Failure…

Failure is a funny word to me, because I truly believe that we rarely utterly fail at something.  Sometimes, it is simply a matter of perception.  Follow along with me for just a moment on that thought before we get into the meat of this topic.

Below is a series of photographs from a wedding, several years ago.  At the time, I owned my own confectionary.  This was not my first big event, but it was my first wedding.  The bride wanted a confection bar full of candies, sweets, and treats.  She didn’t want a traditional wedding cake at all.  We decided upon some cupcake towers and a small cake at the top, which was adorned with their wedding topper and serve for the “cake cutting” part of the reception.

What you see here is a very well executed plan, right?  Wrong.  I had a MAJOR failure.  I promised her Jolly Rancher Cotton Candy.  I woke up that morning to make the fresh cotton candy, only to find that there was just too much humidity in air.  The cotton candy, which I had made dozens of times before, was melting before I could even bag it.  So, I bought some cotton candy that was pre-made and portioned it out into the bags.

The bride was happy, there were no gaping holes in the table set up, and there was not a single bag of cotton candy left over.

I failed.  Yes, it was due to circumstances outside of my control… but I still failed to deliver what I promised.  Even if, ultimately, I was really the only one who knew about the failure.

 

The next large event I catered was for a fundraiser.  I met with the planning team and they presented an adorable center piece concept.  They brought out super cute little tiered dessert stands. The plan was to have the stand filled with cupcakes. There would be a giant cupcake “topper”.  The small cupcakes were part of the dessert for the evening.  They would have table drawings for the centerpiece (inclusive of the giant cupcake topper, plus an additional 1 dozen mini cupcakes).  In addition they wanted gift bags for the VIP sponsor tables.  I was super excited to get started.  I measured out the centerpiece they provided to determine the number of cupcakes that it would hold.  Sent them a quote.  The order was set.

When I arrived the morning of the event to set up, to my shock… the tiered center pieces had be replaced.  They made the decision to go with something nicer, which was the right decision.  However, they neglected to inform me of the change.  These new centerpieces were MUCH larger.  Almost twice the width on every tier.  I placed the topper, the dozen mini cupcakes, and it was SPARSE.  I flagged down the coordinator, explained the problem, and she made the decision we would forgo the dozen cupcakes as part of the table prize and instead use them to fill up the tiers.

The following Monday, I received an email from the main chairperson.  She wanted a partial refund because I failed to produce the dozen cupcakes per table for the prize.  She was never informed by the coordinator, and thought I had shorted their order.  I explained what happened, who authorized the decision to use them, and apologize profusely.   In her response, she was very kind and canceled the request for the refund.  However, I never received another order from her or their organization again.

In this case there was a perception that I failed.  I knew that I hadn’t, and that I met my obligations.  However, based on what she could see… the chairperson perceived that I failed to come through.

This weekend I was reading an blog piece in which the author was brutally raw about her feelings, as she declared that Jesus had failed her family that year.  I was really stumped by those words. Jesus… who is perfect, flawless, dependable, truth… failed you?  I couldn’t understand it.  It didn’t seem possible.

In all the years of unanswered prayers, I’ve never felt like Jesus let me down.  Not once.  I can’t think of a time where I looked up to the heavens and declared “Lord, you really let me down this time.  I needed you to come through.”  I was struggling with every single time her words “Jesus failed me” flew past my eyes.  Yet, I not offended … angry … or hollering out “heretic”.

Perhaps, that is because in all of those times where things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to… I blamed myself.  I told myself that the reason my prayer wasn’t answered or the Lord didn’t show up was because I failed Him.  I feel like I fail God daily.  I never feel good enough.  I question why in the world He would want to use me in ministry.

What I realized was that how we see things was very different.  I was seeing failure in the way I described the first scenario.  In some way, I failed to deliver on my end of the bargain… even if I did my best.  Even if I made up for it in someway.  Even if no one in the world knew or cared about it.  I knew.  I failed.  My focus was there on that place where I failed, versus the ways that I succeeded.

The woman who wrote the blog piece was more akin to my second example.  She was the chairperson who had expectations on how things were going to turn out.  She brought in the right people, and through no fault of her own in that scenario, something wasn’t right.  She turned to the person she trusted to come through, and she said “you failed me”.

You see, she ascertained that failure based on the limited amount of information she had.  She didn’t know that the centerpieces were different sizes, or that it would make a difference in the end product presentation.  She didn’t know that I was never informed of the change.  She wasn’t brought into the decision making being done on the spot to accommodate the changes, nor filled in after the fact of what happened & why.

