Sister to Sister: It’s about the Overtime

I don’t know a lot about NFL football. I was not even present for the first three quarters of that game last night. Even after I got my father situated at the end of the third in front of the TV, got the babies changed and pajama-ed after worship, got everyone a piece of pizza and had a prayer, I could not have told you the score. But the momentum of that fourth quarter was enough to move even the most lukewarm easy chair observer. 

But this Falcons-Patriots fifty-first Super Bowl match-up was, in one sense, the most exciting of all Super Bowl games because it went into overtime. Never before has a Super Bowl game gone into overtime. And this overtime proved to be the undoing of a team that had kept the lead for about 59 of the previous 60 minutes, at one time having led by 25 points.

The thing that always strikes me about overtime is the fact that it is a brand new fresh start. Both teams begin again, just as at the initial toss of the coin…on level ground with an even score, the same number of time outs and the same luck of the toss. All interceptions, errors, fumbles and missed kicks are erased. From many perspectives, it’s just as if the four previous hard-played quarters never even occurred. 

That’s what life is like for Christians. We live in overtime. All the mistakes and interceptions and fumbles of the past life of sin are erased when we come out of the waters of baptism. We begin again with a brand new chance to finish strong. No matter that we spent three quarters lagging terribly behind in the devil’s territory. No matter that we allowed more points than we ever should have given up to the opposition. No matter than we lost a lot of opportunities and allowed strong opponents to run right over us. No matter that we let a lot of mentors and supporters down. We get to start all over again and what matters is not the last four quarters of squandered chances. The only thing that counts now is what we do with the overtime. 

I’m not so big on NFL ball. I’m glad the Pats won. I was pulling for them because my son’s a fan.  But I’m very big on the extension that we have in Jesus after the buzzer. Unlike the Patriots, we could never deserve a second chance. We’ve failed miserably and we cannot recover by playing hard and tying up the game. The blood of Jesus offered at Calvary evens the score. It gives us hope of winning once again. And the prize is not a trophy, fame, money or a place in the hall of fame. The prize is eternal life. It’s a prize, unlike the Super Bowl championship, that will be of ultimate importance a hundred years from now and, from hence, throughout a timeless state of existence.  

For Tom Brady, I know it was important to forget the previous sixty minutes and view the next few seconds of overtime as simply “all that mattered”. For me, it’s important to remember what God has forgotten. He’s  forgotten all my sins and iniquities to remember them no more (Hebrews 10:17).  Paul thought about His overtime reprieve this way in Philippians 3:13,14:

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

 

Thanksgiving: My Sin Is Not in the Deal

thanksgiving_110006174-012814-intIt’s Thanksgiving Day as you read. I hope it is the beginning of a holiday season that will bless your heart with warm memories for many years. For some, though, the holidays will bring painful memories of abuse or loss of a loved one or long days of mental torture or longer nights of physical pain. Even with the challenges that come to all people in a fallen world, the church of God, the redeemed, have constant cause for joy and thanksgiving. We are gathered around his banquet table every day of every year as we walk in His light.

Psalm 103 is a great place to go on this Thanksgiving week to be reminded of the depth of the Lord’s mercies on His spiritual Israel. Here is David’s list of the blessings, from that chapter, showered by the Father on the Old Testament nation. How many of these are just as real to the church, the people of God, today? I challenge you to go down this list and check off the ones that are applicable to you, personally. How many of these are very real and tangible in your own life in 2016? As I made this list, I realized, at once, the inconceivable nature of His blessings and my own worthlessness. There is some realm or area of my life and of His mercies in which I can check off each one! Here’s the list:

  • Forgiveness of iniquities
  • Healing of diseases
  • Redemption from destruction
  • A crown of lovingkindness and mercy
  • A mouth satisfied with good things
  • Renewed youth
  • Execution of judgement for oppressed
  • Ways made know to Moses
  • Acts made known to Israel
  • Mercy
  • Grace
  • Slowness to anger
  • Dealing NOT according to sins
  • Removal far from transgressions
  • Pity like a Father
  • Remembrance that we are dust
  • Everlasting mercy
  • Righteousness to grandchildren
  • A prepared throne
  • A kingdom that rules
  • Angels that excel in strength

