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.

The Godly Wait and See before They Do

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“Just Do It”

We all know the slogan. It may be the most popular of our era. If any marketing motto can speak for the American psyche, it’s this one.

Conversely, “a friend of God” once wrote this:

But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
—Psalms 38:15 ESV

The Bible is filled with humble people who waited on God. Waiting involves serving, abiding, and patiently expecting. Waiting always demands time.

WaitingGod dwells apart from time. He’s the attendant at both your departing train station and the station at the end of the line–at the same time. And He knows every happening in-between. You can’t fool Him, because he’s at the beginning, end, and all points along the way.

Big picture? He alone sees and understands it. No one, human or otherwise, does. Betting people would be idiots not to bet on God. He knows how the dice land even before they’re tossed.

Yet most people live by “just do it.”

Jesus lived this way:

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.
—Luke 6:12 ESV

The understanding behind that waiting:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise….”
—John 5:19 ESV

Wait. See. Do.

Expect. God will answer. Then we will know our course of action.

Nothing in our cultural and societal milieu supports waiting, especially waiting on God. We rush from one forced solution to the next. When people wring their hands at the condition of the world today, the fretting results from the fruit of impatience, of a “just do it” attitude among leaders, who feel compelled to act, yet do so without waiting on God and seeing what He is doing.

Such leaders inhabit not only our government offices but also our church buildings. They even inhabit your home and mine.

No wonder so many programs and initiatives fail. Even governments and churches. Households, too. In failing to wait, we will not see, and therefore, whatever we do in blindness will never be of God.

Yet, somehow, the one who waits on God is deemed the fool.

Except by God Himself.

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.