Thursday, June 20, 2013

So Much More Than Sticks and Stones

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." - Ephesians 4:29

I know this isn't a recent problem - but I've seen a lot of "word" trouble in the news lately and well, it's bugging me. A lot.
So, here's a few of my words on words.

Our speech is a gift from God.
Our intellect is a gift from God.
Our sin-nature...........not so much.

What happens when our intellect, driven by our sin-nature creates speech?
It's not pretty.
It's very often cruel, cutting and cancerous.
It breaks hearts and destroys confidence and causes pain in a tender soul.
The cruelty of our speech is SO much more painful than a physical act of violence. 
Verbal abuse and ugly words and hateful language cut so deep that all of us have wounds that even though they were caused long ago are still not fully healed.
I don't even need to ask you to think hard about it - it takes me all of about 5 seconds to recall something hurtful said to me by someone who loved me.
And I'm not even going to address what's been said about me by people who didn't love me. 

The Bible has a LOT to say about words and the power of our words. The book of James tells us this:
"The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." - James 3:6

I don't know about you, but that makes me sit up and pay attention.
The tongue is "set on fire by hell"! It "sets the whole course of one's life on fire"! Seriously?? Um, yeah.
There's a reason that it's often said that "gossip spreads like wildfire".  And we've all been burned by reckless speech at some point.

Listen, more than anything Satan wants to cause division and pain and hurt in any relationships we have. He's not looking to help us make and keep friends - he wants to destroy every good thing in our lives. 
What better way to do it than through the way we talk to and about each other??
Kindness and compassion and empathy and sympathy aren't part of his vocabulary. Satan seeks to do more than break our bones with sticks and stones - he seeks to crush our spirits and our hope by pitting us against each other to the point that we don't trust in or care about anyone. Even ourselves.

The world around us is oftentimes an obscenely ugly place. It's filled with anger and bitterness and hatred directed at those we don't like or don't agree with or don't understand.
And Satan loves every minute of that ugliness. He's the ruler of this world - remember?

Ephesians 6:11-12 reminds us:
"Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

Every day we can find stories of people on different sides of issues; conflicting ideology; cultural opposites saying some pretty vile things about the ones on the opposing sides. 
Nastiness knows no political party. 
It doesn't differentiate between religions. 
Is unable to recognize sex or race or nationality. 

Verbal abuse is a heart issue. It's an indication that something isn't right in the heart and mind of those who would choose to degrade others with their language. 
Mockery is commonplace in today's society. Hateful slang and hurtful labels affect us all. 
But just because it affects us all doesn't mean that we have to retaliate like a wounded animal. That solves nothing and really doesn't make us feel better either. Not in the long run. 

So what do we do? 
As Christians our first response should be to examine ourselves. 
Check out the state of our own hearts. Because as hard as it may be to accept, Christians are just as guilty as any non-Christian of rude and offensive words. We may have been redeemed and forgiven, but our sin-nature still exists and any Christian who claims to not fight daily battles with it is either fooling themselves or not a Christian at all.

Christians also need to pray about the attitudes we carry about others. Pray that God will give us love that shows itself in kindness and consideration - especially if we don't agree with someone.  
No one was ever won over to the love of Christ by rudeness and condescension.  And if we who profess to love and follow Christ don't ACT like it - how can we expect anyone else to want the "Christian" life?

We also can't expect non-Christians to act like Christians - or at least what Christ-followers are supposed to act like.
Instead we need to commit to pray for them; asking God to change their hearts and minds to be like His. 
Since verbal abuse is a heart issue - only a heart change is going to make a difference. 

So when we hear a comedian make an unconscionable statement couched in a "joke" - we need to consider that they quite likely aren't a Christ-follower. 
When we hear the political pundit make disparaging statements about members of the opposition - stop and consider that they may have never experienced the grace and forgiveness of the Savior. 
When you read about the latest celebrity gaffe or past insensitive remarks - consider that their world view may not have contained a picture of the Jesus who died for them.  

Cruel, unkind words will always hurt. 

The love of Christ will always heal. 
And those are words you can count on. 

With a Courageous Heart, 

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Good Parking Spot

"We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people" - Colossians 1: 3-4

For a week now, the Lord has led me to the book of Colossians and parked me there.
See the picture? That's my spot, right there. Carved out for me on the crazy path that's my life.

I've been trying for a week to write a blog post about a particular topic that's eating at me. Something that the Lord brought to my heart and mind after reading a sweet comment from a friend.
And I found some beautiful truth in His word in Colossians that speaks right to the heart of the issue.

