Words that Hang, Haunt, or Heal

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Colorful microphoneWords matter. As we enter an election cycle, we’ll hear a plethora of words. Christians must make sense of those words and also ensure our own replies bear the marks of Jesus.

Politics is a nasty business in general, but like all professions, people can be good or bad at it. We should celebrate those who show a measure of political skill and astuteness. We must also be careful that our own political speech respects not only words in the present, but also those in the past and future.

Case in point…

Christians in 2008 lambasted a senator who made little effort to complete his first term (his first national office of any kind) before running for president. They deemed this “opportunist” “irresponsible” and too callow for the highest office in the land, with scant national leadership experience and next to none internationally. The vitriol leveled at this senator reached a fever pitch, with people wringing their hands over his rush to the Oval Office.

Today, we have three GOP presidential candidates, each with enthusiastic evangelical Christian support, who are first-term senators that have yet to complete their terms, yet no one in evangelical ranks is calling them “irresponsible” or “opportunists” or is criticizing their inexperience or their rush to be president.

I call shenanigans.

Really, the double standard here is not worthy of the Body of Christ. Problem is, it’s the kind of selective forgetfulness that makes Christians look foolish in the eyes of lost people. We use words to express ourselves, but then they hang us later.

It’s not just in politics where this happens, either.

In charismatic Christian circles, we have self-named, nationally known “prophets” who supposedly speak for all charismatics, making eschatological claims or calling this person “the antichrist” or prophesying some oddly worded thing that supposedly comes from the mouth of God yet never comes to pass. Later, the world stage changes, and the old antichrist is forgotten, replaced by the latest bad boy in the news.

Or, we have regional or local area seers who go around speaking to individuals and prophesying over them, always something wonderful and amazing, yet that wonderful, amazing word never happens, haunting some poor recipient who now wonders how God could fail. That is, until the next wandering prophet minstrel show blows through town and those burned replace the failed word with a new one sure to forecast something even more amazing just for them.

Shenanigans again.

Or in noncharismatic circles, we get church leaders who announce some new program that promises to revitalize the congregation, and it’s sold, sold, sold until the people in the seats relent mentally to this greatest initiative ever—until it fails a year or two later and the leadership moves on to the next new whizbang thing, leaving everyone else to wonder what the heck happened.

In all these cases, the word pronouncers and announcers hope we have the memory of a fruit fly. And sadly, we tend to.

Christians can’t live this way, though.

We can’t be people who forget what was said. We can’t be people who say things we don’t practice or don’t stick with.

And while we can’t NOT hold others responsible when they attempt to backtrack or whitewash, neither can we withhold forgiveness for careless speech when it’s sought with a contrite heart.

The Kingdom of God does not rest on halfhearted words, retractable “truths,” and broken promises. It doesn’t apply truth selectively. And while it does hope for the best, it acknowledges we are dust and failure lingers as our human condition.

I confess that I’m not a perfect person, not even close. Sometimes, my memory isn’t tack-sharp, but this is not to say I don’t try to be consistent. I’ve been writing Cerulean Sanctum a long time, and even my perspective has changed. Some old posts don’t perfectly reflect everything I believe now, or nuances crept in over time, yielding a tangential view that trumps an older, once-primary perspective.

But growing in Christ means acknowledging shifts and failures in words and views. It means saying, “I was wrong” or “My view on that has changed, and here’s why.” It means not forgetting what we say, because words have power, and the wounding words of yesterday, though forgotten by us, may still linger in another person’s life, wreaking damage day after day.

Maturity isn’t about never changing a perspective or never making a mistake. It’s about owning up to our tainted speech, our human frailty, and helping others own up to theirs too.

Perhaps when we do, true healing will come, and with it a fruitful life.

Doing What God Places in Our Hands–No More, No Less

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I was talking with a friend the other day about the fear of being an ineffective Christian. Both of us face some difficult challenges in our lives, some the same, some different. Those challenges have taken their toll on us both.

No one gets through life unscathed, though. Everyone has challenges. Everyone. If not now, then later. If not when we’re young, then when we’re old. Life is hard, and no one has a magic mirror to peer into the future or a gilded passport to avoid trials.

Christianity in America consists largely of two polar camps.

