. Not only is that also a promise from God, but Jesus is the perfect example. He was tortured, mocked, lied on, made fun of, betrayed, and the list goes on and on, but not once did He give up or change His mind. He did not abandon His mission to save us. He kept pressing on and stayed the course, even though he had done nothing wrong, all because He loved us. You cannot convince me that didn’t hurt Him on every level possible. He was crucified, felt the sting of felling abandoned, died on the cross, and was buried in a lonely grave….oh “but joy”! On the third day He rose, having defeated all death and darkness! Christ did all of that so that we can have the Holy Spirit reside within us. Since He got up, surely we can get back up again, and again, and again, no matter what obstacles in life may knock us down. We owe that to our Savior because of the massive price He paid. We really can say truly say “Victory is MINE if we trust Him enough to hold on to His unchanging hand. As much as it hurts, sometimes we have to get down in order learn a few things about growing up by looking up to the Master. No matter what, just don’t give up. I want my “but joy” and I hope you do to. It cost Him too much for us to just leave it on the shelf. In the words of my all-time favorite ministers of music, “Go get it!” Whatever the pain is, I know the joy is greater.
Te amo. Ti amo. Je t’aime. Ich liebe dich. Aloha wau ia ‘oe. Wo ie ni. Every language has a way to express the words we all long to hear: I love you. Whether it’s coming from our beloved granny or from that extra special “Boo”, ‘I love you’ always makes our hearts do a happy dance. But as sweet as those words sound, without the actual display of love, those three little words remain only three meager, insignificant, empty words.
More than anything else love is verb, a bona fide action word. It’s not a word that should be used solely to get someone in bed. It is not a word that should be used to manipulate people. It is not word that should be used with conditions attached. It’s not was word that should be used only when things are going well. First Kings, chapter 3 tells the story of how Solomon acquired his great wisdom. Also tucked away in this chapter is a very short story that depicts a beautifully accurate picture of love. Two women who lived in the same house gave birth to sons only a couple of days apart. One of the ladies’ babies died. As a result, she stole the other woman’s well son by replacing him with her deceased baby during the night. When the other mother woke up to feed the child, she realized the baby was not alive and the baby was not hers. Needless to say an argument ensued. The disputed women went before King Solomon looking for him to give a resolution. “A sword was brought, and Solomon ordered, ‘Cut the baby in half! That way each of you can have part of him.’ ‘Please don’t kill my son,’ the baby’s mother screamed. ‘Your majesty, I love him very much, but give him to her. Just don’t kill him.’ The other woman shouted, ‘Go ahead and cut him in half. Then neither of us will have the baby.’” (1 Kings 3:24-26 CEV). The narrative goes on to say that Solomon gave the baby to the first woman because her love was obvious. That’s the thing about genuine, sincere, real-deal, unconditional love. When the sword is brought, the love remains unmovable and you never have to question about it. The actual mother was willing to sacrifice being a mother rather than see her son die. The other lady only wanted to share her misery, no matter who it hurt. Who does that remind you of? Never forget that the enemy’s only mission is to kill, steal, and destroy by any means necessary. The enemy makes things like pre-marital sex seem harmless and mature. But then a young woman is left broken hearted and humiliated because the man she loved only loved the relations, not the relationship.
Satan has convinced the world that love only needs to be said and not lived. Broken promises, missed commitments, lost opportunities, thoughtless gifts, and tearful memories do not constitute love. Loved ones recognize and honor sacrifice. They notice when someone is “all-in” for the relationship. In other words, don’t just talk about it, be about it. First Corinthians 13 details the characteristics of love. It’s a magnificent passage. Yet, even beyond that we have the ultimate example in God the Father. He sent His only Son to die for the sins we committed, so that the gap between God and His beloved people could be mended. Jesus the Son fulfilled His purpose on Calvary until it was completely finished. Even though He had the ability and the right to not even go through with the crucifixion in the first place. Christ Jesus loves us so much as joint heirs that He is still interceding for us even at this very moment. The commitment of the Holy Trinity never wavers. Their love is consistently visible and never ends. So let’s stop playing these games with love. If you mean it, show it. If you don’t mean it, certainly don’t lie about it. Lying about love causes more emotional grief and spiritual death then you can ever imagine. If you don’t understand what love really is, seek the Master and allow Him to enlighten you, because when it’s all said and done, only love will remain.