When the Lord is working out things for us, we are not always clued in to what is going on in the background.  We can’t always see the people or situations that the Lord is coordinating into just the right places, at just the right times.  In fact, sometimes we never will.  We may never see those fingerprints where God was moving mountains and mustard seeds.  So, when the end product (or process) isn’t what we expected… we may feel like God failed us.  He didn’t come through.

On the other hand, we can become so focused on all of the areas where we ARE messing up… that we think we have failed God to the point He is ignoring us.  We may think He is deliberately keeping blessing from us.  We may even think that he is disciplining us.

In the first case, we are so focused on our perception of the situational outcome that we can’t see those who kept their word and did their part.  We don’t appreciate the people who were pressed into hard decisions.  We lose the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt.  We make assumptions, assign unjust blame.  Our vision becomes clouded to the work God is doing, the blessings that are coming, the people who did care, and the hundreds of little ways God came through with something BETTER.  Jesus never fails us, we just perceive that He did because we didn’t get the outcome we desired.

Or, we become so focused on how wrong and sinful we are.  We become so inwardly focused that we beat ourselves up, disqualify ourselves, and stamp FAILURE on our foreheads.  We make vows to never try again, step away from commitments or ministry work, and wallow in how terrible we think we are.  We put up our hands to the Lord, shouting STOP… I can’t be used.  I’m a failure, not Jesus.

Christ died because we are failures at keeping God’s statutes and commands.  Throughout the Old Testament, on a repetitive cycle…   God would move, the people would celebrate, the people would forget, the people would fall & cry out, and God would rescue.  By the time of the New Testament, when Jesus enters the arena… God’s ultimate plan of redemption for his people who just can’t keep it together on their own.  In her piece, she repeated a few times that she waited for Jesus to rescue her… and He didn’t.  I would contend… HE ALREADY DID, ON CALVARY.

And, in that moment we were given victory over sin and death.  We are not failures, but perfected in Him.  By His stripes we are healed.  We need to keep our eyes on Him, not ourselves.  Trusting His word, even when we don’t understand what is happening around us… or God seems quiet or far.

Then, I read the article a 2nd time.  Something else jumped out at me, and we are going to talk about that next time.

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So… I saw Bad Moms, and I laughed.

In case you don’t have any clue what movie I am talking about, here is a promo shot:

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First, I’d like to admit right out of the gate I didn’t walk into this movie with naive expectations.  The trailers gave a pretty good indication that there would be some inappropriate humor.  Second, I am not planning on giving away any spoilers.  There were definitely some parts I thought the movie could have lived without, not only for the story line but even in the presentation.  Sometimes it could go too far.  Third, there were some parts of this that were REALLY unrealistic when you are talking about any group of moms.  Lastly, there were also a LOT of truths.

Overall, I laughed and I laughed hard.  At one point I laughed so hard (as I was taking a sip from my straw) that I pushed air through the straw, which caused a small tidal wave in my cup, and that resulted in my drink landing in my eyes.  Which just caused a whole other fit of laughter for myself and those sitting around me.  I laughed until I cried and my stomach hurt.  Yet, there were some moments that I nodded in solidarity.  There were moments that were uncomfortable.  And, yes… as I said before totally unnecessary.

What I want to write about (and I’m up for conversation too) is WHY a movie like this not only resonated with moms but was drawing us in like moths to a flame.

My first thought is probably the most obvious, there is an enormous amount of pressure on moms to be it all, do it all, and do so perfectly.  Whether it is the perfect birthday party, bento box lunches, or simply making it to every school and sport activity… we feel the pressure.  We notice so much of what is around us, like the mom who has the perfect hair and make up in the parent pick up line… when we were struggling to get out of the house with a bra under our pajama shirt.  We see the kids with the perfectly styled hair, accessories, and sparkling white sneakers…. and we just spent the last 40 minutes looking for eyeglasses or a belt.  Other moms dropping their kids off early, and we are 10 minutes late because we had to go back home and pick up the flute that was left behind… or because our darling child took 15 minutes to brush her teeth.

How do these moms do it?  We cast shade in their direction, but really we are asking ourselves… why can’t I do it?

I think there are a number of moms who have run the scenario through their head of just saying no.  No to the requests by the husband, kids, school, coaches, etc.  An opportunity to just walk away from the pressure and enjoy life again.  To make the choice of not being the perfect mom anymore, and instead be the bad mom.

