Speak Life

When my son Noah was a toddler, I regularly traveled back and forth between California and Tennessee to visit my parents. Because of my husband’s work schedule, there were many times he didn’t go along with us. Traveling on my own proved to be extremely taxing in those days, and fellow travelers would often observe me chasing my son around the airport and trying to pacify him with books, games and snacks.

On one trip in particular, Noah entertained himself on our flight by running up and down the aisle. I tried to indulge him while simultaneously trying to keep him from bumping into people. I offered apologies to many passengers as they glared at me disapprovingly. When Noah finally wore himself out (about 20 minutes before landing!), I held him and rocked him in the aisle until he fell asleep. The exasperation and exhaustion I felt must have showed on my face because an older gentleman a few rows ahead of us turned around, smiled at me and said, “Good job, Mom”. That man will never know how much those three little words encouraged me when I was at a breaking point. In fact, while that stranger would probably have no recollection of me, several years later I still remember his kindness and the strength his words gave me.

I’ve often written in this blog about how I feel I don’t contribute enough to the world. But when I think I’m not shining the light of Christ’s love, I remember that offering a kind word of encouragement can make a big difference in someone’s life. The Bible has much to say about the power of words. The book of Proverbs in particular teaches us that:

Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up. (New International Version; 12:25)

The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. (15:4)

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (16:24)

The Scriptures above affirm that words can actually nourish and heal. And Jesus’s words literally spoke life, as was the case when He raised Lazarus from the dead. After Jesus’s friend Lazarus died, He told Lazarus’ sister Martha to remove the stone from the entrance to the tomb where Lazarus was buried. After praying to the Father, Jesus “called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” (John 11:43). Lazarus came out of the tomb with a cloth around his face and his hands and feet still wrapped with linen strips. If Jesus can bring a dead man back to life with His words, how much more will He speak life back into the dead places within our hearts?

Words have the capacity to encourage and empower, but unfortunately words can also wound and discourage. Scripture cautions us to carefully choose whether we will use words that build up or tear down. Proverbs 18:21 warns, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Similarly, Proverbs 12:18 explains, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” The Bible also recommends that we exercise restraint when we feel the urge to speak hurtful words: “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.” (Proverbs 21:23).

I can steal someone’s joy with my words and by the tone I use while speaking them. When I use a harsh, angry tone in correcting my son’s behavior, I get what my husband and I call the “boo boo” lip. Noah’s bottom lip sticks out and turns down, and we know the tears are seconds away. It’s a lose-lose situation – I feel bad, and Noah feels bad. On the other hand, my younger sister told me how much she appreciated it when I told her how proud of her I am for working hard and pursuing her dreams despite the obstacles.

Our words are significant anywhere we are in a position of influence or authority, and even in our everyday interactions with people. Compliments or words of encouragement brighten another’s day and build up our own spiritual armor. Encouraging words are especially important to give to fellow believers. As warriors we face a spiritual battle every day, and we need each other if we’re to stay strong and remain faithful. The Apostle Paul often instructed the early Christians to acknowledge, honor and encourage each other:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 5:11-15)

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

The call to speak encouraging words doesn’t mean we avoid lovingly confronting a fellow warrior who may be living in sin or straying from the Lord’s path. Conversations that redirect a brother or sister toward the Lord are also life-giving. Scripture clearly advocates discipline, correction and even rebuke when necessary. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he instructed Timothy to continue to make use of the Holy Scriptures and ensure that he taught the church in Ephesus according to the truth God’s word:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 3:16-4:2; emphasis mine)

Before Jesus was betrayed, arrested, scourged and crucified, He left His disciples with words of encouragement. Jesus knew His disciples would be confused, devastated, scared and discouraged after His death, but He also wanted them to remember that the ultimate victory was still His. Mighty warrior, are there any areas in your life where you’re struggling and in need of encouragement? Perhaps the words Jesus left with his disciples will remind you of the hope we have in Him:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33; emphasis mine)

Click to hear Toby Mac’s song “Speak Life“.

Advertisements

Grounded

How did the warriors of old remain calm and steady, able to march forward into battle when faced with a massive army rushing toward them from the opposing side? Perhaps, much like the Biblical David, they had confidence they could defeat their enemy because they knew the Lord was with them. In the popular story of David vs. Goliath, David showed no fear on the day he went up against the large, taunting Philistine. David didn’t even wear armor or a helmet, but instead all he needed was one smooth stone and his sling to kill the mighty giant. When Goliath cursed David and threatened that he would “give [his] flesh to the birds and the wild animals” (New International Version; 1 Samuel 17:44), David’s response revealed his unwavering faith in God to give him victory:

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” (1 Samuel 17:45-47; emphasis mine)

David won many battles in his lifetime, but he also endured many trials and much heartbreak. Despite the difficulties he encountered, he knew his God was sovereign and unchanging. Perhaps that’s why even when David’s own son, Absalom, rebelled against him and tried to usurp his throne, David was able to say with absolute confidence that God remained his “rock”:

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

Yes, my soul, finds rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:1-2,5-8; emphasis mine)

There are many verses in Scripture that liken the Lord to a “rock”. Rocks are solid, stable, strong, reliable and foundational sources of protection. Jesus and His teachings provide the solid foundation I need when I feel battered and bombarded on all sides. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained the importance of following Him and His instruction:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

It’s so easy to forget where my help comes from (Psalm 121) when something shakes me up. But just as the valiant warrior stands strong in the face of the enemy’s approach, when I see the storm coming I’ve got to remember that I’ve built my foundation on Christ.

