Monday, August 27, 2012

I AM changes i am

Three weeks ago, I began a series I was titling “The Other Side.”  My thinking was to reflect on what it is like to be on the other side of things we hear talked about as Christians.  For example, what if we’re the one wanting to be forgiven, instead of the one who needs to forgive?  What if we’re the receiver of hurtful words, not the one who must learn to guard our tongue?  However, in light of the start of a new school year, and a new chapel theme at Arizona Christian, where I work part time, I am going to put that series on hold.  Our theme at ACU this year is “I AM changes i am.”  #transform. 

In June of 2011, I felt led to purposely look at the ‘I AM’ statements of Jesus.  Even then, we discovered, that A (if I truly understand WHO HE IS) + B (who i am because of WHO HE IS) = (then) C (I will live confidently in my identity).  So, if you feel so inclined, you can go back to those blogs for a refresher.  However, in light of our new theme, and a conversation I had with a student this week, my goal is to dig more deeply into the concept of who I am, really, in Jesus.  It seems all of us struggle with living out of our true identity.  The student I met with this week has head knowledge, just like all of us...but she struggles with the “how” part of the living out - the place where reality is met with her theology.  As we start this series, I begin with a note and a challenge I wrote her:                                                                                       

Good morning,

I’ve been thinking about our conversation this week.  I’m not trying to force any “Aha” moments, where all of a sudden you just “get” the how of victory in Jesus. I do, however, pray that you can begin to believe the very things God believes about you (no matter what your “feelings” might say).  Somehow these truths need to get from your head down into your heart. I’ve wondered what is blocking that from happening.

The most interesting truth struck me today as I was reading Mark 6:5-6.  Basically, without writing out the verses, it says that Jesus could not do any miracles in his hometown.  Why?  What limited him?  What held him back from doing what he was doing everywhere else?  Verse six holds the key, “He was amazed at their lack of faith.”  Their unbelief limited God’s ability to work in the life of the very people he had come to help.  Think about that.  Just a question for you – could the victory you are seeking be blocked by this very thing - faith?

Of course, even our faith, Scripture tells us, is a gift of God.  It is not anything we can “work up.”  So, how do we increase that faith, which will help bring victory into reality?  My mind went first to the story revealed in the gospels about the healing of the young boy from an evil spirit.  Jesus words to the man seemed a bit harsh, “If you can?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief (Mark 9:23-24).”  First key to increasing our faith is prayer for God’s favor.  It’s OK to ask for the gift of faith.  It should be a regular prayer request.

I also remembered the passage in Romans 10.  “Faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of Christ (17).”  Second key is continual exposure to Scripture.  Freedom is found in the truth (John 8:32).

So, let’s pray for an increase of faith, together...and let’s explore the Scriptural truths about our identity.  As we do this “work” – we may be overwhelmingly surprised at the miracle of freedom.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Other Side: Of Hurtful Words, 2

Last week we started to look at Proverbs 26:2 and the relationship between this passage and hurtful words without cause:

Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow to its flying, so a curse without cause does not come to nest (Proverbs 26:2).

This passage actually gives us a terrific word picture.  One meant to illustrate how we should respond when we’re on the “other side” of wounding words.  Words, which we can’t seem to un-do the damage of, because we keep re-living them.  Words that were meant to cut deeply – and did!  Words, that after evaluation, didn’t hold any merit, were nothing more than empty, wasted air, except that their arrow struck deep into our hearts and minds.  They absolutely hit the mark. 

Here’s the illustration.  The passage wants us to picture a small bird looking for a place to nest.  However, for one reason or another, the bird can’t find a resting place.  Instead of settling in on the branch of some tree, it can’t stop flitting from place to place. 

Words without cause need to be treated just like those birds.  Instead of offering them a branch on the tree of our heart, shoo them away; and, for heaven’s sake, don’t build them a bird house and put out seed each morning (instead, you might consider putting up a scare crow…).  In other words, don’t keep mentally going back over the conversation.  Quit picking at the scab and opening the wound.  What a waste of good energy that could be used for Kingdom work.  That’s why the enemy keeps shooting those words on fiery darts into the battlefield of your mind.  He knows how distracting dwelling on our own hurts can be!  The sage of Proverbs is trying to give us a soothing salve of healing help – wisdom for wise living.  In contrast, continuing to live in the pain of past conversations is considered foolishness.  Oh, how I don’t want to be foolish!

In case that word picture isn’t enough, Solomon gives us another one a little further down in the chapter:  As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool returns to his folly. (Proverbs 26:11).  Seriously, does that not gross you out?  Well, so should returning over and over again to the words without cause that we let disturb us – over and over and over again.  When we do; we are that dog! Ick!

I’m a visual person.  So, this morning in my journal, I jotted down some words I’ve recently heard spoken in reference to me.  I sat with them for a bit.  What I needed to confess, I’ve confessed and given back to Jesus to cleanse.  I’ve sincerely written a thank you note to the person who helped me see correcting truth.  However, there are other words, which have gotten back to me, that really don’t hold water.  On those words, I drew wings, and I’ve sent them on their way. 

So, if you’re in that same place, I encourage you, some words you gotta just “let fly away…”  Now, back to Kingdom work!