This brings me to my second thought, as you watch the trailers you see a group of women having fun. We are not talking bunko party fundraiser fun, but the kind of fun we had as teenagers  and young single adults.  The fun we had when we didn’t care what others thought, where it was ok to be silly, and there was an expected freedom in the general knowledge we were going to make mistakes and bad choices.  It takes us back to a time when we didn’t have to be an adult, and could just let loose and be free.

With motherhood came some sort of unwritten code of conduct, that we couldn’t be silly anymore.  We began to take everything too seriously, including ourselves.  Let’s face it, books and the advice of television “experts” reinforced this.  Reminding us over and over again that it was time to grow up, put away childish things, and get our heads out of the clouds.  As we did this, many of us sent fun sailing away for good.  We stopped smiling, we stopped laughing, and we stopped being silly.

The movie Bad Moms called out to that free spirit inside of us, that desperately wanted to laugh… and laugh hard.  So, it pulls out all the stops.  The women let loose in a way we couldn’t, and we live vicariously through them.  They say the things that roll through our minds & do the things we secretly wished we could.  (Ok, maybe not all of the things they say and do, but you get the point).

I also believe this appeals to Christian women so deeply because of the bar that is set for our expected behavior.  If other moms are feeling the pressure to be perfect in their every day life, Christian moms understand the additional expectations put on the Christian mom.  To have perfect children that love Jesus, quote the bible, volunteer with the elderly, and gladly donate all their birthday money to the missions fund.  To be women who are serious about the study of the Lord, leading small groups, inviting women over to mentor and pray together, to dress in simple clothes, and be ever diligent in our choices of entertainment.  There is a pressure that all of our time should be so seriously focused on Christ, that we can’t let loose and laugh until our sides hurt.

Confession… I saw the movie on opening night.  It’s taken me almost a month to admit I saw it, because frankly… I expected to be judged for it.  I was worried about what my church friends, my readers that look to me for wisdom, the women or leaders who are reading through my blog trying to decide if I would be the right speaker for their next women’s event… what would these people think of me?

I learned something from the movie though… my eyes were opened to how long it had been since I had laughed so much and so hard.  I realized how seriously I take myself and made the decision not to.  I embraced that silliness is okay and even healthy for my kids to see.  I made the decision that I wanted to laugh more, but with those whom I am the closest to… not a theater full of strangers.  I want that girl posse who has my back, in the most biblical way possible… and who will be silly with me.  Women who know how to laugh, smile, and stop trying to be something that is impossible to attain… perfect.

All of those parts of the movie that I thought were unnecessary, they don’t have to be part of my life.  But the good stuff… I welcome it.  We are all GOOD MOMS despite our imperfections and the times we muck things up… because we are LOVING MOMS.  In the end that is what matters.  The Lord didn’t call us to a life of misery, but of fulfillment and joy as mothers… and laughter.  So much laughter.

The NIV LifeConnect Study Bible

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I must admit, I own several Bibles.  In fact, I have such a strong opinion on Bible translations… it may be one of the things I am most frequently asked my opinion on in our church small groups.  While my collection has covered the gamut of translations (I see each one as valuable to my study), until recently I only had one Study Bible (it’s an HCSB).

A few weeks ago, I finally got my hands on a new Study Bible; the NIV LifeConnect Study Bible from Zondervan.  I am thoroughly impressed.  Physically, it is a large Bible.  I won’t be carrying this one with me to services on the weekend.  However, it is great for a desk reference when I am studying or working on a project.  And, a great resource for when I am studying or preparing work and choosing to disconnect from technology.  It is packed full of helpful information and even places to jot notes, if you are a note taker like I am.

Each page has a slim column for taking quick notes, and journaling pages where you can make quick notes about how the scripture spoke to your or how you responded to it.  I am a huge fan of this format.  In many ways, it is like making your own personal table of contents or index to retrace your thoughts or recall information you previously read.  These pages are located at the end of each most books of the Bible, however the longer books will have them peppered throughout.  It’s like they know me!

At the beginning of each book of the Bible, there is a brief introduction that covers foundational information for deeper study.  The who, what, where, when, why, and how questions are answered right off the cuff.  This allows the reader to enter the book with a clearer perspective of what they are reading. Cultural information of importance is shared, there is a timeline to reference, themes you should be watching out for, and even some “Did You Know” points that can assist with interpretation within context.  Thorough footnotes walk through the scriptures with you, the SOAP method to study (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) is located throughout the Bible, and if you’re not familiar with the method … DON’T WORRY.  Clear instructions are given.