I know I’m not the first person to sell a house and that the experience is not unique to me, but from the minute my husband and I signed a contract with our realtor it’s been one big giant storm that we both knew was coming. In anticipation of the roller coaster ride we’d be on, my husband kicked off our house sale by saying “Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Here we go!” Even though I fully expected the process to be stressful, I wasn’t completely prepared for the never ending agent phone calls, the constant cleaning, the inconvenient potential buyer visits and the inability to be comfortable in our own home. I am so very happy to report that we are now entering escrow, and hopefully the worst part of the storm has passed. Praise God for always being so faithful to see us through any and everything life throws at us!

Even when relative calm is restored in my own life, I still need Jesus to be my rock. I need His dependability, steadiness, stability and unchanging sovereignty in a world filled with madness and chaos. I need Him to be my rock when my heart breaks for a terminally ill friend. I need Him to be my rock when I’m appalled and disgusted by the senseless killing of cartoonists and Jewish grocery store shoppers in Paris, and I need Him to be my rock when I’m shocked, dismayed and distraught about the beheading of aid workers and journalists in the Middle East. And I am so grateful that He is King of kings and Lord of lords when it so often seems that money rules the world.

Beloved warriors, I stand with you on Christ the solid Rock! All other ground is indeed sinking sand.

Am I Salty?

Let me start by saying thanks to those of you who’ve been following this blog, and welcome to the new followers. I am honored and humbled that anyone would want to read what I write, and trust that I pray very hard to write honestly and responsibly. I never want to misrepresent the Lord’s words or His teachings. I also want you, beloved warrior, to know that I’m praying for you. I may not know your specific needs, but God does. I pray that whatever I write comes straight from Him and meets you wherever you are in your journey.

I’ll be honest with you and share that usually after I post a blog I feel foolish. “Who cares anything about what I write anyway?” I say to myself. “Why do you spend so much time preparing a post when it doesn’t make any sort of impact? You don’t really think God wants you to do this, do you?” And then I pick up a couple new followers, and I remember that even if one person can relate, be helped or know that they’re not alone in the battle of life, it’s worth it. Also, even though I’m not sure exactly why the Lord would want me to write, I still feel compelled to do it! Topics and Bible verses continuously pop into my head until I surrender and say to God, “Ok, ok, I’ll write it down! Just please stop planting these thoughts and ideas in my head so I can catch up with them!”

After all, I’ve got enough on my plate to occupy my time and attention every waking moment it seems. Our house is for sale, so I’m constantly cleaning. I’ve got to prepare for the four classes I’ll be teaching this semester. My husband and my seven-year-old need and deserve my attention, and I want to give it to them. Then there are the everyday tasks – appointments, errands, laundry, cooking, etc. Oh yeah, and what about the things I want and need to do to stay sane – going to church, maintaining relationships/fellowshipping, and exercising.

I often wish I could just get rid of all of the boring but necessary chores and not have the precious time I have here on Earth be so filled with the mundane tasks of daily living. I want my time and energy to be devoted to God and not to what I consider to be the insignificant worldly busyness and activity. I mean, wouldn’t the Lord rather have me doing something more impactful than picking up the dry cleaning? Wouldn’t He rather have me going to Africa to help stop child trafficking, like my church’s former worship leader is doing? Wouldn’t my life bring greater glory to God if I was director of women’s ministry or serving in an orphanage in Russia? Shouldn’t I at least be taking in foster kids, volunteering in a homeless shelter or approaching strangers in public places to tell them the Good News about Jesus?

As I was talking to God about how little I feel my life touches others with His love, I opened up my Bible to Luke 14. Verses 34-35 read, ”Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” (New International Version). Matthew 5:13 also says, “You are the salt of the earth”.

I readily admit that I’m a salt-aholic. I love the flavor of salt, and, as my husband will attest, I definitely put too much of the spice on just about everything. But there’s no such thing as a Christian being too “salty”. Followers of Jesus are called to be “salty” and to maintain their distinctive flavor in the world. In other words, we are not to blend into the world, but rather we are called to “affect others positively just as seasoning brings out the best flavor in food” (Zondervan, page 1537).