My twin brother has always been the more adventurous one. He’s the one that can light up a room with his witty jokes and Southern charm. It was pretty obvious that he needed a career that wouldn’t keep him hemmed up in an office eight hours a day. It was a shock, however, when he decided to become a policeman. I really thought that he was just too nice to carry a gun and actually arrest people. Fortunately, his stellar personality has enabled him to be successful in law enforcement. We are very proud of him, but even after all of these years we continue to intercede for his protection daily. God has certainly covered him. Still, there was one night several years ago that put our faith to the test. Any loved one of a police officer will tell you they never want to hear the phone ring at 2AM. The night I got that call, I was instantly awake. There was no searching for the receiver or trying to adjust my eyes to the darkness. I sat straight up in bed, grabbed the phone, and prayed the message I was about to get wasn’t a fatal one. It was my mother’s voice on the other end of the line. She was hurried, but not crying, “We’re at the hospital with your brother. He’s been in a bad car accident, but he’s going to be okay. He’s got a broken hip.” The pounding of my heart slowed and relief swept over me like a welcomed breeze on an August afternoon. He was broken, but not dead. He was hurting, but alive. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” (James 1:2). And boy, did we count that news a joy! Weeks passed quickly and his recovery was smooth. Soon after, my brother had us crying tears of laughter as he gave the family his animated rendition of events on the day of the accident. We enjoyed his theatrics, but more than anything we simply enjoyed him. It’s not unusual for life to hand us a faith lesson wrapped up in a near tragedy, and this case was no exception.
There will come in a season in your life when you will be dejected in some way. Yes, even if you have surrendered your all at the foot of the cross, life will eventually wear you down. My brother said that when the car flipped he didn’t even realize he was hurt. He was more concerned about the gas he smelled. When the car came to a stop he immediately crawled out of the overturned cruiser and tried to run away from the car because he didn’t want to get caught in a fire. It wasn’t until he tried to stand up that he collapsed and pain surged through him. He had been so distracted by the possibility of a fire that he didn’t focus on the more pressing matter, his broken hip. The enemy doesn’t work any differently. Things of the world will distract you. They will keep you from focusing on your broken (not severed) relationship with the Father that resulted from operating outside of His will. For example, have you ever been so in love with someone that you compromised your beliefs to keep that person in your life? Then after all was said and done, the object of your affection still decided to move on. You were so distracted by the possibility of what that person could become to you that you didn’t focus on the real issue of trusting God’s promise for your husband (wife) on His terms. You were left broken, regretful, and wondering why you didn’t see it from the beginning. Or maybe you became so distracted by the income you were getting from your career that you dismissed the calling God had described to you years ago. The more ambitious you became, the harder it got to hear the voice of the Spirit. Now, you have all of the things you desired, but still feel defeated and empty. Perhaps, you have been in church your whole life, made good choices, do your best to serve the Lord, yet it feels like anything that can go wrong in your life is going wrong? Day after day you paste on the fake smile and declare the blessings of the Lord, even though you are dying on the inside. You can’t understand the constant trials and it’s getting harder and harder to keep up the façade. Your pride won’t let you ask for the help you need, and you can’t see any way to make it better. As a result, the thought of suicide has started to entice you. The realization that you are outside of the Master’s will can feel like you are carrying a ton of anvils on your back. Nevertheless, please, hold on! Your situation may smell like gasoline, but that’s not the real issue. In reality, He’s getting you ready for spiritual surgery.