But here's the thing - apparently God has some other things for me to find here in this little, but oh, so significant book by the Apostle Paul.

- Such as being led to pray over a new Christ-follower in our church:
"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God" Colossians 1:9-10

- Such as being encouraged in my job as a paper crafts artist:
"For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him." Colossians 1:16

- Such as remembering where my help and strength comes from as I deal with all the upheaval in my life right now. Verse 11 in Chapter 1 has been burning in me this past week:
"being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience"

I think what I'm experiencing right now is the spiritual version of "Squirrel!"
Remember that crazy dog in the Disney movie "Up"?
The one that's so eager and willing to please until he sees the "squirrel"?
Dug the Dog loses all sense of what he was focused on when he catches sight of the "squirrel". 
But the great part about my spiritual "squirrel" is that with each detour on the road to writing what's been laid on my heart to write, I'm LEARNING. 
And falling deeper and deeper into the truth of God's word. 

Just as Paul wrote this letter to the Colossian church to encourage them in their faith, so God is using it to encourage me. His word is so full of rich truth that even parking myself in just one small part of it for a while has yielded me a depth of insight from Him that passes any expectation I had.

I know that the original reason I was led to Colossians will eventually come out here and I eagerly wait for God to speak to me about what He wants to communicate. In the meantime though, I'm gonna just rest awhile in the other amazing truths He's revealing. 
It's a good parking spot and for now, I'm not ready to give it up. 

With a Courageous Heart, 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Truth of Our Hope

"But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:

Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!" - 1 Corinthians 15: 51-57 (The Message translation)

Here friends is the glorious hope and promise of our faith - Christ Jesus defeated sin, death and hell on the cross and through His resurrection. 
For all time. 
For all of us. 
For you.

Had a bad week? 
Life getting you down?
Are your circumstances too much to bear these days? 

Lift your eyes Christian! 
You have victory over your circumstances through the One who loved you enough to die for you. 
Your hope is alive and triumphant!

"O death, where is your sting?  
O hell, where is your victory? 
O church, come stand in the light. 

Our God is not dead, He's alive, He's alive!"

Have a hope filled Sunday friends! 
With a Courageous Heart, 

Friday, June 7, 2013

What We Treasure

"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Matthew 6:21

Take a look around you.
Stop right now and look, really look at your surroundings.
What is there with you that you would say you absolutely cannot live without?

I think back to a time when Emma, our daughter, was, I think, 7 years old. On a chilly morning before school, she turned on a small space heater outside her bedroom door.
I was down the hall getting ready for the day when I smelled something awful. Something burning.
Glancing out our bedroom door, I saw smoke filling the hallway.
So, not knowing where the smoke was coming from, I did what any self respecting Mom would do, I yelled at Emma to run downstairs and out the front door.

What I did next was crazy.
At least I know NOW it was crazy.
I grabbed the phone and my purse (girl's gotta have her lipstick!) and ran all the way to the basement - yes, the BASEMENT. I never claimed to be smart.
But the basement was where my computer was and attached to the computer was my external hard drive -better known as my photo album - and if I couldn't save anything else, by golly, I was gonna save that.
Are you laughing yet?
I'm rolling my eyes at the memory of me, crazed and half dressed, running up and down the stairs for what? Pictures. Sigh.

It all turned out well. I'm here to write about it anyway.
I called the fire department and as they were on their way, Emma told me about turning on the space heater.
That thing hadn't been turned on in a year and I knew right away why it smelled like it was burning. Not sure where the smoke was coming from, but all we ended up with was a few muddy boot prints in the house and a great lesson learned.
No, it wasn't about when and where to use the space heater. Although, we did have a little chat with Emma about that.

In those few crazy, scary, unexpected moments I learned what earthly treasures were most important to me.
My daughter, of course. Thank goodness she just did as I told her and ran outside. Yeah, she's great like that. :)

But that hard drive. Why choose that out of a house full of stuff? Why potentially risk my life for it? (Yes, I know now it was stupid, but I have a point here, so keep reading, K?)
Here's the thing - there were a lifetime of memories stored on that hard drive. Memories of people and places and relationships that represented the best and sometimes the most difficult times in my life. My family's life. Times that could never be recreated. Experiences that only come once in a lifetime.