I love to contemplate every one of these. But the one I love the most is that He deals not with people (me) according to their sins. There are no words for the gratitude that swells in me when I understand that he will not treat me as I deserve to be treated. He will look on me and not see sin in its blackness. He will reach to me and not touch the filth of sin. He will listen to me and never hear the wretched voice of sin that anguishes in my pleas. He will savor the sweet smell of my worship and not smell the stench of guilt. Surely if David could extol His mercies and claim his deliverance in the days of animal sacrifices, how much more can I bask in the blessings of forgiveness; living, as His child in the shadow of the cross! “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name” (Psalm 103:1)

Fabric Softener for Fabric of the Heart

Jesus told us to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who use us spitefully, and to do good to those who hate us (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28). It’s a simple concept, but the practicality of it?…not so simple. I’ve had grown women tell me, “I’m sorry, Cindy. I just can’t do anything good for that woman!” Even right now, I’m thinking of a sister, who said this to me only a few days ago, adding “You just don’t know all the things that I know about her. You would not understand.”

I may not know all about her, but I know one thing about her. Christ died for her. That’s enough to know that I can, if I really want to, put all of the offenses toward me in a file somewhere marked “forgiven” or “prayer list” while I use all my creative ideas to come up with a plan for doing whatever good thing I can for the sister whose heart needs a softening.

Sometimes a heart-softening comes when a sister (or brother) looks up and finds a sweet card on his/her desk from the co-worker he/she so recklessly “chewed out” the day before. Sometimes not. Sometimes a heart softening comes when a pretty bouquet of flowers arrives at the door of the sister who intentionally left you off the guest list for the baby shower of her daughter; the daughter you attempted to teach some difficult Biblical truths back when she was in your Sunday School class. Sometimes not. Sometimes the softening comes when you go to the rehab center and help change the bandages on a sister who once called you “irresponsible” or “self-centered” or “holier-than -thou.” Sometimes not. You know who the sister is in your world.

The “sometimes-not” part is what makes it so very difficult to do what Jesus said. Sometimes I am afraid of what the reaction will be when I reach out to someone who has consistently slighted me. She may yell at me again or ignore my gesture. She may even say “Yep. There you go again, being the hypocrite that you always are.”

But you know, Jesus didn’t say pray for your enemies who will react positively. He just told us to pray for them. He didn’t say bless those who are cursing you now, but who have the propensity to become tender toward you again. He just told us to bless them. He didn’t say do something good for the woman who hates you, IF you think there’s hope for reconciliation. He just told us to do good to those who hate us.

Have you ever thought about how that each time someone in the body really mistreats you, you are given this amazing “extra” chance to show God how much you love Him? It’s true. See, we show our love for the Lord by obeying Him (John 14:15). But if we obey Him only when the command is what we really want to do anyway–what is convenient or fun to do–we really are not obeying Him. We are doing what we want to do. When we do the hard stuff, the stuff that makes us uncomfortable, the stuff that we’d rather have a root canal than do….ahh, that’s when we really obey. And in the process of that kind of obedience, we grow to be more and more like Jesus, the Lord, who willingly did THE most uncomfortable thing at Calvary–for us.

In the process of exchanging blessing for cursing you will heap coals of fire on the head of the offender. And, sometimes, you will see a change in the heart of the enemy, the user, or the curser. Once in a while, the enemy will become a friend, the user will evolve into a supporter and the one who cursed may learn to bless.

See, it really doesn’t matter if I win the battle over the promotion, the insult, the social slight or whatever the catalyst might have been. If I can successfully soften a heart to the Will of the Lord, I have won the war. And the offender is not defeated. The devil got the blow!

You’ve got this!…And it comes with so many blessings!

She’s Just so Hard to “Be Around”…

I recently heard about a Christian who expressed how difficult it was for her to be around one of the other faithful people in her congregation. She said something about it being hard “just because of the way she is.”  I don’t really know what “way she is,” but as I reflected on this sentiment I thought about how difficult it must have been for Jesus to “be around”  people like me….I mean just because of the “way” I am.
God did not love us or open communication to heaven with us because we were fun to talk to. He did it when we were unlovable, hard to stomach, and unworthy…basically despicable. While we were yet sinners…God talked to us? God looked at us? God was willing to “stomach”us. No. He commended His love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). What’s ironic is that the only way I can do any of this for Him, in return, is when I do it for the least of these (Matthew 25:31-46)—the unlovable, the one I don’t really want to “be around,” the one who is unseemly in appearance or the one who is even my enemy (Romans 12:19-21).  So there we have the unpalatable truth. We were all unpalatable to God, till Jesus came to let us get inside of Him…to put Him on, so we could be fit for heaven. 
As a parent, I have to think of it this way to get the full import: God gave His “Caleb” in order to have a relationship with and save ____________ (the most despicable person I know). And God’s Son was Deity!  He was not a mere unworthy human, like my son. That makes me want to go and be kind to and teach, if I can, that person, who is hard to “be around.”  May the Christian who said this (and I’m sure it’s been me, at times), grow, as she studies this concept. May she grow to be humble and see that she is not “good enough” to disdain anyone who has put on Christ—the Christ who left a perfect heaven where he had been for eternity with the Father, to walk the dusty roads of Galillee with people who were “yet sinners.”
And remember… if you can’t stop a negative thought about a sister somewhere between your brain and your mouth, you may be one of those people it’s just hard to “be around.” 