When my brother was assessed by the medical staff, they promptly determined that he would need surgery. A pin would have to be placed in his hip. First, though, they had to get his hip back in alignment. The doctor literally applied an extreme amount of pressure to the hip to ‘pop’ it in place. It had to be done. The specialist had to allow the already broken policemen to be in additional pain in order to begin the healing process. My Dad declares I should have been able to hear Steve screaming from the ER in Mississippi to my home in Georgia. I may not have heard him, but rest assured when you cry out, “Lord! Why so much more pain? Why more pressure?” the true Specialist hears you. See, you can’t just leave a broken hip to heal on its own. It’s going to require some type of operation. According to the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, when a person’s hip is broken blood flow is diminished, so that puts the fracture at risk of not healing, especially when the breakage is badly displaced. The faith lesson: when we are displaced, out of alignment with the Father’s will, the Blood flow is diminished. We can’t fully benefit from the covering of the Blood if we aren’t willing to go through whatever is necessary to protect that life giving connection. So, no, you can’t stay in that place of brokenness and just expect it to get better with no exertion. Nothing changes shape unless stress is applied. Every decision we will ever make will have some type of consequence. Some consequences cost us more than others, and even if it feels like God is putting more pressure on you than you can handle, He’s actually just shaping you for repair.
The journal goes on to say that after surgery, getting patients up and out of bed as soon as possible greatly reduces the risk of complications. In order for you to come out like pure gold you have to take the risk of getting caught in the fire. You can believe it is going to hurt. But from what I have seen in my lifetime, a cold fire isn’t worth much. God doesn’t desire to leave you with a deformity or risk an infection. He sees that you are broken, but He is sure there is still life in you. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” (Jer. 29:11). He wants you to get up. He wants you walk toward Him. He wants your recovery to come quickly with no complications. It’s all in the process to make you a better you. Our God is a God of perfection and He desires that you heal perfectly. In your brokenness, you can only do so much. When you get to the point that you have nothing left, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a). Surrendering is not the same thing as giving up. Giving up happens when there is a sense of hopelessness. Surrendering happens you come to the realization that this isn’t your battle and you don’t have to fight anymore. It’s time for peace. It’s time to rest. It’s time to trust God’s promises. Being broken is not the end. It’s purely an opportunity for an upgrade.
ESPN Broadcasters have made the phrase “C’mon, Man!” extraordinarily popular in the sports world. Whenever an athlete does something unbelievably good or unbelievably bad he or she becomes a prime candidate for the “C’mon, Man!” segment. In our society today, I often see numerous scenarios outside of the world of sports that deserve a “C’mon, Man!” To be even more specific, I’ve seen numerous scenarios play out in the Body that has garnered a few “C’mon Mans”. But one thing that always leaves me with my jaw dropped and my head shaking is how quickly and dramatically we become offended when we are corrected. I totally understand that no one likes to be called to the carpet. It’s just not a good feeling to be scolded. It evokes emotions of embarrassment, shame, and obligation. The scolder is not the boss of us and we resent them for being so audacious. But even though God has made us joint heirs with Christ, we are still part of a fallen world where everyone has sinned and falls short of God’s glorious standard,” (Rom. 3:23 NLT). Yes, that ‘everyone’ includes even us, the Christians. Sin literally means to miss the mark. Unfortunately, we do miss the mark, sometimes by a little bit and sometimes by a mile. Yet, that doesn’t stop many of us from emphatically exclaiming, “You can’t judge me!” whenever our failings are called into question.
Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge or you too will be judged,” is a verse that is easily committed to memory, but often misinterpreted and misunderstood. Here’s the thing, in this verse the Greek word for ‘judge’ is ‘krinete’, which translates to ‘criticize ‘or ‘condemn’ in English. When we condemn another person we are declaring that they are somehow separated from the Father and therefore bound to an eternity of hopelessness. Criticism is generally not constructive and is literally defined as to judge unfavorably or harshly. However, I am willing to bet my last good dime that, most of the time, when someone disciplines us, they are only doing it because they genuinely care about us. We have all crossed paths with a Miss Suzy Busybody who has proclaimed herself as the next messiah since she is the only human alive free of sin. And since she is so perfect she has made it her business to be in everyone else’s business. Her comments are often insensitive and self-righteous, and they are meant to hurt, not heal. This is the type of harmful, condemning judgment that Matthew 7:1 is referencing. Luke 6:37 also explains that we are not to condemn others. The flip side of that is, if someone comes to us appropriately, kindly, discreetly, and in a loving manner, they are making an effort to help us better ourselves and our witness. In that case it would be wise to take note. Not only are they helping us, but they are pleasing God because they are being obedient to Him and following one of His more difficult commands, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted,” (Gal. 6:1).
