Friday, January 31, 2014

It Slices! It Dices!

Remember the fast-talking guy for the "As Seen on TV" Chop-o-Matic? "It slices, it dices, and oh so much more! It will take care of your vegetables in seconds!" He was right. We got a tiny version of it specifically for onions,  and in seconds, an entire onion was dismantled, ready for hotdog topping.

As far as food goes, the Chop-o-Matic lived up to its press.  But I have discovered something that decimates its targets even more thoroughly and swiftly. It's the human tongue. How's this for an advertisement?

Death and life are in the power of the tongue. Proverbs 18:31
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts. Proverbs 12:18
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Proverbs 29:20
And the tongue is a fire...setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.James 3:16

I could go on, but you know it is true. Have you ever spoken harsh words to your child, and watched them wither in front of your eyes? The only way you could have missed it is if you were so caught up in your own anger and emotions to pay attention to their pain. Our words slice and dice the precious little hearts of our children. Spouses and friends are not immune either. If they fall prey to our "chop-o-matic" moments, they get nicks and stab wounds that will bleed for a lifetime, unhealed.

And of course it has happened to you. Right now I have a beautiful friend, capable and giving, who is emotionally paralyzed because the tongue of her ex-husband ravaged her heart in an untempered rampage. Most everyone knows how that feels. Nothing is more debilitating than to be cursed, torn apart, sliced and diced, particularly at the hands of someone we actually value.

God doesn't take it lightly.  He tells us that anyone who claims to be "religious" but doesn't control his tongue is fooling himself. He does NOT belong to God. (James 1:26) Here's some truth in advertising we all should take to heart. Jesus is speaking: "I tell you the truth, on the day of judgment, every one will be held responsible for every careless word they have spoken."(Matthew 12:36)

Those words we say in anger, to drive home a point, to win an argument, the thoughtless criticisms, the cursing, the lies we tell, the hurtful things that so easily flow out of our mouths actually come from hearts that are far from healthy. Jesus says he's not having it.  Not having it. We are accountable. We will pay the price.

David knew that was true, so he regularly prayed, "May the thoughts I think and the words I say be approved by you, my God." Good place to start. Pray that today and every day, all day long. There's a good chance you have an apology or two to make, as well. You can start healing someone's heart today. Do it. "The mouth of the wise brings healing." Proverbs 12:18

Friday, January 24, 2014

Get Smart!

We continually warn our children about "stranger danger" (and we should), but the sobering fact is that more than 50% of murder victims are killed by someone they know, most often a family member. Somewhere between 80-90% of sexual abuse victims are violated by a family member or another close associate, like a mother's boyfriend. Closeness to a person does not guarantee safety--in fact, it often exacerbates danger.

While violence is a huge problem in our society, the majority of us are not going to suffer in those horrific ways. But we do experience the death of dreams, the abuse of self-worth, the destruction of trust,  absolute violence of our mission in life. We live life devoid of wisdom and fulfillment, and filled with way too much hurt.  How does that happen?

Solomon, wisest human besides the God-man Jesus
who ever lived, states it plainly, "Walk with the wise, and grow wiser still, but a companion of fools will suffer harm." Proverbs 13:20. No question about it. In 5 years, where you will be, how happy you will be, how much self-respect you will have, the reputation you will enjoy or despise, the opportunities you have or don't have...these will all be a result of the people with whom you choose to surround yourself.

Choose well. The cost you will pay is high. Make sure it is worth it.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Get Out of Jail Free!

The music always tells you. You know in a movie a sinister character is on the prowl or that something fearsome is about to happen even if your eyes are closed. The dark notes alert us to the ominous force at work, and heighten our fears.

Unfortunately, shame is one of the most sinister villains ever known to mankind, and it comes straight from Satan. Don't confuse shame with guilt, which is a gift from God. Guilt is a hopeful emotion based on truth. It is hopeful, because God has equipped us instinctively to know that when we own and "confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9) We can move past the past and change, ashamed and guilty no longer. Shame, on the other hand, is so sinister, because it comes from a satanic lie rooted deeply within us that we are broken, defective, and can never be made right. So, even though God has forgiven us, we cower in our prison of shame, trying to live down our pasts and protect with our lives any unsavory or regretful fact of our past. The shame attacks keep us from walking into the full and blessed future Christ died to make possible for us, even though we are forgiven.