The Burden on My Heart…

The following is a letter originally drafted for a woman I met rather coincidentally in a small southeastern town in which I was speaking not too long ago. She was a spirited young woman who made my day by giving me a beautiful cookbook. I had to leave quickly and was unable to study with her at the moment we met. Perhaps the letter below might help another soul somewhere who is yet in sin, or perhaps it might help you as you approach a friend who is coming near to the kingdom.Dear Valerie,

It was really a joy to get to meet you a couple of weekends ago when we spoke in ____________. I am so pleased with my cookbook. Please forward my small donation to the charity about which we spoke. Thanks so much for thinking of me. I love to cook and I love new cookbooks, especially this one with potent reminders of the spiritual bread of life.

I am always refreshed and thankful to meet people who have a zeal for spiritual things and whose lives have led them down a path to a grateful realization that God is so merciful and good. That was definitely you! I know you’re very thankful and amazed by his care and that He has allowed you to overcome so much and come to this good place in your life where you finally have a chance to glorify Him with blessings that he bountifully gives to you.

The burden on my heart now is to be sure that you are in Christ and do have that hope of heaven. I carry this burden with me to every place I speak and I see it in every new face I meet. I just had to write and be sure about this because I am going to stand before the same judgment bar one day that you will and I just want to tell as many people as I can. It’s not that I have any secrets about the will of God that you don’t have. It’s just that the devil is very busy deceiving in our world today through the hundreds of denominations out there all teaching different and opposing plans of salvation. The devil really doesn’t care how religious we are if he can just keep us outside of Christ. He doesn’t care what good hearts we have if he can just deceive those good hearts into accepting false teachings. He doesn’t care how many good things we do for our neighbors if he can just keep us out of Christ. He knows that forgiveness and redemption and all spiritual blessings are found only in Christ (Eph 1:3, 7). So he loves to make people think they are in Christ when they really have not done what the New Testament says to do to be in Christ. I don’t know about you personally, but I love your heart of submission and I want to be sure that I help you if these are things you have not thought about before. I think you are right about something you said to me. When people really want to do the will of God, He can bring people into their lives for a reason. I hope that he can use me in a small way in your life. I am praying as you study the things that are in this letter that you will want to be sure that you have followed his will and that you are in Christ where forgiveness is.

About 98% of the world of “Christendom” today teaches that all you have to do is pray the sinner’s prayer in order to be saved. Something like, “Lord Jesus, come into my heart. Thank you for loving me and saving me right here and right now…” The problem with that is it’s just not found in the Bible anywhere. It is true that he loves us and that he is willing to save every last one of us (II Peter 3:9), but as with all of his blessings, his salvation is conditional on our obedience. It really bothers me that the devil uses this “sinner’s prayer” that is nowhere in scripture to deceive so many people into believing that they are saved, when, in reality, they are still in sin.

It is true that belief in the fact that Jesus is the son of God is a prerequisite for salvation. Without that faith it is impossible to please him or be saved (Mark 16:15,16, Heb.11:6). It is true that we have to repent or put away sin from our lives. If we keep on sinning on purpose, we will perish (Luke 13:3). We have to confess that faith in Jesus as God’s Son (Romans10:10). While all of these things are essential steps toward salvation, the Bible nowhere ever says that these things put us into Christ. It’s just not there.

But the New Testament does tell us what it is that does put us into Christ: Look at these clear teachings:

Rom 6:3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
Rom 6:4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

According to this verse, it is baptism that puts us into Christ. Look at another:

Gal 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Gal 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Again, God just made it as plain as day how we put on Christ.

We can ask the same question lots of ways:

How do I wash my sins away?

Acts 22:16 And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’

When am I forgiven?

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What do I do to be saved?

Mark 16:16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved;

Exactly what saves me?