As Christians we have the privilege of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us in all of the time. Yet, again, since we are simply human, there is a battle constantly raging between our human flesh and the perfect Holy Spirit. If we are totally honest with ourselves, we will have to mention that there are times when we drown out the voice (warning) of the Spirit because we have already decided for that particular instance we want to do what we want to do even when we know it’s wrong. Dare I say it…we choose sin. My Pastor makes a valid point when he says no one would sin if it didn’t feel so good to our flesh. The down side is that if left unchecked sin easily snowballs. What feels so good to the flesh will ultimately destroy us completely. Another privilege Christians have is to be surrounded by others who share our faith and love for the Master. People who genuinely care about our relationship with God as well as our overall wellbeing are the ones who challenge us to rise above the temptations and press toward the mighty promises of God. Rather than stand by and watch us forfeit God’s guarantees because of sin, the ones who love us are the ones who check us. Whether we want to admit it or not that is a very good thing. Remember, God calls us to correct each other, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, encourage – with great patience and careful instruction,” (2Tim. 4:2 NIV). Before you argue that this scripture is just for preachers, please be reminded that as Christians we were all given the ministry of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). So while we may not be in a pulpit, singing on stage, or serving in 3rd world missions, our lives are most definitely preaching. Now, what we each depict in our life sermon is solely up to us, but keep in mind, the world is paying extremely close attention, ready to ‘krinete’.
Not only is the person who is admonishing us doing the right thing, we will be blessed by regarding their words of love and caution. We see that over and over throughout the Word. Here are just a few examples that we should stow away in our memory banks:
When your BFF mentions that you are showing way too much cleavage to be attending a worship service consider her observation. When your ace tells you to reconsider how you treat the women you date, take a beat to consider his words. The next time you are making a exchange at the Christian bookstore and you are loudly “reading” the cashier up and down because you don’t agree with the store’s return policy, consider what the silent stares of strangers are saying. Before you ardently brush off your mother as old fashioned when she tells you that your choice to move in with your boyfriend, not-soon-to- be-husband is not appropriate for a Proverbs 31 woman, tune your head and your heart into the wisdom God has placed within her. When church members go out of their way to let you know that you need to attend service more often, take it seriously. When the Holy Spirit gives you that flag on the play you just made, don’t ignore Him, but see how you can make it right. It cost Christ too much for us to allow our temporarily hurt feelings and our pompous pride to tarnish His name. If we are going to be CHRISTians then we must not take the responsibility that comes with His name lightly. The sting of correction only last a little while, but the damage done by continual sin will leave permanent scars on you and the Body. So, the next time someone you love puts you on their “C’mon, Man!” list, it’s time to do something different and start down the narrow road to a better you. Humility and repentance has its rewards. But you’ll never know the magnitude of those rewards until you are willing to recognize sin as the curse and see correction as the blessing.
My husband and I have two toddlers, a two year old and a one year old. They have shown us how marvelous and miraculous God’s blessings truly are in so, so many ways. But when I say our little guys are energetic, I am truly putting it mildly. A better description would be energetic to the 1000th degree. There are times when we literally cannot keep up with them. For example, just recently we were out shopping on a Saturday in a very crowded mall. The one year old apparently noticed that his father and I were distracted and decided that was the time to make his break. He bolted out of the store, pacifier in tow, and started running through the mall. My husband took off after him and the two year old took off after my husband. (I continued shopping, because they would still need sandals once my husband hauled them back, right?). I guess our youngest has been planning his escape for a while, as he looked very determined when he passed the store window, but that’s an entirely different story. So, after the “freedom run” we decided it was time to head home. As we loaded the duo into their double stroller, the boys were as giddy and tickled as can be. They appeared to be all revved up for their next adventure. But even with all that virility, they were both sound asleep before we made it out of the parking lot. My husband made an excellent comparison. In his analogy he said the little fellows were like ethanol fuel. They burn really hot when they are on, but they also burn out very quickly. Yes, they are a handful, but they just can’t keep up that pace for very long periods of time.