You have the Radical camp that defines Christians by what they do or do not do for God. Some even go so far as to say one’s ultimate standing with God depends entirely on how radically engaged one is for the Kingdom. It all comes down to what you do, and you better do a lot.

Then you have the Rest camp. “Do? What is that? I’m resting in the Lord and in my salvation!” The funny thing about that camp is that it never seems to do anything, ever. The world ends at the tip of their noses (or, in some cases, the outline of their belly).

I don’t think the truth dwells in either camp. The Church in America can lull you to sleep or work you to death. Neither is healthy–or godly.

Open, cupped handsOne day, I cupped my hands in prayer and said, “God, fill these hands.”

And He did.

He filled them with a mix of normal American life and stuff no sane person would want. Do my best for Him at work, at home, and out there in the world. You know, everyday normality. This blog was part of that mix. Then came the outrageous stuff, most of which consisted of challenges that would push me to the edge.

All God asks of me is to address what He has put in my hands right now, or as one wise Christian once told me, “Jesus hung on one cross only.”

We have this tendency to either drop our cupped hands and let things spill out, or we let guilt force us to take on so much we can’t hold it all and panic sets in.

We need to examine our lives. What is immediately before us? What is in our hands right now? Do those things to the glory of God.

Little things that daily fall into our cupped hands matter too. When God puts a person in front of me, I can give that person my attention and be in the present. I can be Christ in that moment to that one person. That fits in my hand. That I can always do. I may not be the answer to that person’s deep need, but the little bit o’ grace I dispense in our connecting matters to that person. I can always be kind and empathetic. Maybe I can help that person financially or emotionally if he needs it. But then, maybe I can’t. God, what can I do right now? In what ways can I be your ambassador to this person now? What have you put in my hand?

Regarding the challenges of life, let no one judge you. Anyone who has had to caretake a dying parent knows how debilitating such a task can be and how it consumes all of life. That’s reality, and it’s OK. It’s what is in your hand right now. It won’t always be there. God is not judging you by what else you try to carry. Sometimes, something that big is enough. It doesn’t matter what other people think of your inability to say yes to everything else they ask of you. You can only do what you can do. Taking on too much means you do everything poorly and stress yourself. Don’t. All you can do is what is in your hand. Too few Christians understand this, and one of the most toxic tricks a local church can pull is to guilt people “in the name of Jesus” into doing more than God expects.

God knows what you can and cannot do. Keep your eyes on Him. Learn to say no when He wants you to. Never feel guilty for saying no when it’s God leading you to say it.

If the contents of that open hand begin to overflow, get help anywhere you can. God rewards the resourceful, and admitting to being overwhelmed is no sin. Where humility is, Jesus is. You’re not a superhero, so don’t try to be. We are all dust; without God, we can do nothing.

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the man going on a journey gave five talents to one servant, two to another, and one to a third. He didn’t give five to the servant who could handle two only. Similarly, he gave five to the one who could handle that many in the moment. When the talent dispenser returned to his servants, all he expected was to see what each servant had done with what each was given. Each was accountable solely for making something out of what the journeyman had placed in their hands. No more, no less.

Those Rest folks need to step up. Those Radical folks need to calm down.

Where are you?

Know that you can do only what God has placed in your hands at this time. A year from now, what is in your hands may be different, possibly more or perhaps less. Give your best to God for what you have before you now, and stop beating yourself up. If only one thing occupies your hands right now, do it for His glory. If God wants to add something, He will. Trust Him to get it right. And if it seems too much, trust that God will put people in your life to help. Ask for that help and keep asking until you get it.

Most of all, trust God. Pray over everything He puts in your hands and never stop offering it back to Him as you partner with Him to make it happen. In the end, it’s not really about you and how well you perform anyway. It’s about moving the whole Kingdom forward. And that happens one cupped-hand item at a time.

How Western Christians Succumb to Disappointment with God and to Fear

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Steve Bremner of the Fire on Your Head Podcast posted this graphic, and it got me thinking:

Spirit of Fear quotation

I was immediately struck by a one-word answer: disappointment. Christians in the West become disillusioned when we anticipate or expect an outcome and it does not meet expectations. The next time we confront a similar situation, heightened fear results.