1Pe 3:21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

In fact, in every case in the book of Acts where people desired to be saved, they clearly were immediately baptized for the remission of their sins(Acts2, Acts8, Acts 9, Acts 10,11, Acts 16). In one case the man actually risked his life in the middle of the night to leave the jail and go be baptized. If he had been caught by his Roman superiors, he would have surely been executed (Acts 16). Each time I read and reread all of these passages, I get so upset at preachers who are reading the same Bible I am reading and yet are willing to ignore these plain teachings about baptism and teach that it is not essential for salvation…that it is just a symbol of your salvation. Romans 6:3,4 teaches us that baptism is the very place where we contact the death of Christ. If we don’t go down into those waters with a heart of submission, knowing that we desperately need his salvation, we do not even come in contact with the death and blood of Jesus!… and that is a scary reality to take to judgment.

The point is this. If I was baptized because I thought I was already saved, then I was not coming to God on his terms. I was not being baptized for the remission of sins like they did in Acts 2:38. I was not doing it to wash away my sins (Acts 22:16). I was not doing it to be saved (Mark16:16). It was not a step of faith if I did it as a symbol that I was already saved. I was putting my will above his. I was saying, “Lord, I was saved without ever being baptized into the death of your son, and now I will be baptized to show that I have already been saved without doing what you said I must do to be in Christ.” If I am a member of a church that teaches baptism is not essential to be in Christ, then I am a member of a church that is misleading people into a false security of salvation.I said all of those things because I could tell your heart was an open one to His will. I am praying as you read this that you will just want to be sure that you are doing and teaching what the Bible (the only word we have today from God) says about salvation. There is no more important subject. I have already been praying for you and for the good things you are doing already. I just pray that now that you have this letter in hand, you will look carefully at these passages in the context of the whole New Testament and be very careful not to be led astray by any person (including me!) I have nothing personally to gain by telling you this, except to know that I will not have to look into your face in the judgment day and know that I was silent about this very important subject. Just be sure the church with which you are working is the church of the New Testament, teaching the same thing that first opened its doors of salvation to the world in Acts 2. If we do what they did on that day, we will be what they were…Christians. But if we become involved in a religion that leads people astray we will be accountable for that, too. Remember, the devil doesn’t mind religion at all. In fact, since he is the father of lies (John 8:44), he loves false religions. Not every one that says “Lord, Lord” (i.e. not every one who is religious) will enter the kingdom (Matthew 7:21,22 ), but he that obeys the will of God. I could go on and on…

…And I will, if you have any questions at all with which I might be able to help. I’ve thought of you often and prayed for you. Again, let me thank you for my gift. I hope that this letter finds your heart open to do and teach all of his will. You can be a great minister for His cause to other ladies. So many are searching for these truths and so many are being led astray. Let me know if I can help further.

Because of Calvary!

Have You Pity-Partied Lately?