The author of the Study Bible, Wayne Cordeiro, has also included quotes from his other works… when applicable to the scripture selection.  There are also colorful maps and concordance reference to further assist your study.  Included is a Bible Reading Plan, if you are interested in a concrete plan for study.

The pages are crisp and easy to read, and begging for a highlighter or colored pencils to adorn the pages.  While there are some sections of study notes from the author, I like that Cordeiro didn’t take all of the burden off the reader.  You have a responsibility here too, he simply guides us through the study process.  You’ll be a better student of the Word, for certain.

In addition to the concordance in the back, you’ll find colorful maps and even weight and measure conversions.  These tools help translate our modern understanding of geography and measurements to an ancient time, clarifying context and allotting for familiarity.

My only complaint, for a Study Bible, is that I wish the maps were incorporated into the study sections verses tucked away in the back.  When reading I’d prefer to only have to flip a few pages versus cover to cover.  Otherwise, it’s a great bible for a serious student… but a new believer too.

 
I review for BookLook Bloggers

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Grow deeper in your spiritual life with the NIV LifeConnect Study Bible. Dr. Wayne Cordeiro includes articles bringing the truths of the Scriptures to your life today, as well as Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer (SOAP) articles that offer an interactive framework to apply the Word of God to your life. Free digital resources included.

#Write31Days – Post 23 – False Teachers

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A few weeks ago, during our small group, a woman asked me how to identify a false teacher.  Specifically, her concerns were based in the fact that she, herself, was still currently learning the scripture.  The Bible tells us to test false teachers and prophets against God’s Word, but if you are currently not well versed in the scriptures… how do you begin?   I am going to share here, the advice I gave to her.  I hope that it is helpful.

 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Matthew 7:15

  1.   Begin in prayer.  Whenever I am presented with an opportunity to hear from a new speaker, read a new book, or perhaps even attend another church as a guest… I start in prayer.  I need the Holy Spirit to be that discerning voice, that physical presence in my body, that will help me.  It is that voice you get in your head, when something just doesn’t sound right.  That knot in the pit of your stomach when you are just not comfortable in your seat.  The voice that says do not listen, flee.  I pray that God will move me away from false teachers.
  2.  Do some research.  Thankfully the internet usually abounds with information on any sort of public figure.  Most churches, organizations, and conferences have websites that will clue you into their statement of faith, allow you to see past sermons or snippets from events, etc.  I want to know who this person is, what is their background, what do they believe in, and who is in their circle of influence, who do they consider a mentor or friend.  You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.
  3. Remember context matters.  In your research phase, you may come across blogs and articles that speak against ANY given author, speaker, or well known Pastor.  What I would challenge you to do, is to not take their word as gospel truth.  If they post a 15 second sound clip, do not take that at face value.  Instead, take the extra time and see if you can find those quotes, video clips, etc in full context.  Many things can be taken out of context, the Bible often is.  We need the full context of the statement (including who their audience was, and WHEN this was spoken) in order to make an educated decision.  If I can’t find the quote/video in full context, I disregard it.
  4. Time changes people.  I am so thankful I am not the person I was 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and even 5 years ago.  I have grown a lot in my knowledge of the scriptures.  Therefore, I will generally disregard any old quotes, writings, videos as evidence against a speaker.  To be specific, I won’t usually consider anything that is over 10 years old…. UNLESS the speaker hasn’t changed their position.  If this is the same platform being recycled every few years, then certainly it is important.  But, I recently heard a woman call a current author a “false teacher” over a comment she made over 13 years ago… when the author was barely in her twenties.  She has grown a lot since then, and that is evident in her more recent work.  Therefore I am more interested in who the person is NOW, what to they believe today versus what their inexperienced youthful self saw as truth.
  5. Cautiously ask others.   I used the word cautiously here, because we are looking at personal opinion.  Personal opinion can quickly become gossip, it isn’t always factual, and even facts that are spoken may be inaccurate.  To proceed cautiously I would suggest not asking everyone (like a general “what do you think of this person” post on social media.  That will create a STORM.  Instead look to key people whom you respect, and ask their thoughts.  This could be your Pastor, his wife, bible study leaders, etc.   It is ok if they say something along the lines of “he doesn’t sit well with me, but I can’t tell you why”.  That’s their discernment at work (see #1).  However, if they start giving you “facts”, take the time and do the research (see #2) to ensure accuracy.
  6. Keep Studying.  No matter what, keep studying the Word for yourself.  The more acquainted you become with the scriptures, the sooner you begin raising red flags at false teachers/prophets.   In the beginning, it may simply come from your greater knowledge of God’s character over knowledge of the scriptures verbatim.  If a false teacher says something that just doesn’t fall in line with the nature of God, it will stand out…. even if you can’t put your finger on the exact scripture reference at the moment.  Over time, you will become more familiar with the scriptures themselves and improve your ability to recognize scriptures that are twisted or taken out of context.

