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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Protect My Image At All Costs

Here's one of my husband, Larry's, stories in our book:

I, Larry, remember as a child in Sunday School protecting myself from the ridicule of others about my poor public reading skills. It would just kill me when the teacher would have the group read a passage of Scripture by asking each student to read one verse, going around the circle. I was always grateful when the reading order allowed me to count ahead. I would find “my” verse and then recount to make sure I didn't miscount. Then, oblivious to the content of the material, I would read in my mind each word of my verse over and over. It helped me to feel in control.

Even now I can vividly remember the tension that quivered inside me as a seven-year-old boy.  I must not be exposed as weak!

Now as an adult, I attend a weekly men's Bible study and at the start of each lesson, the teacher calls upon one of us to open in prayer. I can remember thinking, “Call on me please. I have something to share that is rich.” Why was that?  Because I always came prepared with some scripture and a written prayer. I remember thinking this was good stuff that would edify us all. 

This was even more important to me because on occasion, I would fill in for that teacher. I needed to be thought of well by those men so that when I taught the lesson my words would be well-regarded.

Paul David Tripp says, "God will take you where you haven’t chosen to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own.” In time, I saw the truth: God wanted me to feel the weight of my sin against him when I protected my image of a mature Christian leader in the eyes of those men. Just like the little boy, I was determined to insure others thought well of me and my position.

When I became aware of my sin, I asked God to forgive me. I surrendered by not going to class with a prepared prayer. I prayed, “Lord, even if I'm seen in a negative light and not regarded as a strong Christian, I will trust that you know what you're doing. I will cry out to you in prayer in that moment trusting your leading. You know how to minister to the needs of others. I'll trust in that.”

Is there a way that you are trying to protect your image and you see now that you are rejecting God’s identity of you as his child? His image of you because of your inheritance in Christ is never changing. Isn’t that better than the unpredictable approval of others?

(This article is excerpted from Never Ever Be the Same (Leafwood Publishers) which offers Christians hope that they can change their ungodly reactions through identifying their self-protective strategies and trusting God instead. http://amzn.to/1ITmLfy) 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What Does "Godly Sorrow" Look Like?

Several years ago, a friend passed along confidential information about us and we were hurt. It initially felt “right” to wallow in our pain and we wanted to strike out in anger. But then we rehearsed how we could choose to have godly sorrow instead.

When someone sins against any of us, godly sorrow is the loving choice because then we grieve because we know they will suffer from their sinful choices. We grieve, wanting the best for them rather than lashing out in some ungodly way and justifying it. We begin to desire their repentance even if we are never justified, vindicated, and credited with loving them well. 

Godly sorrow most often includes giving grace and mercy to the person who doesn't deserve it. This response is godly because it is not about us, it is about God being glorified through treating them with God's kind of love, forgiveness, and understanding. We may still set boundaries but even that can be a result of godly sorrow.

Of course, Jesus is our perfect example of Godly Sorrow. Notice his heart in the interaction with the Pharisees and the man with a withered hand:

Again he [Jesus] entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 3:1-6)

Jesus models for us godly sorrow by being “grieved” by the Pharisees' “hardness of heart.” He longed for them to enjoy a true relationship with their Heavenly Father instead of the painful consequences of hard hearts. And he longed for them to enjoy the fruits of godly compassion for a hurting man. Jesus' anger was not sinful because it was purely motivated by wanting the best for them.

All of us have a hard time reaching that level of purity in our desires, therefore what we might want to call “righteous indignation” or “righteous anger” is mixed with selfish desires. But we can grow closer to that level of righteous indignation through choosing godly sorrow.

When we have true godly sorrow, we are motivated by the same love that motivated Jesus: a desire for someone else to enjoy the fruits of righteousness and avoid the destructive effects of sinful choices. Jesus didn't make it about himself—even though he was being rejected and he should, of all people, receive the respect he deserved. He never took ungodly behavior “personally.” Instead, he grieved for the pain it caused others.

