Saturday, April 30, 2011

Your Shame Has Been Erased

This past week I watched a movie based on a true story. It was called “Beyond the Blackboard” and was about a first year teacher who finds herself in a setting she had never imagined. She is hired as a teacher for homeless children.

While she is getting over the shock of the type of job she has just accepted, she meets the substitute teacher who she is to replace. The sub is providing her some tips on how to deal with the children and then points to the blackboard where she has a few names written. She has written “Shame Names” and underneath is the names of students. She comments about how the children don’t like to see their names up there.

Once this new teacher recovers from the shock of what she has just walked into, the very first thing she does is erase the board. The shame names are gone forever, never to return.

I couldn’t help but think about how this relates to what Jesus does for us when we ask Him into our hearts and lives. It’s like we had the word “Shame” chalked across our life but as soon as we surrender it to Him, He erases the word completely…never to return again.

However sometimes we write our own name back up on the board. Even when God has forgiven us, we can struggle to forgive ourselves. We can think about our past mistakes, the things in life we have done wrong and even though Jesus has erased the shame of our past, we put our own name back up on the board.

My past is not a good one. I have done a lot of really bad things and although they may have been shameful things, I know that my name is no longer on the blackboard. My name has been erased and Jesus will never put it back up there again.

Has Jesus erased your name? Your shame is gone…don’t allow yourself to get trapped again by writing your name on the blackboard.

“I can’t wait until that day where the very One I’ve lived for always will wipe away the sorrow that I’ve faced, To touch the scars that rescued me from a life of shame and misery, this is why, this is why I sing.”
Jeremy Camp’s “There Will Be a Day”

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dealing with Selfishness

I have a confession to make, I can be very selfish. But my guess is that I’m not only the only one…just the only one foolish enough to admit it in a blog. But I think recognition is the first step toward change.

After all, if you can’t recognize your own faults then how can you ever change them? So when I receive these painful but enlightening spotlights on my character flaws, I actually feel pretty thankful.

I started thinking about why I can be selfish. Is it just my sin nature or does it go deeper than that? When I know the right thing to do but I don’t “feel” like it or I am not thrilled with the idea of going out of my comfort zone, is this something that is so deep rooted it’s going to take spiritual surgery to correct it?

I would like to say yes, that this is something God is working on and it will take some time before I see victory. But the reality is that this is something that can be changed in an instant.

There are some struggles that truly are deep rooted and will require time and other work before we can ever see victory but there are also some things that we know victory is around the corner…it’s a matter of whether or not we will embrace it.

This past week I spent a few hours in my kitchen preparing a meal for my friends. One of them went through bypass surgery and is home recuperating. When the request came through to serve them a meal, there was no hesitation. These were my friends and I cared about them.

But I have to admit, that in times past when I have received similar requests I have turned them down. Why? I didn’t really know the person, so I wasn’t willing to be “inconvenienced.”

I’m not a fan of cooking. So to do something for someone else that I normally don’t enjoy doing for my own family is not my idea of fun. But that is very selfish and although in the past I failed to recognize that…I do now.

What is the point to this? Not just to point out my faults to you but to encourage others to examine their own heart and see if there are any areas of selfishness that you need to work on. I know that it’s not the desire of God for this to be within any of us.

Selfishness can take on all different forms, from insisting that you are always right in an argument to seeing a need and refusing to do your part. Selfishness is generally an issue for most of us but it is something we can change.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Philippians 2:3

Friday, April 22, 2011

Jesus Never Defended Himself

It is Good Friday and I have such a “heavy” feeling inside me. I think I haven’t quite recovered from watching “The Passion of the Christ” last night. It always leaves me emotionally drained.

While I always gain something new every time I see it, one particular thing that really stood out to me last night was how Jesus never defended Himself. It started in the Garden when they came to arrest Him. It carried on when they began to beat and mock Him.

Then on the cross they called out that He should be able to save Himself. He couldn’t possibly be a king, could He, if He wasn’t able to come down from that cross.

All I kept thinking to myself was how often I try to defend myself. I hate when people think something of me that isn’t true. It’s something I find impossible to let go of.

A couple years ago when I was working as a preschool teacher, a 4-year-old girl accused me of roughly pulling her by the arm. I was absolutely horrified that she had said this. I knew she had it wrong and that if it even did happen, it was at the hands of someone else. I knew that I never touched her.