These six tips are great ways to help you begin to identify false teachers, while you are becoming a better student of the Word.  The more you know the Word, the more you know God… and the easier it is to identify those who are misusing, misrepresenting, and misquoting the Scripture.

The following are some scriptures that clue us into ways we can identify false teachers and prophets:  (bold emphasis is mine)

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. – Ephesians 5:11        False teachers/prophets are going to make claims, but their claims will not come true.  They will claim healing, but there will be none.  They will give the illusion of miracles, but they will not be real.  They will prophesy, but the prophesies won’t come true.   

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.- Romans 16:17    These are people who are trouble makers, pot stirrers, always looking for a fight and to cause trouble.  They are creating divisions in the church, and spinning scripture out of context further causing division among the body of believers.

For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.  – Romans 16:18     They are smooth talkers, who say the things we want to hear.  It sounds nice, it sounds appealing, and it may even sound like truth.  But they are not trying to serve you, or God… but only themselves.  Everything they do is for their own gain.  More money, more prestige, more celebrity, more power.  They may also speak with authority and their words may seem credible, but their intentions are to build themselves up over man… not pointing man to God.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.  – 2 Timothy 4:3   These teachers will tell us what we want to hear in a way that sounds like truth, and even those who love God will fall for it… if they do not know His word for themselves.  It will sound like truth, because it will distort scripture to support their claims.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. – 2 Peter 2:1     False teachers and prophets are sneaky, and actively sneaking their way into the lives of believers.  They won’t always stand out and boldly proclaim things contrary to the scriptures. Some will slither in to our churches, sitting next to us in pews.  And like the serpent was able to get Eve to question what God really said about eating the forbidden fruit… they will make us question what the bible means in scripture passages.  They will claim to be our sisters and brothers in Christ, but will be wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15)

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. – 1 John 4:1-3  There will be false teachers and prophets that are more obvious, speaking directly against God, speak of God without Jesus Christ, or speak of God in a way that contradicts what the scripture reveal of Him.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.- Colossians 2:8  False teachers and prophets will use human thinking, logic, theories and empty evidences as an explanation in an attempt to discredit God or to change how we think of God.

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.   2 Corinthians 11:13-15   False teachers will also disguise themselves as leaders, not just fellow believers.  They will call themselves apostles, disciples, pastors, bishops, reverends, priests, etc.  They will use terms we are familiar with to create a credibility.  However the Word tells us that we will see through their claims by their deeds, how they behave and what actions they take.

And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. – 2 Peter 2:2   Multiple times in the scriptures we are warned that false teachers are going to be attractive to people.  They may be good looking, seem to have their lives all together, the words that flow out of their mouths will be appealing.  They will have charm, charisma, and an attractive personality.  They will seem to be financially blessed, free of difficulties in their lives, everything appears to always go in their favor.

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

  – 1 Timothy 3:6-5

There are many, many more, scriptures that talk about the false teachers and prophets found in the Old Testament through the New Testament.    These are just a small sampling of those scriptures.  This is also not a discount to those who have received Spiritual Gifts!  Rather it is a call to all believers to be students of the word, to have a solid foundation in sound doctrine, and an intentional prayer life that keeps their focus on WHO GOD REALLY IS, WHAT HIS WORD REALLY SAYS, AND HOW GOD CONSISTENTLY ACTS.

About a year ago, I read an article written by a Christian woman on a piece of scripture that was entirely off the mark.  She ended it with an invitation to challenge her interpretation of the scripture, but only if you could support your argument with the Bible.  I responded to the article, siting multiple resources on the historical context of it.  I also included Bible verses that discounted her interpretation.  Her reply???  I don’t have enough time to address all of this individually.  I disagree with you and she listed a few quick retorts.  Then do you know what she did?  She blocked me from responding.