Have you any friends who are party animals? I mean pity party animals?  I do, and I love them, but they are not very much fun.  They always get the raw end of every deal, the short end of every stick, and nobody, but nobody understands their plights. If it’s raining, they’re depressed. If it’s sunny, they’re  sweaty. Either no one pays attention to them or people just won’t leave them alone. They just have perpetual gloom, despair and misery regardless of the circumstances in which they find themselves.
Why do we have pity parties?  Why do we allow the circumstances of this life to impede our progress toward the next?  Let me offer a few reasons. Perhaps these can help us to be prepared for pity party invitations and just RSVP in the negative every time. There is always something better on the agenda!
1. Sometimes we forget that we are not alone.
Our God is described as the ever present source of strength (Psa. 46:1) and He has promised that he will never leave or forsake us (Heb.13:5). The never of this passage is actually a double negative word adding emphasis to the assurance of His presence.
2. Sometimes we forget that Christians see in 3-D.
Having worked extensively with a group of ladies who are newly converted to Christianity, I have observed that it’s very difficult for them to correct the one-dimensional vision that characterizes worldliness. The focus of their existence has always been on themselves. Every decision has been based on “What’s in it for me?”  This inward obsession is simply and sadly characteristic of our society. To begin to have an upward focus and really care about what God thinks is a challenge for ladies coming out of the world.  Then to develop an outward focus, noticing and responding to the needs of others is just a whole new dimension of vision that the new Christian must really work to maintain. Symptoms of the problem are evident. A new Christians may think the fellowship meals are for her, never stopping to think to prepare food and bring it to an activity. A new Christian may have a different problem she wants you to help resolve each time she sees you at a worship service while she may rarely express interest in the problems of others or take the time to pray for them. She may tell you how busy she is and how little time she has for activities of the church, listing all of her job demands, sports activities and hobbies, never even thinking that those who are faithful and involved have tough schedules every week as well.  She may expect to be visited or called, without once thinking of visiting someone herself.
But these ladies are babies in the faith. We must remember that babies are all about themselves.  All of us who are moms understand that babies are not thoughtful of the needs of others. The focus is definitely inward. But for those of us who have been Christians for years the focus should no longer be one-dimensional. Stopping the self- absorption and becoming absorbed in the Word and in fervent, practical prayer has the ironic effect of self-fulfillment.  Likewise, when we see and minister to the desperate needs of the people around us, we ourselves are lifted up. We begin to be great when we begin to serve (Mt. 23:11).
3. Sometimes we stop walking and have a seat.
Idleness is the devil’s workshop.  Sometimes I see widows who go home from the funeral, close the door and just resolve to never be happy again. Other times I see widows who, for a very long time, have been unable to do much else besides care for an invalid husband. But once the long hours of caretaking are over, these godly women immerse themselves in programs of the church, ministry to the needy and the development of godly friendships.  These widows are some of the happiest Christians I know.
I remember when I was in my thirties (you know a couple of years ago), I had a dear friend named Annie. I was amazed at what Annie could accomplish for the Lord. She visited several nursing homes weekly, carrying little goody baskets to several patients. She had a tiny gift for every single child of the congregation at each holiday. (She was the Dollar Tree Queen!) Her four and five’s classroom was amazing as her husband lugged a big box of visuals and activities every Sunday and Wednesday night. She remembered birthdays and anniversaries and took the time to keep children when their parents were sick or just needed a little time away. She brought computer-made banners to the building for us all to sign so they could be posted in a lonely hospital or dorm room. She prepared welcome signs and goody baskets for the hotel rooms of our visiting preachers and teachers. In short, she was “ready to every good work (Tit. 3:1). I think some people thought Annie was just a great person with lots of spare time to do great stuff for other people. Annie was, in truth, a cancer patient, having already had several surgeries with several more to come. She was raising a child with a disability, caring for a mother-in-law who was in poor health, and struggling with severe back problems. I actually remember her attending our Wednesday night ladies class and lying in the back of the classroom on a table because sitting in a chair was both painful and harmful to her back. Annie simply chose not to stop and sit down when life hurt. She chose to keep walking toward heaven.  It was her choice not to have a pity party!
4. Sometimes we forget who fills our tank.  Sometimes when I am driving a long distance, I am frustrated because I have to stop and pump gas. I hate to pump gas. I especially hate to pump gas at night. I abhor pumping gas at night when the price of gas is three times what I paid only two years ago. I can get in a bad slump over pumping gas. When I do start feeling frustration at the pump, it only takes me a minute to think about the primary reason this frustration builds. It’s because pumping gas is a pretty rare occurrence for me. See, I have a husband who will go out of his way to pump my gas for me under normal circumstances. It’s only when I travel alone that I am forced to deal with the bite of the chilling air, the smell of gas on my fingers and the pinch of the price gouge. 

Naomi in the book of Ruth said, “God hath sent me out full and brought me home again empty.”  It is true that Naomi had experienced devastating losses while she was away from home. But she, like so many of us today, was quick to blame God for the losses while failing to credit Him with the sustenance, strength, and even the lessons that come with trials. She could have used a quick lesson from the book of Job .

And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)

5. Sometimes we like to broadcast the problems and keep the blessings a big secret.
Listen to Naomi’s homecoming statement in full:

But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.
I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” (Ruth 1:20,21)

She said, “Don’t call me by my old name. I would like to be called ‘Bitter’.”
She said, “God treated me very bitterly.”
She said, “God emptied me.”
She said, “God testified against me.”
She said, “God afflicted me.”
I believe Naomi had thought ahead about this little speech. I believe she was ready to get a few things off her chest when she got back to her family and friends. Perhaps it was not the first time she had delivered it. But the indictment of the Almighty God, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift (Jas. 1:17), was a pity party theme that borders on blasphemy. (Thankfully, the party was brief and she soon had an outward focus once again.) Broadcasting our problems in a spirit of bitterness serves to feed that spirit. It is a call for reinforcements for all that is negative in our lives.  Sometimes Mom’s words, “If you can’t say something positive, then don’t say anything at all,” make a lot of sense.

*(Much of this material taken from Women of Troubled Times, by Cindy Colley, Publishing Designs, Huntsville, AL.)