Have you noticed a similar pattern in the Body of Christ? Too often people come to the Church and get caught up in the release of emotions in a lively worship service. To be quite honest, no one wants to serve a boring, underwhelming, God so who doesn’t enjoy a stirring service. However, the problem with making a life altering decision solely based on an emotional response is that the decision making process is clouded. Emotions are powerful, but they are also fickle and fleeting. I’m sure we can all think of a fellow Saint who may have shouted, danced, or cried their way to the altar during a fiery service. They gave their life to Christ, went through the assimilation process, and got baptized as soon as possible. They went on to join ten of the church’s twenty ministries, never missed a service of any type, talked about giving up all things secular, and managed to carry the biggest Bible and highlighter kit known to man. Then the emotional fueled energy turns into exhaustion and frustration. You notice they missed a few Sundays or didn’t show up to the ministry meeting. You try calling but their number has changed, and they won’t respond to emails. What happened? How could they go from being on fire for the Lord to being completely fizzled out in a matter of months? Proverbs 19:2 explains it like this, “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.”
Yes, it is most certainly God’s desire that no one should be lost, but God never intended for His church to be comprised of overly emotional, under committed folks. In order for us humans to love someone unconditionally we have to take time to get to know the person. We have to feel secure with the person and know that they are trustworthy. And in our humanness we must take time to get to know God also. We should most definitely love Him for just being Him, but we are imperfect creatures who live in a fallen world. We have been let down, we have been hurt, and we are cautious even when it comes to God. Studying God’s Word does not benefit God. It benefits us and allows us to grow a real relationship with Christ. But if we aren’t studying, we don’t know God. If we don’t know God, we don’t know His will for our lives. If we don’t know His will for our lives, we soon come down from the excitement of a great service and get caught up in the tests of life.
God has designed us all to do something extraordinarily special in His Kingdom. It is the responsibility of mature Christians who have been on the journey for a while to help those just coming to Christ to understand the value of developing a personal relationship with the Master, rather than trying to please Him through a legalist existence. “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 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. God 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” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). The elimination of Ethanol Christians can only happen if mature Christians are willing to be honest about the message that is being sent to new Believers.
Let’s all commit to taking time to do a private self-evaluation with just you and yourself. Ask yourself the tough questions. Am I working in the area of giftedness that God designed for me, or am I doing what I “feel” like doing? Am I a ministry-jack-of-all-trades but a master of none? Am I so concerned about keeping certain laws that others find me condemning and cold? Does my home personality match my church personality? How are my actions impacting those closest to me? Am I making them more interested in getting to know Christ or am I pushing them away? Am I giving God my sincere best or am I mostly just trying to “save face”? Do I possess any of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 (“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law”)? Would I still be willing to work for the Lord if I was not being compensated? Would I still be willing to work for the Lord if I was no longer the leader/soloist/drummer/preacher/pastor/first lady/missionary/etc.? Would I still be willing to work for the Lord if I never get any recognition? It’s okay to be honest with your answers because God already knows your heart.
The bottom line is very simple. Ethanol Christians will continue to come in strong and then disappear just as swiftly until the entire Body of Christ can get beyond personalities, titles, emotions and whatever else we want to use to make us erroneously feel as if we are the standard. But since we are only flawed humans, how can that even be a real possibility? Jesus was pretty clear, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself,” (John 12:32). Christ is the only one who deserves the spotlight. As a matter of fact, He gave life for it.
Being born and raised in Mississippi, I was destined to become a fan of the Blues. The Blues genre is legendary for narrating the heartbreaking, love seeking, fun loving tales of everyday people. One of my favorite Blues songs was made popular by the late Little Milton, entitled “Grits Ain’t Groceries”. The chorus is one you won’t soon forget, “If I don’t love you Baby, grits ain’t groceries, eggs ain’t poultry, and Mona Lisa was a man.” I chuckle to myself every time that tune pops into my head. Can you imagine being so devoted to someone that the magnitude of your love can actually change reality as you know it? Now, while many never would have called Little Milton an evangelist of sorts, there is a message in his words.