I understood that God was teaching me to see everything in my life, including the seemingly most every day encounters, as a ministry and as an opportunity to be salt. It’s challenging to maintain that salty flavor when immersed in the world’s big pot of bland and unappetizing fare. I must ask myself, am I distinct? Do I stand out as someone different in the world because of Christ’s light in my life? Am I salty at the grocery store? At work? At the dentist’s office? The gym? The parking lot at the mall? Or do I blend in with all of the other ingredients?

Lord, please forgive my complaining about my seemingly average life. Help me to remember I am called to be salt and to stand out as a Christian, that I may be a reflection of Your love and grace so that others are drawn to You.

Reference:
Zondervan NIV Life Application Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

Letting Go

Happy New Year, warriors! As we look forward to 2015, it’s a good time to say “Out with the old, and in with the new.” Some folks in different parts of the world take this suggestion literally. For example, in Italy it is customary to throw pots, pans and even furniture out of windows at midnight on New Year’s! Performing this act “symbolizes casting away the old in favor of the new, letting go of past sorrows for a more hopeful time” (Tharoor, “Throw Your Furniture out the Window, and Other Ways to Ring In 2015”).

If only it were that easy to let go of the past with all of its hurts, pain, regret and disappointments. A recent visit with my family this holiday season provided much opportunity to revisit many pleasant memories. Some family discussion also brought up painful recollections as well as wounds that are still festering. The reunion experience reminded me of all the work it takes to fully let go, be healed and move on.

The first step in letting go of a painful past is arguably the most difficult – coming out of denial and facing our truth about the pain we’ve experienced. Pushing down our feelings, ignoring them and pretending they don’t exist may seem easier and may even work for a time, but inevitably if we want to be effective warriors in full allegiance to the Lord we must treat our wounds in order to receive healing.

I praise God that He knows when I’m emotionally and spiritually ready to work through and move beyond something painful from my past. I do my best to run away from dealing with the “hard stuff” by staying really busy and/or not allowing myself to be still too long with my feelings. But at some point my depression becomes so debilitating and my body manifests intense physical symptoms of stress that I no longer have the option of avoidance.

When I suffered my last severe episode of depression last year, I was forced to seek out every healthy means of relief including therapy, medication, the laying on of hands by our church elders, deeper Bible study, and intensive shoring up of my spiritual armor with fervent prayer for clarity, wisdom and forgiveness. I discovered that it was yet again a time that Jesus wanted to expose and heal a deep wound in my soul. It wasn’t until I allowed him access to every nook and cranny of my heart that true healing took place, and I was able at long last to let go and be free.

Only Jesus has the power to free us from ourselves and our sinful nature, and only he can free us from bondage to all that enslaves us whether or not we recognize our enslavement. Jesus explained to the Jews who believed in him that if they held to his teaching they would “Know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (New International Version, John 8:32).

In the rooms of recovery, alcoholics and addicts are familiar with the expression, “You’re only as sick as your secrets”. In other words, it’s only what we keep hidden inside – whether it is sin, resentment, things that we’ve done to hurt others or things that have been done to hurt us – that will eventually catch up with us and lead us down the path of darkness. In Proverbs 28:13, we learn that “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

When we offer the painful parts of our past to Jesus and discuss them with another trusted person, we open ourselves up to healing and restoration. And Scripture reminds us again and again that Jesus has the power to expel our demons and mend our broken hearts:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.(Matthew 4:23-24)

Satan would love for us to continue stumbling through life in the dark, never revealing our evil thoughts and secrets. We may unintentionally go along with Satan because by our very nature we recoil from the light. Perhaps Christ’s light blinds us with its purity and holiness, especially when it contrasts with the darkness in our hearts. As John 3:19-21 explains:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Shining Christ’s light on our wounds may be painful at first, but exposing our darkness to the light ensures that darkness won’t overtake us. As the Apostle John wrote of Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).

Once we have faced our pain, our sin and our regrets and have allowed the Lord to forgive and heal us, we can move forward with confidence. The goal is not to linger in painful memories but to press on in pursuit of spiritual maturity in Christ. An effective warrior must be single-minded, unencumbered and focused, possessing only one ultimate objective – knowing Christ and living the Christian life. The Apostle Paul describes his dedication to following Christ:

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12b-14)

Reflecting on the past and seeking healing is beneficial for a season. However, it’s not healthy or productive to constantly look back and relive painful memories. The enemy just loves to sidetrack us and push us off the path of righteousness by reminding us of experiences that hurt us or make us feel ashamed about something we did that God forgave us for long ago! When those negative thoughts creep up, we can heed Solomon’s advice:

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.
(Proverbs 4:25-26)

References:

Tharoor, Ishaan. “Throw Your Furniture Out the Window, and Other Ways to Ring In 2015”. The Washington Post, 31 December 2014. Web. 02 January 2015.

Zondervan NIV Life Application Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Print.