But when my boss came to me and told me about the accusation, I immediately went into defense mode. When it appeared as if she didn’t 100% believe me, I got upset and started to cry.

In the end, I think my boss did come to realize that I didn’t do it. But the mom, who refused to discuss it with me and had her daughter transferred to another group, obviously went on to believe I had done this.

Oh how I wanted so badly to declare my innocence to her face. It bothered me so much that I lost sleep and felt sick to my stomach. The idea that I would be accused of something untrue was just sickening. So because I couldn’t defend myself to the mother who chose to ignore me, I went around defending myself to others.

You know sometimes that almost makes you look worse. It draws more attention and well, as I thought about the humbleness of Jesus and all that He endured, I realized how much I want to be like that.

Some things we just need to keep silent and know that if we are right with God, then all is well. When all is well in our soul, then we don’t need to defend ourselves.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Our View of Sin

Many years ago I used to attend a home fellowship group and we were having this discussion about sin. A guy in the group was talking about a hobby he used to have, fixing up old cars and how God had directed him to give that up. He said that for him to continue to indulge in that hobby would be sin.

I remember thinking at the time, as I was a pretty new Christian, how strange that he would call something like fixing up old cars a sin. I didn’t really understand the correlation. To me sin was about the obvious stuff—murder, lying, adultery, and so on.
So how could an innocent hobby be sin?

But he had also mentioned at the time that he put that hobby before God. In other words, it had become an idol in his life. Anything we put before God can become an idol in our life, therefore it is sin.

Yet I am thinking about how Christians get so wrapped up in pointing out sin. We look at someone standing outside the church building smoking and we think, “They’re in sin.” We see a pregnant teenager, so we cluck our tongues and say, “She sinned.” We see a mother harshly grab her toddler by the arm and drag him away and we think, “What a sinner.”

Yet some of us have sin that is behind closed doors. Our sins may not be as obvious. In fact, we may be engaging in an activity, such as fixing up old cars and God has told us to stop, yet we continue.

Or we may be in the comfort of our own home, late at night and we are watching something on television that we know we shouldn’t be. We are married and yet we are chatting online with a person of the opposite sex. No, others can’t see what we are doing so we tend to think we are safe. At least our sin isn’t as obvious as the smoker, the pregnant teen or the mean mother.

We don’t always know the whole story behind a situation. We don’t know that the man who is smoking has been trying for a decade to kick the habit but it has a vice-like grip on him. He doesn’t want to smoke and he has tried to stop but it pulls him in.

We don’t know if the teen girl allowed a moment of weakness (as we all have them) to overtake her. Now she carries a new life and she has determined to get right with God and raise this child to love the Lord.

We don’t know if the angry mother was raised in an abusive home and although she hates the way she blows up so easily, she has been trying so hard to stop. She cries out to God every morning to help her make it through the day without losing it.

You see, we only look at the obvious. We don’t know what goes on in the heart. We don’t know about the tears, the pleading to God or even what the real story may be.

A few years ago my husband told me that we had been walking through the church’s foyer when someone in front of me dropped her pack of cigarettes on the floor. Because I was directly behind this person, to another person it looked like those were my cigarettes. So this other person who thought I was the one who dropped the cigarettes gave me a nasty look. How nice.

She had no clue that first of all, they weren’t even mine. But secondly, what was the nasty look for? When for all I know she could have gone home right after church and given her a husband a tongue-lashing. Yet I wasn’t there to see her “sin” as she thought she had seen mine.

I think we have to be really careful about the way we view people. We don’t know everything about a situation and even though someone else’s sin may appear to be obvious, we need to remember that we have our own issues. As I was reminded this past Wednesday in Bible study, judgment is not for us…that is God’s job.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Keys to Overcoming Temptation

It seems like temptations are always there. It’s almost as if you can never get away from them. They are like the old school bully, lurking around the corner…waiting…ready to pounce on you.

Overcoming temptation—whether it is guarding what comes out of my mouth, turning the television off when there is something on I shouldn’t watch, or even saying no to an extra helping of food—can feel like a constant battle.

I used to wish that the temptations wouldn’t be there. “It would be so much easier God, if You would make them all vanish.” While that is certainly true, it would do nothing for my spiritual walk. I could never learn how to mature in Christ. I would never understand what real dependence upon God means.