So, I learned that for me, the purpose of my life - to love and be loved - recorded for all time in those pictures, was what was most important to me. And truth be told, I really don't even need the pictures to know what my real treasures are. They are stored forever in my heart and mind and in the relationships that have created those memories.

This week, Mark and I began the process of cleaning out my Mom's home as she is headed into the next phase of her life. It's been quite the experience for us - going through the evidence of her life with my Dad over 52 years of marriage.
There's a lot of stuff. Pretty stuff. Old stuff. Valuable stuff. Stuff full of memories of times and people and places that speak to the richness of their life together.
And while she is loathe to get rid of any of it, the few things she has asked for while she is in the rehab center are some family photos and her Bible. And chocolate, but that's another blog post. :)

Which leads me to the conclusion that while our lives are rich and full and beautiful, surrounded by the physical evidence of the experience, all we really need are two things.
The saving grace and magnificent love of Jesus Christ.
And the relationships with each other that we are here to share.

It all comes down to what Jesus said in the Gospels - simply put, Love God and Love each other.
There is no greater treasure.

With a Courageous Heart,

Saturday, June 1, 2013

I Cried Last Sunday.......

"You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal." - Isaiah 26: 3-4

As I listened to the Worship Team warm up for the service last Sunday, I realized tears were running down my cheeks. The familiar melody of "It Is Well With My Soul" and the absolute truth in it's lyrics touched something inside me that I'd all but given up for dead lately. 

"When peace like a river attendeth my way...."
Peace was far from what I'd been experiencing lately. Our lives had been turned upside down since we'd returned from a long awaited and desperately needed vacation three weeks ago. My Mother had been hospitalized the day Mark and I landed in Fiji on our vacation of a lifetime. What was supposed to be a simple blood transfusion for her became a nightmare of infection, illness and a bombshell diagnosis of Leukemia. 

I learned of her hospitalization in an e-mail from home. And as if that wasn't enough to take in, the very next e-mail I read delivered the deeply painful news that a promotion I'd received at work was being revoked. A policy error of someone who was in my organization had made it invalid. 
I was blindsided, hurt and crushed by the news. 

"when sorrows like sea billows roll".......indeed. 

The emotional rollercoaster I experienced over the weeks between those e-mails and last Sunday morning was crazier and wilder than just about any other I'd known before. Even our daughter was struggling with a scary issue at school and it has seemed to me that every area of my life was just spinning out of control. 
And it was - out of my control. 
What's worse was that my heart was like a brick inside my chest. 
Hard, cold, heavy and painful. 
I wanted to cry, but couldn't. 
I wanted to pray, but had no words. 
I wanted to scream at God, but was apathetic to the point of not even caring to try. 

I just kept taking it. Stuffing it down. Putting one foot in front of the other and trying to go on in my own strength.
Tired. Broken. Stunned. 
In truth, just paying lip service to the faith that I knew was there to sustain me. 

"whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say........"

Just what was it that I'd been taught to say? I mean, I know Christians face some really hard things.
This stuff should all come easy to me, right? 
I'm the one people come to for answers. 
I'm one of the ones people look to for wisdom found in the word of God. 
Well, where was all that wisdom now??
When I needed it? 
When I was drowning? 
When I needed to feel more than ever the amazing, all encompassing love of the God who'd created me?  
Where was He?

"It is well, it is well, with my soul."

No, it was NOT well with my soul! 
I was angry and hurt and tired. 
So very tired. 
And as I cried last Sunday, I realized that God wasn't gone missing. He was there. Right there with me. And He was just waiting for me to lay all of this messy burden I'd been holding on to like a security blanket right at His feet. 

"Just lay it down Robin." He whispered. 
"I've got you. I've got it all under control, but you have to LET GO. 
Let me carry this for you beloved. You need to trust me." 

The relief I felt in those moments was overwhelming. I felt like a balloon that had suddenly deflated.
And I realized that in laying it all down, it WAS well with my soul. 
Trusting God to, well,.... to be GOD. 
To let Him do what He does me. Comfort me. Sustain me. And hold me while I cried
He led me to the verses in Isaiah that I've shared with you here, and I've carried them in my heart all this week. 

And it's been well with my soul this week. 
My circumstances haven't changed much, but I remembered who my God is; and He is greater than all my circumstances. He has lifted me up and held me tightly to Him, walking each step with me and cleaning up the broken mess in my heart. 
I don't know what the week ahead will bring - but I do know this - it will be well with my soul because I won't forget to trust in the Lord eternal, the Lord who is my rock. 

With a Courageous Heart,