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Other Side: Of Hurtful Words

Gossip.  Criticism.  Slander.  Cursing.  Taking God’s name in vain.  Scripture is filled with verses reminding us of the woes we’ll experience when our mouths are unguarded.  These, we’re informed, should all be matters of the conscience.  These are “ought-nots” for the Christian.  James says it perfectly, “My brothers (or, sisters) this ought not to be (James 3:10).” 

Ah, but more than quicken our consciences, they should be reminders of the darkness of our hearts.  When words spill out that “ought not,” and we wound others, we don’t have to wonder, “Where did that come from?” No, we really don’t have to be shocked, because Jesus warned us, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).” Ewwww, ugly heart!

What, though, if you are on the “other side” of words that wound?  Ever been there?  Yeah?  Me, too!  Like a scene from a bad movie, the video clip replays itself over and over in our minds.  Every time we re-visit and re-hear the painful words, we re-experience the hurt.  The words land in our hearts like a bird on a tree needing to nest.  There they lay eggs, which hatch.  More wounds.  More festering.  More fuel to the fire that already burns.

Here’s the way Proverbs explains it (definitely worth pondering this verse):
Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow to its flying, so a curse without cause does not come to nest (Proverbs 26:2).

Huh?  Let’s unpack it.  The word “curse” is an important word.  In my Hebrew lexicon, the full definition says this:  to speak ill of another, to vilify, to lower in worth or value, a rude expression intended to hurt or offend, to verbally abuse.

The phrase that follows is most critical, “without cause.”  From time to time words sting, and we carry them like boulders in a backpack.  However, those words carry some truth.  They hold some merit.  When words are spoken that have this kind of credibility, we need to do something with them, besides simply haul them around. First, we need to evaluate the following statement:  In every criticism there is an element of truth.  What’s true?  Whatever is true, we take to heart.  What we take to heart, we repent of, and make course correction.  Then, we should sincerely thank the speaker!  “Faithful are the wounds of a friend (Proverbs 27:6).”  “Iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17).”  These folks, no matter how they may have said the words, intended to help better us.  That’s why they called us out.  From them we learn, we correct, we move on, and we let go!

However, what if the words spoken were meant to hurt? What if there was no just cause?  What then?  Stay tuned...  (In the meantime, meditate more on those words of Proverbs 26:2.  They hold the key.  Practice a little Lexio Divina:  What does the passage say?  What does it mean?  What can I do, or change?  Let’s compare notes next week.)

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Other Side: of Forgiveness

My God will fight for me, I have only to be silent (Exodus 14:14).

Some time back I sat under excellent teaching through the book of Colossians.  One sermon has had me pondering a “thought” ever since – the focus of which was forgiveness.  To open the message, the pastor shared a story, which I will quickly repeat.

A man was bitten by a rabid dog and, naturally, sent to the hospital for treatment.  Unfortunately, the bite was too severe, and nothing could be done to cure the man.  So, the doctor went to his bedside to deliver the bad news.  “I’m so terribly sorry, but there is nothing we can do for you.  You are terminal.  In the few remaining lucid days you will have, you might want to consider getting your affairs in order, writing your will, calling in family, etc.”  As the doctor departed, the gentleman in the bed reflected on the words heard, and pulling out a piece of paper, began scribbling as fast as he could.  He was still writing when the doctor returned several minutes later.  “I see you are taking quite seriously the encouragement to get your affairs in order. Writing your will, are you?”  “No,” replied the sick man.  “Making a list of everyone I want to bite before I die.”

According to biblical principles, we, as Christians know that revenge is really not sweet, contrary to popular opinion.  Jesus spells it out clearly in Matthew 18 the importance of forgiveness, then went on to model it for us from the cross.  Paul gives us strong words in Ephesians 4:32, “And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”  These are words we know…words that are sometimes hard to do.  Necessary, but often difficult.

Yet, that’s not the direction my mind went following the sermon.  I listened carefully. I walked through the ending exercise given the congregation, but my brain (as is often the case) went down an entirely different road.  The question I asked myself was this, “Whose lists would I be on?”  I sat with that question for a bit, and it definitely didn’t take too long for some names to pop in my mind. 

That breaks my heart.  The truth is that even though I’m still on some lists, I believe I’ve followed correct biblical procedure to seek reconciliation.  That morning, I searched my heart for anything else I might do to bring about restoration.  Just as hard as it is to forgive, it’s almost as difficult to be on the other side – wanting the forgiveness, but not able to receive it.  Ever been there?  So, what do you do in the meantime, because you can’t live your life painfully waiting for what might not happen?  It can eat us alive, internally, or we can take God’s approach.  Here are some things the Lord reminded me –
1.   Bless those who persecute you and pray for those who are spiteful against you (even this is a form of persecution).  So, for those whose lists I know I am on, I have written out a prayer of blessing.  Whenever their name pops into my thoughts, I add to the prayer written in my journal.

2.  Seek mercy, love justice, and walk humbly with God.  I asked again, is there any opportunity to seek mercy, even still, and request what I might do to humbly satisfy the debt?

3.  Be silent.  I don’t need to talk to or about; I don’t need to defend or fight on my own behalf.  I simply need to let go and watch for God to intervene.

4.  Return to an attitude of praise.  When the thing I want to do most is fight on my behalf, I remember how Jehoshaphat was led into battle – praising God.  

Praising and blessing do the most for turning something the enemy would want to devastate us with into glory and honor and peace that passes all understanding.