Consider the Source

I have to share this story because I just got so tickled over it. I have an aunt who is so supportive of my blog; she reads them all, comments on them all–encouraging me and sharing even more insight into whatever topic I’ve discussed. She’s been one of my greatest cheerleaders since I took on this blogging endeavor a few years ago. Well last week she messaged me and asked if I’d double-check my blog’s email list because she was concerned I’d posted blogs that she’d not gotten. That’s how on top of things I’ve been. It’s been so long since I wrote a blog post, my Aunt Sheila thought she’d been accidentally removed from the mailing list! 🙂 I assured her that was not what was happening, I was just trying to figure out how to balance blog posts with a working-from-home husband and one computer. We do have an iPad, but 2020 has taken enough of my sanity as it is; therefore, I will not attempt to type out my wordy messages via that iPad screen. I feel certain it would result in my burning this whole place to the ground, which we do not want. Can I get an amen?!

Speaking of 2020…y’all, what in the actual world?! Can you imagine not being a Christ-follower during all of this?! The other day, Beth Moore tweeted, “Jesus, come get us” and it made me want to laugh and cry and praise and wail all at the same time. Never have I ever longed for the peace and love of Heaven like now. I am surely not the only one. It feels so important–now more than ever before in my lifetime–to be loving examples of Christ, to share His message of hope and salvation with those hurting around us. But in order for us to do this and do it well and effectively, we have to make sure that we get our minds under the control of the Holy Spirit, so that He is able to guide us as we go forth into this damaged world to share Jesus.

Before the events of the past couple of weeks, I had already been thinking over this topic but on a much more superficial scale. Today, I still feel those thoughts are relevant, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak to what’s currently happening as well.

I want to take a minute before I go anything further and make one thing very, very clear: Black. Lives. Matter. This is not a political issue. This is not a government agenda. This is not simply a social media platform. This is a Church (with a capital C) issue. This is a human issue. This is a crucial issue. For those of you who follow The Samaritan Woman’s Facebook page (or my personal Instagram page), I’ve made my stance on this very clear. My job and your job and the job of EVERY SINGLE CHRISTIAN is to love your neighbor just like you love yourself. It’s not to love your neighbor IF their skin matches yours. It’s not to love your neighbor IF they vote like you do. It’s not to love your neighbor IF they love you first. Friends, the Bible is abundantly clear that Jesus loved us so very much that He died for us BEFORE we could even accept Him, before we could love Him in return. He modeled the way we are to treat each other, and it sure didn’t involve waiting until someone was nice to us or loved us or smiled at us first.

I also want to make it abundantly clear that I am so very grateful for all of those who put their lives in jeopardy every day to serve as officers of the law. I don’t think for one second that all cops are bad. I think that 99% of them are excellent people; the ones I know certainly are. There are bad apples in every single bunch; this applies to every skin color, every profession, every group of people. I am so impressed with the police officers I’ve seen taking knees with protestors, praying with them, and speaking out against the murder committed by those four bad-apple Minneapolis cops. Throughout the Bible Jesus puts His arms around multitudes of people from all walks of life, loving them all, but He does this while simultaneously calling out and holding accountable those living in a manner opposite of God’s will. He is especially hard on those to whom much responsibility and power has been given, and I don’t think it’s a strike against us to hold people in positions of power today to those same standards. However, the more time we spend pointing fingers or calling out others, the less time we have for bettering ourselves, which is a major detriment to the Church. It’s absolutely crucial to speak up for those hurting and those being oppressed, but if you’re not taking time to make sure you’re not doing some of that hurting and oppressing yourself (whether accidentally or intentionally), you’re sort of missing the point. Take responsibility for you FIRST. (Remove the log from your own eye.) Then, after the Holy Spirit has prompted you to move outside of yourself, go beyond yourself to hold accountable those around you. (Then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.)

Today, I’d like us to look at this idea of getting ourselves right in our own minds so that we can be more effective Christians and stand up against hate and stand for love. As I said, it starts on the inside, with each of us individually. Here’s what I mean:

In my last blog post (which was obviously ages ago!), I mentioned I’d been riding the roller coaster of emotions during this Coronavirus mess. For the most part, as we’ve settled into this new normal, I’ve come to grips with it all. However, as we start talking about what school will look like come August, I feel some of those same initial emotions slipping back in, with fear and worry leading the charge. To overcome this, I’ve had to practice 2 Corinthians 10:5 so very many times (often multiple times a day–can I get an AMEN from all the slow-learners out there!). Here is what this Scripture tells us to do when these negative thoughts/emotions first appear: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  The Bible tells me that confusion and fear do not come from God. Worry isn’t from God. Those come straight from the enemy (John 10:10), who steals our peace and joy. So as I recognize these emotions multiplying, I have to stop and remind myself to consider the source. “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). I have to take captive those thoughts that make it seem like things will never change, like everything is one gigantic dumpster fire that’ll never stop burning, and force my mind to focus on Jesus. I have to force myself to think about how Jesus is hope, and with Him all things are possible. How nothing is too big an issue for Jesus to show right up in the middle of, and although it might look bleak right now, all it takes is one single word from the mouth of our God and it could all change instantly.