Just as Little Milton and countless others have longed to convince the object of their affection how vast their love is, God is no different. In the beginning, when God spoke the universe and everything in it into existence, He then determined, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them,” (Gen. 1:26-28a). We were on God’s heart from the very start. Even then He wanted to bless us and ensure we had all we ever needed. Even when man progressed and consistently turned his back on God, even when God knew His chosen people were making idol gods while He spoke to Moses in private, He still declared, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to the thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin,” (Exodus 34:6-7a). Still today, we seem to have made it a habit to abandon God’s ways for our own. We continue to make bad decision after bad decision. But just as Little Milton swore his love in his lyrics, “With a toothpick in my hand I’d dig a ten foot ditch. I’d run all through the jungle fighting off lions with a switch because you know I love you!” God wholeheartedly declares His love just as emphatically. The Apostle Paul recorded it like this, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
The Almighty could have easily dug a ten foot ditch or resolved to battle lions on our behalf. However, neither of those things could save our souls. In lieu of a toothpick or a switch, God decided to use a tree and His one and only Son as the way into our hearts. After about three or four minutes, “Grits Ain’t Groceries” comes to an end and we never know if Little Milton’s Crush ever returned his affection. But thank God, His love song recorded on Calvary is still playing. The ultimate sacrifice of Jesus closed the gap between God and man so we never have to wonder how much He loves us. Ironically, we were made clean because of blood. We gained life in death. He really does put our sins in the forgotten sea. He really doesn’t care how many folks said you were a failure. He doesn’t consider where you came from to be a hindrance. He doesn’t count all your faults as a point for condemnation. He only sees what He made you to be. He ignores those who said you were a lost cause. He will accept mustard seed sized faith. Today, God’s arms are still wide open. All you have to do is say yes to His love and watch Him change your reality.
In Part 2 of “Hills”, we hit the pause button just after the rebuilding of the temple had come to a screeching halt in Ezra 4. Now, enter Haggai and Zechariah. These were the 2 prophets God used to encourage Zerubbabel and the Israelites to get it together and get that temple built. I’m not sure exactly what they told the Israelites, but I can imagine it was probably something along the lines of, “Keep pumping those arms! We love hills! Hills make us strong!”
Haggai and Zechariah were so passionate about the task God had given them; they even jumped in and help with the actual rebuilding. What the exiles had been too discouraged and afraid to do for 16 years, only took a mere 4 years to complete. In just 4 years the temple, the heartbeat of the city, was complete. Beware! This is what the enemy does. He makes you think the problems or road blocks you encounter are bigger than they really are. I do not doubt for one minute that marching up your preverbal hill is excruciatingly hard. The more you march, the more your calves will burn, and the stronger your muscles will become. But here is the catch: you have to actually start!
Fast forward 60 years after the temple was completed. Life was good in Jerusalem and things had been going well. More exiles were returning home. Ezra, a priest and Bible scholar, had led some of those exiles back. What he finds is a city that was thriving in the things of the world and greatly lacking in the things of righteousness. After the building of the temple, things took a turn for the ungodly. Many of the Jewish men had married women of pagan nations. Once again, they were headed down a path away from God. Ezra simply called it like he saw it. The Bible says that Ezra wept bitterly, tore his tunic, and threw himself down before the house of God. Ezra knew the Word and he had a deep, ever pressing desire to live for God. He knew that the intermarriages were a recipe for disaster. For example, a Christian today wouldn’t marry someone who worships Satan. This, however, is basically what the Jews had done. Ezra was so impacted by the sin of his people that he began praying and confessing on their behalf, even though he had not sinned. When many of the Israelites saw Ezra weeping and praying, their hearts were changed and they began weeping also. They realized he was right; they had been unfaithful to the one true God. Here is what they didn’t do: they didn’t accuse Ezra of being judgmental because he called them to repent, and they didn’t deny their sins. It was what it was – sin. Instead, they told Ezra to do what he needed to do, and they would support him. Ezra was now in a position to make a decision that was going to be very unpopular among the masses. However, Ezra climbed his hill and the Israelites gladly followed because they knew their God by virtue of personal experience. They understood that God’s way was better than their own. They made the tough choice to separate from their foreign wives and even children!
