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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Can You Only Say "Yes" or "No"?

Want to win a copy of my newest book, Never Ever Be the Same: A New You Starts Today? Continue reading.

Although it's a well known verse, it was meaningful to me in a new way as I read it:

Let what you say be simply "Yes" or "No," anything more than this comes from evil. --Matthew 5:37 NASB

Usually I just read on past that verse, but this time I asked myself, "What 'evil' could be avoided if I just said yes or no? And what evil intentions are revealed in me when I don't?"

I came up with this list:

  • defending myself
  • trying to impress others
  • exaggeration
  • pride
  • boasting
  • contempt for others (even myself)
  • excessive words
  • gossip
  • criticizing others

Wow. I was surprised. Definitely some striking thoughts. 

Now, certainly, we can still do and say those things in other ways, but how much of it would be diminished if we only said "yes" or "no."

Here's a little spiritual exercise for you and me. Let's practice diminishing our words of explanation, defending, and anything else that comes from "evil" motives. 

As we do, notice what is going on in our hearts. How are we not trusting God? How are we trying to manipulate the situation? What does God want to show us about ourselves or Himself?

Shall we try for three days of really concentrating on this? If you want, let me know you're "in" and then comment on what you learned.

And from those who do, I'll draw a winner of Never Ever Be the Same.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Give-Away: "Praying for the Prodigal"

Some time ago, Andrea Merrell, who edited my book Partly Cloudy with Scattered Worries, let me know that she was writing a book about coping with having a Prodigal titled Praying for the Prodigal. I wanted to read that book--because although our relationship with our son is good, he is not following the Lord. I'm so glad I read her book and I gave it my endorsement. 

So I'm pleased to be able to tell you her book is now available--and she wants to give one away in a drawing. So read below how you might win Andrea's book and I hope you'll also be encouraged from her guest post here. (You can also purchase Praying for the Prodigal and have one right away!)

Hope for the Prodigal

By Andrea Merrell

Blue lights flashed as I made my way to the drive-thru line at a local fast-food restaurant. The gas station adjacent to the parking lot was roped off with tape and blocked by several police cars. I fought uneasiness and the urge to keep driving.

When I reached the window to pay for my food, I asked what was going on. Thinking there might have been a robbery, I was shocked to hear, “Young guy went in the bathroom, shot up, and OD’d."

As I drove away, my heart broke and the tears fell. I didn’t know the young man, but I grieved for him—for his friends and family—for all the young people caught up in this destructive lifestyle. Perhaps my tears were also tears of joy and thankfulness. Whenever there is a senseless tragedy like this, I always hear the words, “That could have been your kids.”

And it almost was.

For several years, both my son and daughter were caught up in a lifestyle of drugs and alcohol. My husband and I did everything we knew to raise them in a godly environment, and this was the last thing we ever expected to happen. Statistics say eighty-eight percent of children raised in an evangelical Christian home will leave the church by the age of eighteen. Many will turn away from authority, parental values, and biblical teaching, losing their potential, their health, and their destiny—sometimes even their life. We just never thought it could happen to us. Suddenly we found ourselves dealing with not one but two prodigals and we had no idea what to do.

During those dark, dreadful days, there were tears, anger, frustration, exorbitant expenses, and many sleepless nights. It was only by God’s grace that my children survived. There were many times they could have gone to jail, been critically injured, or even died. Because I blamed myself, my guilt and condemnation caused me to doubt myself and even God. How could He possibly let this happen? 

The truth is: even good kids rebel—and even good parents can end up with a prodigal.

I learned that God loves my kids even more than I do, and He is well-able to take care of them. My responsibility is to love them and pray His Word over them daily. Before I could do that with faith and confidence, I had to get my relationship with Him back on track by forgiving myself, forgiving my kids, and by learning to trust God with my whole heart.

The road was long and filled with potholes, but God was faithful. He protected my son and daughter, delivered them from the drugs and alcohol, and restored them to a right relationship with Him and with their family. The lessons we learned along the way were numerous. He gave us practical survival tips to keep our sanity in the midst of the crisis, and taught us how to stand firmly upon His promises.

If you or someone you love is dealing with a prodigal, know that there is always hope. Take it from someone who has been there—and survived. 

Andrea Merrell is Associate Editor for Christian Devotions Ministries and Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She is also a freelance editor and has been published in numerous anthologies and online venues. Andrea is the author of Murder of a Manuscript. The Gift, and Praying for the Prodigal. For more information visit www.AndreaMerrell.com or www.TheWriteEditing.com.  

For the drawing, make a comment on my blog or email me: Kathyspeak @ gmail.com (omit spaces). If you make a comment, please check back after I pick the winner. My system doesn't give me an email address for you. I will pick the winner on Wednesday evening, April 22, 2015. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Do You Suffer From the Railroad Tracks Syndrome?