In what way could you seek God’s strength to have godly sorrow toward someone today?

(This article is excerpted from Never Ever Be the Same (Leafwood Publishers) which offers Christians hope that they can change their ungodly reactions through identifying their self-protective strategies and trusting God instead. http://amzn.to/1ITmLfy )

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I Have Every Right to Be Angry at That Driver!

(Thanks to my husband, Larry, who shared this in our new book, Never Ever Be the Same: A New You Starts Today.)

As Christians we have no rights and entitlements. We can only rightfully claim the promise of our inheritances in Christ and any other promises made in Scripture. How deceived our minds and hearts can become. 

I, Larry, have experienced a deceived heart while driving. I have become angry when someone went too slow, cut me off, or seemed so clueless that they momentarily ruined my day. At times, I've even found an inappropriate adjective easily popping from my tongue that describes a character flaw in that driver which does not reflect the image bearing status of him or her. 

Being easily Hooked began to trouble me. After all, I didn’t know that person. I knew their behavior said nothing about me, but I was vexed by these angry outbursts that seemed to come from nowhere. I wondered, “What can be underneath this anger? Why do I have such trouble checking the erupting feelings and preventing the fruit of the Spirit to flow through me?”

So I started examining my heart. I remembered that Kathy and I went on our first overseas ministry trip to Caracas, Venezuela. Traffic was so congested there that getting around the town during the day was always bumper to bumper. If there were two lanes of traffic in one direction the drivers would make it three. I learned there are red lights you must stop for, and then there are red lights you never stop for because you will get rear-ended. In all this crazy driving I never saw another driver get angry. Everyone moved in real close and just honked their horns to alert their driving “neighbor” that they were there. It was clear, no one had the expectation that they had personal space. The entire street was fair game. Everyone just honked their way around town in what seemed like a chaotic order that made sense to them. They drove like madmen without the “mad.”

We know the American highway system is vastly different. We expect, no, we demand our personal space. Let's face it, many of us are totally self centered while we drive.

As I reflected on the root causes of my anger, the Lord showed me there was something darker hiding beneath my anger. Comparing the driving culture of third world countries and ours gave me a glimpse of what was really going on in my heart. I expected self-fulfillment with no obstacles because I felt I was worthy and entitled to receive such good treatment. I was Hooked because I possessed an entitlement attitude fueled by my childhood Vow to always remain in control. 

When drivers bothered me, it felt like I was losing control. That other driver was in control, and that was unacceptable. Therefore, I could call them names because they obviously didn't recognize my value. 

I was convicted when I realized my anger was grounded in a sense of entitlement. As an act of suitable repentance, the Lord lead me to share this revelation with a men’s Bible study I was leading. I remember saying, “In my selfish hubris, I kind of expected all the other drivers to get out of my way and yield to my right to drive the highways unrestricted.” 

It was an ugly revelation. I confessed to them how I repented of my pride. It was clear I did not have an anger problem. I had a self-inflated-me problem. I was shocked and embarrassed with my high opinion of myself.

I can honestly say, I was unaware of this unredeemed area of my heart until I started examining why I became Hooked while driving and the Vow that was the foundation for it. I was surprised how the smoke of my anger was merely evidence of the burning fire of pride and presumption in rebellion to Christ. 

As a result of going to God's living spring, I found myself less stressed in driving. I stopped getting hooked by other drivers, although imperfectly, and I found myself giving grace to other drivers who made mistakes. My life is slower by choice now. Entitlement is a pernicious belief that drives us to expect we can get life on our terms. It leaves God out of the picture.

What do you feel you are entitled to? What are you counting on for fulfillment? What are you afraid God will not provide? What if he said “drink from me only”? Could your entitlement of choice reveal a Vow? 

(Order our book at: http://amzn.to/1ITmLfy)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Should We Say "This Too Will Pass"?