Now I see temptation differently. I view it as an opportunity to be more like Jesus. I am reminded of the time that Jesus stood in the face of temptation. There is something really powerful, yet quite simple about the way He handled temptation.

Remember that Jesus was taken into the wilderness and was tested. I used to think this was all about Satan’s attempt to deceive and trick Jesus. But it isn’t. Matthew 4:1 tells us that “Jesus was led by the Spirit” into the wilderness (NIV).

The Spirit was the One leading. He wasn’t being led by the devil. The devil didn’t have any control over Jesus. He was not alone and He had the help of the Holy Spirit. We are never led into temptation by the devil. He doesn’t have that kind of power over our lives. He makes himself to be more than he is and so we give more credit to him than is due.

He might dangle a carrot in front of us (or a piece of chocolate cake or that need to set someone straight) but the Spirit is over us. We have the ability to take the help the Holy Spirit offers us. This is the first key to overcoming temptation, remembering that no matter what we face, we are being led by the Holy Spirit.

The second key to overcoming temptation is to understand when we are most vulnerable to give in to temptation. In “The Message” version it says that “the Devil took advantage of” Jesus’ extreme hunger. Jesus was in a vulnerable position when the devil offered Him the opportunity to turn stones into loaves of bread.

Recognize your most vulnerable times—that “time of the month,” when your schedule is overloaded, you haven’t been getting enough sleep, the kids are driving you crazy—and know that this is when the devil will try to come in and get you to fall for his tricks.

How did Jesus respond to this test? He responded with the Word. You can’t respond with the Word unless you know it. So read it daily and get it down deep inside of you.

The third key to overcoming temptation is to counter with the truth of God’s Word when the devil tries to twist things. The devil knows Scripture and he tried to use it but he twisted the truth of it. Jesus brought it all back to reality when He countered with the undeniable truth.

One of the last ways that the devil tried to tempt Jesus was to tempt Him with the things of this world. Now we know that He really holds the world in His hands but for a time, the devil has been allowed free reign. He had a tempting offer for Jesus. Don’t we just bask in the possibility of fame, fortune and power?

When you are tempted with the things of this world, the last key to overcoming temptation is the way Jesus responded. He rebuked the devil…put him in his place and then once again, used the Word to speak truth.

I love the way this all ends in “The Message” Bible. “The test was over. The Devil left.” That was it. No more testing. Jesus had done all He needed to do. Simple, yet powerful. The real key is in the Word of Life.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

When Spirituality Neglects Humanness

A blog I wrote last weekend, “Let God Do His Work in Suffering” seemed to strike a nerve in a few people. Comments and emails that I received showed this was a pretty important topic.

Why? Because I think it touched a raw nerve. It touched something that we don’t talk about much.

Sometimes our goal in life is to be so spiritual that we forget to be human. I’m so glad that being a believer means Christ is refining me and that I am being transformed in so many ways. But I am still a person with normal feelings and emotions. What I got through the responses was that you feel the same.

I remember one time a few years ago when I was sitting in a Sunday school class. I won’t say what the topic was or who was teaching. It really wasn’t about that anyway. But we were watching a video on something that I had absolutely no interest in.

Someone turned to me and said, “Isn’t this the most amazing thing you have ever seen?” I in my honesty and humanness replied, “Not really.” She looked absolutely shocked and I’m sure she thought I was being blasphemous. It was just really how I felt. I couldn’t spiritualize what I was watching because in my humanness it really wasn’t interesting.

One of the things that really seemed to connect to others was the use of “Christianese language.” We can’t let our comments, statements and reactions be built on a need to sound spiritual. We can be genuine and point people back to God when they are going through a difficult time but we can also be so spiritual that it does the very opposite.

One example I was given is how many Christians will use “God will provide.” This person was expressing to me how of course they know God WILL provide. They are believers. They know this but at the time God isn’t providing and so they want to feel just a little bit human.

Now you might be thinking we have to guard everything we say. I don’t think that is the case but I do think we need to guard the way we try to encourage others. Encouraging someone is supposed to make them feel better, not worse. Lending a listening ear, being empathetic to their situation and remembering that we have all felt very human at one time or another might help.

Don’t let the need to be so spiritual neglect the reality that we are still human.