I think it’s of utmost importance that we apply this same idea to our own attitudes toward people who are different than we are, whether it be because of skin color or political party or religious affiliation (etc. etc. etc. etc….). Spoiler alert: hate is not from God, and pride/superiority is not from God. When we have a negative thought about another group of people, we need to (1) stop and recognize its negativity, holding ourselves accountable for what floats around in our heads; (2) take that thought captive, offering it over to the Lord so that He might help us recognize its true, satanic source; (3) make it obedient to God. Let me give you an example to better communicate what I mean. If you find yourself generalizing an entire group of people and being angry at them because they don’t vote like you do, it’s time to take those negative thoughts and the venom that goes with them straight to Jesus. It’s in these moments when we ask Him to help us with our anger or even hatred toward ____________ group, that He’ll be able to show up for us, share His love with us, remind us that HE DIED ON THE CROSS FOR EVERY ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE YOU FIND INTOLERABLE, and soften our hearts toward our opposite-side-of-the-fence neighbors in ways we’ve not experienced before.

I recently ran across this quote of Dr. Caroline Leaf’s, from her book Switch On Your Brain, and I felt like it was so timely and relevant. She states, “As we think, we change the physical nature of our brain. As we consciously direct our thinking, we can wire out toxic patterns of thinking and replace them with healthy thoughts.” Y’all! I feel like this is the best news because it literally joins science with Scripture. The Bible explains this exact same mind-renewal concept in Romans 12:2: “Do not copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Friends, whatever way our thinking falls currently, whether it’s born out of love or loathing, God is waiting to help us see others, love others, treat others as He does. He loves us all. He has told us time and again how to treat each other. He has warned us of what can happen when we decide our race, our desires, our lives are more important than those of another.

I wrote two legal-sized pages of Bible verses in preparing for this post. I’ve used a few, but the majority I’ve not been able to fit in. But of them all, one has jumped out at me time and time again. It’s so applicable to the racial divide that I assume we are all diligently working to correct, with regard to our own role in it. But it’s applicable to life in general. We live in a culture of ME! ME! ME!, which is vastly opposite of how God intended us to live. So before I pray with you guys, I’d like to leave you with a verse that I whole-heartedly encourage all of you to spend some time meditating on (as I will be) in the coming days.

Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourself.” One more time for those of you in the back: In humility, value others above yourself. Yes, Lord, make it so!

Dear Lord, thank You so much for sending Jesus to save me before I ever got my act together. Thank You for that example of how I should live my life. Help me, Father, not to expect others to love me before I’m willing to love them. Help me not to make excuses for being distant or angry or judgmental. Instead, Lord, give me a heart like Yours. Help me to see every single person in my line of sight today as You do. Remind me, God, when I get prideful and superior, that You love them just as much as You love me. Remind me, God, You died for them exactly as You died for me. I love you, Lord, and I so desire to be a good example to others in Your name. May my behavior, may my treatment of others–especially those with whom I share the greatest differences–glorify YOU. Help me, Lord, to look inward, so that I might spend time correcting my own thoughts and feelings first and foremost. Give me the courage to reach out to those around me who are hurting, in an effort to share You. Help me to listen and learn instead of constantly running my mouth. I love you, God. Thank You for helping me grow. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

Seed-y Faith

I recently read the story of Charles Blondin, a long-ago thrill-seeker and tightrope walker from France. A few years back in 1860, Mr. Blondin not only walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls (that’s a span of over a quarter of a mile, in case you were wondering), but he did so back-and-forth with a variety of props, so to speak: in a sack, on stilts, while blindfolded, in the dark, etc. Each time he reached the other side successfully, and the crowd roared their praise (relief?). Mr. Blondin then decided to up the ante a bit, and for one particular trek across the tightrope, he chose a wheelbarrow. He asked the crowd, “Do you believe I can walk to the other side, over the tightrope, with this wheelbarrow?” (I’m paraphrasing because I wasn’t there, you see.) Of course, he received a unanimous response of Yes! Mr. Blondin wasn’t satisfied with simply walking an empty wheelbarrow over a quarter of a mile on a tightrope, oh no! How would that be enough when he’d just done it blindfolded and in the dark and on stilts and so on and so forth?! Mr. Blondin wanted an assistant, so he asked his burgeoning crowd, who had just shown their faith in his ability to make it across with the wheelbarrow, who would volunteer to RIDE in the wheelbarrow as he pushed it across the tightrope. What did he get in response to his question? Crickets. Well, probably not the sound of crickets since Niagara Falls is super loud and all, but you get my point. Breaking News: not a single person volunteered to ride 160 feet above Niagara Falls across a tightrope in a wheelbarrow.