Have you ever considered your trials and found comfort through thinking, “This too will pass”? That phrase sounds benign enough but I’m wondering if it leaves out God in some way. Because, at least for me, it supports in my heart an attitude of “I’ll just grin and bear it until this trial goes away.” It doesn’t support, “God, even if I have to persevere through this trial for a long time, I’m going to call upon you and not depend upon my own inadequate power.”

I became aware of how I was leaving out God in that way some time ago. As I struggled to trust God for his provision of joy and contentment in the midst of being my mother-in-law’s caregiver, I thought, “This too will pass.” And then on the heels of that thought came, “If I just knew how much longer Audrey was going to live, I could be more patient and kind.” I was thinking I could be more patient because I would be gritting my teeth, just waiting for the trial to end. But that’s not depending upon God.

Then I examined that phrase, "This too will pass," more deeply. Haven't we all said that and sighed in relief? Maybe we thought, “OK, if I just hold on long enough, this trial/situation/challenge will pass.” But that's not trusting God's provision, it’s depending upon myself.

No wonder God doesn't tell us the future. If we knew a trial was going to last a long time, we'd give up. If we knew a trial was going to be short-lived, we would grin and bear it. We're supposed to relax in God's power moment by moment depending upon Him, allowing him to provide all we need. And then He’ll receive the glory!

(This article is excerpted and adapted from Never Ever Be the Same (Leafwood Publishers)  http://amzn.to/1ITmLfy) 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How Do You View Spiritual Growth?

How do you envision spiritual growth? Most of us think of it visually like a linear time line. On the left side of the line we make a step of progress and the temptation seems to be behind us and we won’t address it again. We have moved along that line to the right and we'll only encounter new challenges—not old ones. 

But that's not an accurate visual of change. Change is more like a spiral. Let's call it a whirlpool. We're going around and around in life and every time we reach a certain situation or person, there's a rock, representing a sinful strategy that hits us, tempting us to behave badly. If we think there are no rocks (as if they are behind us in a time line), we'll be surprised and unaware of their approach. 

But knowing that we have the tendencies of a particular sinful strategy, we can see that rock in the whirlpool coming. Instead of being knocked around by it, we can actually chip off a piece by laying hold of God's power and resisting the temptation. Little by little, chip by chip comes off that rock; it becomes smaller and smaller until it disappears—or grows so little that the temptation is easily resisted. 

Unfortunately, the whirlpool of life reveals new rocks in different places. And so, as we identify the reasons for the rock, we can more easily see the rock (the temptation) approaching. 

But we'll also be more aware of deeper levels of sin. We think growth should eliminate our awareness of sin but it only makes it more glaring and noticeable. Pastor John MacArthur, Jr, says, “But let me warn you that the more victory you experience as you mature in Christ, the more you will recognize sin in your life.” 

So here’s the bad and good news. The bad? Challenges to change and grow in holiness are never-ending. God will work on our sanctification until the day we die. 

The good news? Growth is possible. We can be strengthened in God’s power to resist temptations more and more. But that growth will occur most effectively when we believe it’s not a time line but a whirlpool.

(This article is excerpted from Never Ever Be the Same (Leafwood Publishers) http://amzn.to/1ITmLfy which offers Christians hope that they can change their ungodly reactions through identifying their self-protective strategies and trusting God instead.)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

What Does Holiness Feel Like?

Have you ever wondered what holiness feels like? Malachi 4:2 expresses what God might like us to experience when we see the fruits of holiness that he is producing in our lives: “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” 

Have you ever “leapt” in your spirit after recognizing that your trust in God had expanded to include forgiving someone who hurt you because you recognize how much you've been forgiven
Or giving grace by listening with understanding to a friend share a problem—even though she usually ignores you—because you've experienced God's grace
Or resting calmly in a situation that normally drives you over the edge because you know God is in charge
Or being patient when your child spills milk at the dinner table for the third time because you know God has repeatedly been patient with you

We're no longer fenced in and held in bondage by sinful patterns like worry, fear, selfishness, hate, resentment, and so many other binding things.