If you are a shame-struggler, trying desperately to hide from people where you have been in life or mistakes you have made, if you are afraid for people to know the real you because they would reject you, if you live your life behind a mask, feeling unworthy, you know that every time God puts a great opportunity in front of you, the voices in your shame cell start talking. "You truly are a loser." "You screw everything up." "How could you be so stupid?" "You are trash." "It will never change for you."You may even get physically ill and sleep through your opportunity.

God wants you to break free. He sees you forgiven and fresh. He is ready to partner with you in fulfilling your dreams. Here are just a couple of ways to get started on the path to the future Christ already paid for:

Get courageous and make contact. The only way to move past that desire to hide and cower is to respect who you are and what Christ has done for you by sharing your experiences with someone who loves you. Make sure you don't tell the whole world--not because it's too shameful, but because our Facebook/Twitter world is full of shame-filled people who get their momentary sense of self-worth by rejecting and judging others. Tell it only to a person who has earned the right to hearing it by loving you just as you are.
Give yourself the same kindness and respect you give others you really love. If someone you really love was feeling the hurt and shame you are feeling, you wouldn't yell at them and say, "What a loser you are! Shame on you! You will never change!" Isn't it incredible that we talk to ourselves in ways we would not on our worst day talk to others? You would comfort that person with kindness and encouragement. You would say. "It's OK. You're human. You are trying. Everyone makes mistakes. You can get this right. Just get up and keep going. I am with you." Don't give yourself any less.
Own your story. Your experiences have made you who you are, and who you are is someone God loves deeply and wants to use. Thank of that! When you bury your pain, hurts, mistakes, trauma, it gets poisonous in you, and the infection destroys your future and your relationships. When I was writing GRACE AND TRUTH, an editor wanted to drop out the two chapters on marriage and parenting. I knew they were vital, and I knew I OWNED my story, so I had the right to write it. So I objected and the editor kept them. They are 2 of 3 chapters receiving the most kudos for being helpful. You can only WRITE the next chapters of your story if you OWN your story to this point. Carl Jung said, "I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become." Jesus said it even better, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." II Corinthians 5:17

Grab the ladder and get out of the shame hole. "When the devil reminds you of your past, remind him of his future." Shame thrives on secret-keeping. That's why the old mantra of health says, "You're only as sick as your secrets." Jesus knows you inside and out, your past, present, and future. And he thought you were worth dying for and living through. Come on...the cell door is open. Walk out.

(And just for free...don't ever tell a child, "Shame on you." They get enough shame heaped on them just by being a member of the human race, God's adored children whom Satan hates with vengeance. Don't do his work for him. Lovingly confront your child when he or she has done wrong, but make sure you show them that guilt is God's path to forgiveness. Forgive them quickly. Psalm 103 tells us that God does not treat us as our sins deserve, Don't be harder on your children than God is on you.)

Friday, January 10, 2014

That Smile...

I remember when I met him. We were just starting out at Circleville Bible College (now known as Ohio Christian University). He was much taller than I, his hair was glossy and black, his eyes were dark and clear, his voice was booming--but it was his smile that set him apart. It wasn't a slow smile. It was immediate, splitting his face and ending in dimples. It was irresistible. When Phil Batten smiled, everyone smiled.

We became fast friends in college. A whole group of us were so close. We shared so much fun and life and ministry together. We were on the road, singing and preaching; at school, studying and learning; on down time, being crazy and sharing our aspirations. In the middle of all of it was Phil with that big smile. Even when he was hurting, his smile always surfaced. He sang when Charlie and I were married--guests commented on his voice and smile.

After graduation, we all headed into ministry. Phil pastored a variety of churches, and also founded HeavenTrain, a unique bus ministry that, when I was familiar with it, went into 18 different needy points in the suffering inner city of Cleveland with the word of God and food. The ministry spread to other cities. They interrupted the activities of drug dealers and gangs, and his life was threatened. Phil preached so much, he lost his singing voice. But he was still smiling. Circumstances never determined his disposition. Phil's smile originated in two sources: a deep, abiding joy that was not altered by life, and a decision to encourage others no matter what he was personally experiencing. And Phil's life was not composed of perfect circumstances. For starters, his father died when he was young. 

Phil joyfully smiled his way into heaven this week. Nearly every comment about him from every phase of his life, from people he met who were as low as they could get,to colleagues, to people who ministered to him in his last days, includes a reference to his smile. What a legacy.

Made me think. Our faces always show on the outside what is reality on the inside. Proverbs 15:13 says that a happy heart makes the face attractive. Jesus wants all of us to be attractive magnets, drawing others to him to experience the same joy we have found. He says he came to give us overflowing life, joy to the full. Truth is, far too many of us show little to no joy. We would never be defined by a continual smile. In fact, people may describe us with, "She's always in a mood. He always seems disengaged", or similar less than complimentary phrases.