Isn’t this how we are with our faith oftentimes? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve believed in God’s ability, have trusted in His might and power, only to quickly put my hand down when it came to volunteering to actually let God carry me across “the falls” of whatever I was facing. It’s like I KNOW He can, but I’m still too chicken to let Him BECAUSE WHAT IF I ACCIDENTALLY GO OVER. (Yes, you’re right, I’m very chill.)

It’s times like this, though, friends, when I’m struggling to have significant faith, that God has already prepared for (of course He has). At times when I need my Heavenly Father but I can only catch the tiniest glimpse of Him, I remember what Jesus said in Luke 17:6: “‘If you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.'” Praise the Lord for that promise!

Not to get all Negative Nancy on you guys, but there’s a flip-side to this mustard-seed faith. There have been times, I fully admit, when mustering up (ya see what I did there…mustard, mustering…I’m a comedian!) big faith might be possible, but it would take work and require sacrifice on my part and it wouldn’t be immediate. So instead, I lean perversely on this promise, allowing my laziness to boast in and feel confident in small faith, because after all, didn’t Jesus Himself say that all I need is faith the size of a mustard seed? Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to seed-y faith at its greatest.

Because you’re far smarter than I am, I know that you know Jesus wasn’t giving us an easy way out with this verse. He wasn’t excusing us from working on growing our faith. He wasn’t negating the necessity of going from tiny baby Christians with tiny baby faith to mature Christians with big faith. It wasn’t until I found Matthew 13:32 that God helped illuminate His plan for our faith. That Scripture says this about the mustard seed: “Of all the seeds it is the smallest, but when it has grown, it is the largest of the garden herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and find shelter in its branches” (emphasis mine).

Did y’all catch that? Yes, it’s okay if we start out with small faith, if the most we can conjure up in the face of fear or tribulations is faith the size of a mustard seed. But at no point, under no circumstances, should our faith remain that size. A literal mustard seed might start out as the tiniest of all the seeds, but through intentionality and nurturing, that seed grows into the largest of all the garden herbs, large enough even to be considered a tree. So, too, should our faith. Yes, it’s okay to start out small (hello, little baby Jesus) but with God’s help and by walking hand-in-hand through life’s challenges with Him, our faith should grow and grow and grow. So let me ask you this, friend: has your faith grown lately? Are you applying a new kind of faith, a bigger, more powerful faith to whatever it is you’re facing right now?

Look one more time at that Scripture from Matthew. Did you notice that it says the mustard seed grows large enough to become a tree and provide shelter for birds of the air? This, too, is a benefit, a purpose, of our growing faith; it a shelter to us, a security and place of protection and solace in the midst of those rainy and/or stormy seasons of life. Can you imagine what life for a bird would be if there were no trees in which to seek shelter? Those mustard seeds aren’t very protective, friends, but those trees, with their wide, outstretched branches, they’re a place to huddle when the storms come.

The Bible addresses our faith many, many times, and more often than you might realize it wraps it up in the expectation of growth. To better explain what I mean, I’ve collected for you a few verses, ones that help us as believers to understand the process of moving our faith from seed-sized to tree-sized. Please read these with me.

2 Peter 3:18“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”

2 Thessalonians 1:3“We ought always to give thanks to God…because your faith is growing”

Colossians 2:6-7“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in faith as you were taught…”

So, friends, I guess this brings us (and I close with this) to the question of why. Why, we might ask, is matured faith important? Why does the Bible encourage us to cultivate our faith and grow it as we walk with God? As an answer, I give you two additional verses.

Hebrews 11:6“And without faith it is impossible to please Him

Ephesians 6:16“In all circumstances, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”

Your faith is a weapon. Let me say that again in case you didn’t catch it. Your faith is a weapon against Satan and his schemes. And if that’s not reason enough, it is through your faith that you please the Lord. You cannot beat those two reasons. If we do nothing more with our lives, with our time on this earth, than please God and defeat the devil, I have a sneaking suspicion that upon arrival in Heaven we might get to hear something like this: Well done, my good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21). Bless it!

Dear Lord, thank You so much for this day, for this life, and for all of the many, many blessings You bestow on me and my family daily. Father, I recognize that while it is okay for my faith to start small, it is NOT in my best interest that it stays that way. I ask for Your help, God, in growing my faith. I ask that You guide me as I choose faith over feelings, as I put my faith to work against the schemes of the enemy. Help me to hold firm, Lord, so that with each challenge I face, my faith grows a little more and a little more. Help me to be patient with myself, Lord, as I know all good things take time and effort and sacrifice. I pray that when it gets tough and I get tired, Father, I will choose faith (and pleasing You) over ease or comfort or convenience. I love you, Lord, and I want to grow my faith so that when others see how I handle the curveballs of life, it points them directly toward You. Grow me, Lord, and grow my faith so that I might, in turn, grow Your Kingdom. It’s in Jesus’s mighty name that I sincerely pray. Amen.