The NIV words it: “And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” Oh, to frolic like well-fed calves! Can't you just picture it? This calf isn't emaciated; instead it is healthy and well-nourished. It has drank often from the fresh, flowing spring. That seems to give the idea that it is assured that all it's real needs are supplied and it is free from concern about receiving love and care. 

For you and for us, that's the foundation of holiness: believing and trusting in God's sovereign love that provides everything we truly need; therefore, we don't need to demand it from people who are needy themselves. But where does all this start? 

The background to Malachi gives us the answer. The Israelites were in another phase of disobedience and Malachi gave God's prophecy to try to turn them back to God. After three chapters of rebuke, the final chapter, Chapter 4, predicts what will happen when they do turn back. Meditate on that promise again. “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”

God brings healing to his people and there's a feeling of joy about being set free. Healing brings holiness and holiness brings joy. God heals us of our wounds which have created wrong ideas about life, God, and people. We begin to view our circumstances and the people around us as opportunities to serve God by being a servant. 

Less and less our attitude is, “I want to be a servant only if my needs are also fulfilled.” More and more our attitude is, “I'll be a servant for God's glory regardless of how my own needs are met.” 

We are still growing in this of course, for as long as we live, but the joy that comes when we cooperate with God is like skipping out of a pen where we'd been restrained. We do not obey in order to have that feeling, but how generous of God to give us the reward to bless us.

Are you like a calf encircled in some stall? Could it be bitterness, a critical spirit, a sense of entitlement, people pleasing, or self-absorption? Do you want to break free? 

You can in God's power through Repentance and Surrender. 

Receive the healing. Get ready to leap, gambol, and frolic. God is opening the gate.

As you think of God opening your “gate” of holiness, what does that feel like for you?

(This is an excerpt from our book, Never Ever Be the Same http://amzn.to/1ITmLfy)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

I Deserved the Traffic Ticket

I was driving down a California freeway on a superbly beautiful day of fluffy clouds on a background of clear blue sky and I just felt very happy. My happiness pressed my foot against the accelerator as the wind from the open window blew through my hair. I didn't see the Highway Patrolman until the red lights from his cruiser grabbed my attention and I pulled over to the side of the road.
He came up to my side of the car and we went through what I assumed were the regular questions (since I’d never had a moving violation before). Then I said, “I don't expect you to not write a ticket but my husband will ask me if I told you that he's a police officer in Huntington Beach.” I gave Larry's name.
He didn't smile as he took my license and walked back to his cruiser. I knew I was getting a ticket and I knew I deserved it. I had nothing to complain about. 
As I waited, it seemed like he was taking a long time but I didn’t know for sure.
Then he emerged from his car and walked up to mine. He handed me my license and said, “Next time drive the speed limit.”
I melted in gratitude and said, “Thank you.” I didn't know if he had checked to see if Larry was an officer but I didn't care. I didn't have a fine and nothing on my record.
After I drove off, I slowly worked my way back into traffic and was surprised at my reaction. I drove below the speed limit. And I wanted to try to find him again on the road and shout, “See? I'm so grateful, I want to obey the law. Thank you so much for your mercy!”
I've never forgotten that experience primarily because it shouts to me of how growing more sanctified and thus obedient should come from gratitude for the mercy and grace God gives us. Just as I “knew” someone who could qualify me to avoid that ticket, our identity with Christ (because we know Jesus as our Savior) qualifies us to avoid the wrath and punishment for our sin that we deserve. And then out of the strong gratitude that we have not received what we deserve, we say, “Look, Lord! I'm so grateful I want to show it by obeying you.”

(This is excerpted from Never Ever Be the Same (Leafwood Publishers) http://amzn.to/1ITmLfy  which offers Christians hope that they can change their destructive behavior through identifying their self-protective strategies and trusting God instead.)