Finally, I must ask, what is God calling you to separate from so that you can live fully for Him? Yes, I know it’s tough to leave your longtime family church to join another fellowship that is more Bible focused. But how can you grow spiritually connected to a “dead church” just because it is family operated? I know it’s hard to resist temptation when he is so fine and he did say that he might think about possibly one day maybe going to church with you… It’s hard to pay tithes when you already have bills over due. It’s hard to tell your manager, “No I won’t lie on this report,” when the unemployment rate is the highest it has ever been. It’s hard to admit that you, a preacher’s wife, has made a major mistake. When a customer mistakenly leaves you a $100 tip when he meant to leave a $10 tip, it’s hard to bring it to their attention. God has called you to another career, but it’s hard to be a wife, a single mother, work full time, and come up with tuition all at once. It’s a challenge not to curse when the AC and the hot water heater both have to be replaced within the same week. These, however, are just hills in your life. You can’t get to the mountaintop experience standing at the base of the hill. And you can’t climb just one hill and think you are ready to take on the mountain. Every time you choose righteousness, you climb another hill. You get better in the process. Every single time, you get stronger and wiser. Now, I’m not saying that you won’t be gasping for air by the time you make a climb. Even the best athletes sweat. But that is why when we are at our weakest, God is at His best (2 Cor. 12:10). He is most certainly greater.
Rise up! It’s up to you! Be courageous! You have support in His promises! Do it! Choose righteousness! Taste and see how good it feels to climb your hills (Ps. 34:8). Oh yes, hills indeed make you strong. But, God – He’s the One that makes it worth it.
Just a little while ago (in Part 1), we began discussing the rather engaging book of Ezra and relating it to the hills in our lives. We are now at the point in the story when the Israelite exiles were headed home (Ezra 2-4). The 60,000 or so who decided to return to Jerusalem were backed by the Persian King Cyrus (Persia had conquered Babylon). Cyrus decreed that they should have every single thing they needed to rebuild the temple plus what had been taken from them by the notorious Nebuchadnezzar. Zerubbabel, an Israelite from the house of David, and apparently a pretty good leader, lead the exiles home. Once they got settled in the land, they immediately got busy building an altar and then built the foundation for the temple. Things were going well, until…. the haters showed up.
Even in their own homeland, the Jews still had enemies. These enemies were not native to Israel, but they offered to help build with the rebuilding of the temple mainly so they could cause drama during the process. Zerubbabel and the other Jewish leaders knew the haters didn’t value or reverence God the way they did, so they turned down the offer for help. When the haters were turned down, can you believe they even went through the trouble of hiring people to help shut the temple rebuilding down? What’s worse, can you believe it worked? Zerubbabel and the Israelites stopped working on the temple not for just a couple of weeks or months, but for 16 full years. Sixteen years were wasted because of fear and opposition. Point number 2: how many years, how many goals, how many promises, how many ideas have fear and your enemies stolen from you? Even though, the Jews had a written decree from the king, they still allowed apprehension and abhorrence to paralyze them. Our King, God the Father, has promised that if we seek Him first, He will take care of the rest (Matt. 6:33). If God places a gift, a special assignment, any type of testimony, or anything on your life, He will provide everything you need to do what it is that you and He both want you to accomplish. But once again, you have to climb the hill. You have to push past all those who said you will never be able to accomplish your feat. Push past the fear of rejection. Push past the fear of losing your 401K if you start your own business. Push past the fear of losing friends if you say no to the club and yes to mid-week Bible study. Push past the fear of losing your man if you say no to pre-marital sex. Push past the fear of losing your 6-figure income if your job calls for you do the unethical and immoral. You just have to pump your arms a little harder when the country is in a recession and you just got downsized. You can’t stay at the bottom of the hill trying to will your way to the top. That will get you nowhere fast, and like the Jews, it may even cost you another 16 years in a different type of captivity in your own land.
Thank you for taking time to check out Part 2 of “Hills Make Us Strong”! The fact that you actually read Parts 1 AND 2 mean more than you will ever know. I am immensely grateful. But for now, we will pause, allowing the conversation to “soak in” a little. Don’t worry, we aren’t stopping here. Come back soon and continue the journey as we pick up Ezra Chapters 5 – 10 in “Hills Make Us Strong: The Finale”.