As each of us travel a new road of greater commitment to the Lord, we became aware of reactions in our lives that Larry and I began to call the “Railroad Tracks Syndrome.” This is when we say we believe one thing (usually the biblical, godly way) but our behavior reveals the opposite. Our claim of obedience is one of the rails on that railroad track and we think we're living a “mono-rail” life. But the truth is, it's a railroad track with two rails! And the other rail is the opposite of what we claim. 

For instance, as we gave lay counseling to “Grant,” it became evident that his need to be pessimistic proved he was more often trusting his own schemes instead. He pushed people away to make sure friendships didn't create pain. All the while, he insisted that he trusted God. As a result, he wouldn't face his sin and of course, then he couldn't change. 

Let's look at actual comments we've heard from others:

“Of course I trust God; but it's no big deal for me to worry a little about something this important.” (The truth: God says “do not be anxious about anything” in Philippians 4:6-7, italics added.)

“Of course, I love my husband; but the only way he'll be motivated to clean up the yard is if I nag him a little.” (The truth: God says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” in Philippians 2:14.)

“Of course, I have God's power to do whatever he wants me to do; but I'm not so sure I could be a missionary to some third world country.” (The truth: God says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” in Philippians 4:13.)

We all have this Syndrome in our lives and it deceives us from being aware of our lack of trust in God. As a result, we develop a hardened heart that becomes resistant to change.

Recognizing our own Railroad Track thinking most often requires the insights of others or being open to some instruction through books, sermons, or counseling. Most of the time we are too blinded to them because we're thinking we're right. Being open to being willing to change means having a teachable heart that hears and considers the opinions of others. God may indeed want to use friends and family to help you see your blind spots. Are you willing to do that? Does your gratitude for the grace you've received motivate you to risk and face all that God wants you to face?

(This is an excerpt from our new book, Never Ever Be the Same: A New You Starts Today (Leafwood Publishers) which offers Christians hope that they can change their destructive patterns of behavior through identifying their sinful self-protective strategies and then being empowered to trust God instead.  http://amzn.to/1ITmLfy )

Thursday, April 9, 2015

God Knows I Had A Seizure

I'm surprised that with my current circumstances that the Holy Spirit keeps bringing to my mind Ephesians 3:20. After all, God knows I had a seizure, it's no secret to Him, yet He promises:

"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us."

My current circumstances aren't usually what someone would call "abundantly beyond." After all, don't we think of that verse and those words and think of what we would define "good"? 

Photo by Steve Swayne

For you see, I had a seizure the day Larry and I were supposed to leave Greece, about two weeks ago. God had given us a very fruitful five weeks of ministry and we took the opportunity to go to the Parthenon on our last day. It was magnificent of course. Then we settled into eating our lunch at a restaurant nearby and after a few bites of my delicious Greek salad, I ...don't remember anything until I woke up in a hospital an hour and a half later. After multiple tests, and wonderful care, nothing could be found to explain my seizure.

Since then, Larry and I traveled home and I saw my general doctor yesterday. He believes my symptoms indicate a grand mal seizure and referred me to a neurologist for an appointment next Thursday. 

What does the future hold? Only God knows. For right now, I can't drive. I shouldn't be alone. Larry has risen to the occasion with love and care for me--and trust in God's plan for our future. 

We can see God's sovereign provision in that I've been scheduled for months to speak at a women's retreat this weekend. When plans were first made, the committee let me know I could bring a friend at no cost. Although I usually travel alone, I invited my sister to join me. We have often said we'd like to minister together and she was available this time. 

So I'll have constant supervision (happy face). My faith is strengthened to know God is doing above and beyond all that we didn't even know to ask or think. 

Thank you for praying for me, for us, for the wisdom and direction for the neurologist as we meet with him next Thursday. Please ask God that we will walk in His continued provision of peace and trust in His plan which will be proven to be "beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works within us."

You most likely didn't have a seizure recently, yet God knows all that is currently happening in your life and He cares. He has only good intended for you because He is able to do far beyond what you can even ask, think, or grasp. Let's trust Him together. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Jesus Is Our Sympathizer

I was reminded of Hebrews 5:8-9 the other day when we studied it in church. It's a verse that can be confusing:

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered, and having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation. (NASB)

The phrase "having been made perfect" seems contradictory since we know Jesus was perfect and never sinned. Therefore, what does "being made perfect" refer to?

In the margin of my Bible, I made a note: "perfection for the role of High Priest." I don't remember when I wrote that, but it makes sense.


Because of what Hebrews 4:14-15 tells us,

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (NASB)

How was Jesus perfected? By suffering what we suffer and being tempted by what we're tempted by. He felt the pain we do. He felt the pull and demands of temptation. He knows what it's like to be human. And yet He responded perfectly.

That way, He can sympathize with the trials and temptations we face. That's great news! It means when we come to Him, He never says, "Well, I wish I could understand what you're talking about, but I can't. I'll try to help but I'm a little clueless as to what you need."

Instead He says, "I know exactly what you're talking about and I've been there. I've experienced your pain, trials, and temptations. Not only do I want to help you, I can help you because not only did I create you, not only do I know everything about you, but I also know exactly how you're feeling. And I responded perfectly in trust of the Father."