One might say, "Well, I AM discouraged. I AM sad. What do you expect me to do about it?" Life can take everything away from us except our power to choose our perspective and response. David found himself in tough circumstances, and he instructed himself to change. Read it in Psalm 42 and 43. He said,
"Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again--my Savior and my God!" (43:15)

Phil, thanks for living your life that way. Your joy and attitude was infectious, and you encouraged me every time I saw you or remembered you. Now your joy is complete. Well done, my friend. Well done.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bleary-eyed Bliss...and Exhaustion

My phone ring sound is the "Hallelujah Chorus".  December 1, early Sunday morning, the phone rang. It was our last born son Jacob announcing, "Jessie's in labor, Mom!" I got dressed as quickly as I could, and sure enough, when I walked onto the platform for our first worship service of the morning, I had a picture of our beautiful grand-daughter, Eden Grace, to share with an enthusiastic church family. Hallelujah, indeed.

December 29, early Sunday morning, once more my phone rang out "Hallelujah!" Our first born Rachel breathlessly announced, "My water broke, Mom!" I threw on my clothes, and one more time, when I walked in 15 minutes late for the start of the first service, I was a very excited Pastor-Mamaw, announcing the entrance of Riley James. Hallelujah again!

Both of those days were sheer bliss and exuberance. There's nothing like new life to dump bushels of joy into our lives. Both Daddies and Mommies were ear to ear smiles and their laughter with friends filled the hospital halls. Both babies are healthy and precious, and it seems there's no boundaries on the joy everyone knows.

Yesterday was January 1. Aron brought Rachel and Riley home from the hospital late afternoon while Poppy and I helped Maxwell, his 2 1/2 year old big brother, prepare a suitable welcome. We brought a pork and sauerkraut/mashed potato dinner, and after dinner, Jacob and Jessie and Eden Grace stopped by for a short visit. Mommas and Daddies traded babies for a few minutes, and ooo'ed and aah'ed over the precious little ones. Lots more joy.

Did I mention that both Momma's had c-sections? Or that Eden has colic and hasn't been able to sleep more than a few hours at a time? Or that Riley came three weeks early, and seems to need cocooning and held most of the time to stay asleep? Or that Maxwell is energetic and enterprising 24/7, and that while we visited, he generously shared his Aunt Jessie's Starbucks coffee with Fishy, the beta fish in the aquarium he had just gotten for Christmas? Dad made a quick exit to rescue Fishy, emptying and cleaning his entire world. Did I mention that 2 1/2 year old boys are fun factories...and manufacture other stuff, too? Did I mention that everyone in the room was yawning, or that the conversation slowly drifted to how exhausted everyone was? Charlie and I were the senior adults in the room, but we were well holding our own. The four parents still had their joy. But they were bleary-eyed. Did I mention that new life not only brings a lot of adventure and joy, but that to be long term rewarding, it involves long nights, hardworking days, lack of sleep, and untold sacrifices, large and small? If a new baby is going to have a chance of living up to the expectations placed on him or her, he/she needs a parent (hopefully two) who will step up and be a hero.

It's no coincidence that the New Year is always pictured as a baby, and comes in with such delirious partying and hilarity. Like a baby, we picture this fresh new year as a clean slate, a fresh sheet, and a new opportunity for new success and great joy, and declare one hundred times over, "Happy New Year!" to friends and family. But "wishin' don't make it so." For a year to bring continued joy and great reward, the owner of that year needs to make heroic choices. You need to be the hero of your new year. But perhaps you say, "Doesn't God need to be the hero of my new year?" Simply semantics, my friend. Of course, God is sovereign. But He does nothing without my cooperation. Because He is the best parent imaginable, He will not do for me what I can do for myself. If I insist on making choices that debilitate me, He will let me. But if I choose to put in the hard work and sacrifices to make this year outstanding, He will multiply my efforts.

So that's where I am headed. I brought in the new year with much joy. And I am intent that this gift of the Baby New Year will continue to bring me joy and satisfaction right through the last moments of December 31, 2015. I am committed to days of hard work, pushing through the exhaustion and frustration when things are harder than expected, lost sleep, and the strange condition that accompanies rewarding hard work--bleary-eyed bliss. 

I love you, Baby 2014. I'm going to do my best by you. I will be our hero. I know the reward will be great.