The following passage bedeviled me for decades:

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?
—Luke 11:9-12 ESV

I once had someone confess to me a lack of faith in God specifically because of me. How so? Because it made no sense to that person that someone who sought so hard to follow after God could have so many rotten things happen to him at the worst possible times as I did. That person had personally witnessed faithful, God-loving Dan asking God for eggs and getting what he thought were scorpions instead. Why serve a God who treated His most ardent followers that way?

What is behind that thinking? A Western view of entitlement and middle class privilege.

Jesus, a little later in Luke:

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
—Luke 12:22-34 ESV

The Psalmist adds this:

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing.
—Psalms 37:23-26 ESV

That said, when I look through the Scriptures, what I do not see is any promise of God that those who love Him should have a material expectation beyond God providing food and clothing. The Father promises not to let His children starve or go naked, but He makes no promises—for this life at least—that they will inhabit mansions.

Oh, and let’s make sure we look at all of the Luke 11 passage to understand what really matters most:

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
—Luke 11:9-13 ESV

Read that concluding sentence again. What is God most concerned about giving us? His Holy Spirit. Him we can have without limit.

It’s not about stuff. It’s about God giving us more of Himself.

The problem for us in the West is that we’re not satisfied with more of God.

Truth is, we’re not even satisfied with our daily bread. Or with enough clothes to keep us from being naked.

Back in Jesus’ day, and throughout most of human history, if one had food and clothing, that was enough. Because too often, those items could not be assumed. Sieges during war rendered even a crust of bread a luxury, and war was a way of life. Enemies burned fields and stole livestock. Armies laid siege to walled cities for months and years until the people inside broke.

God tells us in His Word that His children should not worry about this. He will provide food and clothing.

For those of us in the West, though, that’s not enough.

Basic needs met? Pishaw! At minimum, we must have what the other guy has. Or more. Because having more than the other guy proves our smarts are better than his. Shows how we’re better all around. Wiser. More successful.

In the case of Western Christians, having more than the basics says that whatever we’re doing religiously, we’re doing it right. We are holier. We are more committed. Our doctrine is the right one. That poor slob of a failure over there? He’s reaping what he sowed. His doctrine was bad. He sinned. He let God (or in all too many cases, the pastor or the local church) down. The loser.

So if we have less, we get disappointed. If we think we’re doing this Christianity thing right and God does not marvelously fill our material coffers, then He is being a grinch. Even if we’re not living up to some “Christian” standard, we’re mad at God anyway for not dishing enough grace to help us keep up with the Joneses.

Disappointment.

That disappointment with our perception of God’s provision leads to fear. Fear that we’ve sinned somehow. Fear that our doctrine is wrong. Fear that our entire faith has been in vain. Fear that perhaps God is not there. Fear that if God is not there, then life is all on our shoulders, and it looks like we already screwed up that life or will do so in the future.

Fact is, the myriad fears we see in the Church today have basis in whatever past disappointments with God we let fester. Despite what God may think is best for us, we think He didn’t come through. Ultimately, it’s a complete breakdown in faith.

This is rampant in the American Church.

In some sectors, it’s prosperity gospel teaching that breeds this problem. In other sectors that consider themselves above prosperity gospel teaching and who look down their pious noses at any fool who believes such things, it’s the pride of American Dream living that breeds it.

Envy and pride. Unrestrained, that pair will always lead to disappointment, which leads to fear.

In the end, all you and I can do is be the person God has made us now. We turn to Him and can expect Him to give us food, clothing, and—without measure—His Holy Spirit. Comparing our reality against anyone else’s is wrong. If anything, I think the Bible teaches that material things only serve to weigh us down, to become the very worries that choke the seed we read about in the parable of the sower.

It’s not so much that we ask our Heavenly Father for an egg and He instead gives us a scorpion. It’s that we want a factory filled with eggs and want almost nothing of our Father Himself. And we get disappointed with Him when we see evidence that God might have something different for us. Then we become afraid that we will never get our egg factory and the world will think less of us for that “lack.” Suddenly, everything looks like scorpions.

More of you, Lord, and less of everything else. Let us eat our bread and wear our clothes with glad, thankful hearts, and a deep, profound love for you and for others, while we treat everything else we may receive in this pre-eternity like gravy. For where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.