That's why Hebrews 4:16 is so very very, powerful in what all this means to us:

Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need. (NASB)

The implications for us are monumental. 

Jesus offers mercy because He says: "I've experienced what you're going through. I feel your pain. I am sympathetic without condoning sin."

Jesus offers grace because He says, "I know your weakness, because I was tempted to be weak by distrusting the Father" (but he overcame).

What joy! Jesus became perfect as a High Priest and we enjoy the benefits: help, sympathy, empathy, and understanding. Jesus never pushes us away because of our doubts, stumbles, or confusion, even our sin. He knows what we're going through.

How wonderful that our confusion over Hebrews 5:8-9 can become rejoicing and gratitude. Do these verses and insights speak to you?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Do We Love Or Do We Love Well?

Do we love others or do we love others well? All of us love imperfectly. But loving “well” means we love a person for their benefit rather than what it does for us or how it makes us look. We're not talking about perfection but we are talking about desiring another's good. We've all been around someone who is supposedly expressing love for us but it is disingenuous because it is really about them looking good or getting what they want. We don't really feel encouraged or cared for.

I, Larry, may be wrong but I sensed a lack of loving well when I received an e-mail from a man who was considering buying one of our marriage books for his wife. He wrote, “I choose to love my unsaved wife as I love myself. She has a lot of issues and it's my hope, prayer and confidence that my example, the light that I allow to shine in our home, and the love that I extend to her, just as God has done for me, will be a part of what God uses to save her.”

I didn't have any kind of relationship with this man to be able to inquire into his motives. But I could sense that he might easily come across to his wife as thinking himself better than her. I wondered if he communicated a belief that he never needed to repent of anything and that she should be grateful for the way he puts up with her. 

And I also wondered, “What is his motive for needing to explain?” Does he speak to others with this same kind of superior attitude? If his wife shares with him the superior attitudes she senses, how would he respond? I had a deep sense that he wasn't loving her well. Unfortunately, he had concluded he loved her so well that he was amazed his sparkling and pristine example of Christ's love hadn't compelled her to become a Christian.

Here are other common ways we do not love well:
A husband buys his wife for their anniversary (or birthday or Christmas) what he wants for himself, not what she values. He looks forward to the admiring looks from his friends when he uses the item himself.

A wife plans an elaborate surprise birthday party for her husband, but he would rather enjoy a weekend away with her. But the accolades the wife gets at the party motivates her to throw another party the next year.

We’ve all been guilty at one time or another, but we may be able to avoid this error by focusing on how God loves us well. He always responds to us for our greatest good and desires our greatest benefit. Let’s make a commitment to do the same for those we love.

How has God shown you that kind of loving “well”?

(This is an excerpt featuring my husband, Larry, from our book Never Ever Be the Same: A New You Starts Today 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

When Are We Like the Rich Young Ruler?

Do you want to see Jesus’ compassion and patience in action? It’s in Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler.

In one way or another, we’re all like the rich young ruler of Matthew 19:16-22. We just each have a different sinful strategy to cope with life. The young ruler’s sinful strategy was self-sufficiency through keeping the law and commandments. And when he talked to Jesus, he most likely expected Jesus to suggest he follow those rules for gaining eternal life. 

Jesus at first stayed at the level of the Law by challenging him, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (verses 18-19). 

Evidently the young man thought that was the easy answer on the quiz because he claimed he had done those things. He had no clue that Jesus was referring to that “to-do” list as a barometer of the heart. This young man's behavior seemed obedient but evidently, he hadn't attended the class entitled “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 5-7). Because there Jesus explains it's all about the heart not just the behavior. 

Jesus in his compassionate way was gently guiding this young man toward truth, even knowing he would walk away. 

The young man then asks, “What else do I lack?” You have to give him credit. He seems determined and he knows there's something more. Jesus says, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (verse 21).

This was a specific soul care interaction designed exactly for this man. We have no record that Jesus ever told anyone else to do that same thing. Why? Because other recorded interactions didn't include a person who idolized and suffered from a sinful strategy of self-sufficiency.

Interestingly, Zaccheus evidently didn't suffer from this strategy or he quickly repented from it, because even though Jesus didn't tell him to “go, sell,” Zaccheus did it of his own accord (Lk. 19:1-10). His heart was supernaturally healed and delivered—from the inside out; the fruit was generosity to others and commitment to Jesus.

The rich young ruler's heart was not changed. “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (verse 22). His possessions were his god and he did not want to surrender his strategy of self-sufficiency. It must have felt impossible and he ended up choosing eternal death, thus not finding the eternal life he sought from Jesus. 

We love how Jesus compassionately and patiently tried to woo this young man to believe. Can we hear Jesus’ wooing us, calling to us to abandon our insufficient efforts at providing for ourselves?

(This article is excerpted from Never Ever Be the Same: A New You Starts Today (Leafwood Publishers) which offers Christians hope that they can change their destructive patterns of behavior through identifying their sinful self-protective strategies and then being empowered to trust God instead.  http://amzn.to/1ITmLfy)