I followed her rules.  I had more biblical evidence than she did.  She was unwilling to even check if my evidence was accurate.  And she closed down the conversation.

What did that tell me?  False teacher.

2 Pet2:1 – false prophets among the people, false teachers among you. —– She labeled herself a Christian.

2 Tim4:3 – they will not endure sound doctrine. —– She was unwilling to consider BIBLICAL evidence.

Rom 16:17 – cause division, create obstacles to sound doctrine.  —– Her argument took scripture out of context, and was pitting Christians vs. Christians.  You were only right if you supported her “interpretation”.

Ephesians 5:11 – take no part in fruitless work, but expose it.  —– When she was rebuked using scripture, she disabled me from continuing to expose her. 

1 Tim3:6-5 – teaching a different doctrine that didn’t agree with the words of Christ.   —– She was conceited in her belief that she was right. She was creating controversy and friction among God’s people.   She was absolutely unteachable, and her deeds exposed her.  (2 Cor 11:15)

#Write31Days – Post 18 – Spiritual Strongholds

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Have you ever found yourself in a building, standing under a chandelier… and suddenly your mind is flooded with every movie you have ever seen in the past.  The chandelier falls, someone dies.  Over the course of your life, subconsciously you have made the decision to never stand under a chandelier.  So, you take a few steps the left and breathe a sigh of relief.

When you were a child, perhaps, you were splashing in the ocean.  Suddenly, a current sweeps your legs out from under you, pulling you out to sea.  A hand grabs you, pulling you to safety.  You were so traumatized by what could have happened, you no longer go into the ocean.  You don’t take your kids to the beach.  You make a conscious decision that the ocean is not safe and to be avoided.

Everyone has some sort of stronghold in their life.  These are beliefs or opinions that are strongly held and fortified in our minds to the point that reason and logic will be locked out.  These strongholds can be based in reality or in our perception of reality. They are often formed by our past experiences, the environment we were raised, and by the people whom we respect or were authorities in our lives.

I have seen plenty of movies where a chandelier falls, on accident or on purpose, and a person dies.  I have personally never known anyone this has happened to, nor have I read about it happening the paper.  Logic and reason stand that the chandelier in any given building isn’t going to just suddenly break loose and fall on me.  It really isn’t a logical fear.  However my perception of that truth can be swayed when I allow those imaginary scenarios to root themselves in fear and paranoia.

The scenario at the beach, that actually happened to me.  It is a reasonable fear, logic would stand that I would be afraid of the ocean.   This was a real life experience for me.  However, that reality also must root itself in fear in order for it to become a stronghold in my life.  I still love the beach, take my children there, and I am not afraid of the ocean.  I do, however, respect it.  I am not careless.    I have not allowed this real life circumstance to impact the logic that being swept out to sea is very rare and small percentage.

As Christians we not only are faced with strongholds in our lives, based on our past or perceptions, that affect our daily decisions.  We also have spiritual strongholds, that have embedded certain beliefs or “truths” into our minds.

For example, if you were raised in a denomination or area of the country where dancing was considered a sin, and you accepted that belief to be true.  You now have a spiritual stronghold, that is going to impact how you engage with the rest of the world.  But, the questions we must ask is:  Is it true?  Is dancing a sin?  What do the scriptures say?

In most instances of spiritual strongholds that come from our environment, how we were raised, or the influential people in our lives… if we truly want to let go of spiritual stronghold… we go to the Word.  When faced with generational or denominational “truths” it is really quite easy to open up the scriptures and do the research for ourselves.  We can see what the scriptures say about any number of subjects, and find truth.  We can study the history of the scriptures, to understand the who, what, where, when, and why of a piece of scripture and then apply that to our own beliefs and perceptions.

We may be right.  We may be wrong.  And, in the grand scheme of things, it may not matter.  Personal convictions are no less important than scriptural mandates, they are just individual verses general.

The most difficult spiritual strongholds are the ones we are self imposing on ourselves based on our past experiences and decisions.  They arise when we live in guilt, shame, and failure.   We become so engrossed with who we once were, that we disregard any of our potential to be better person or live a better life.  We feel unworthy of God’s love, which keeps us from having a true relationship with Him.  This, of course, also means that our faith and spiritual growth is going to be stunted.

And, the enemy loves to use our spiritual strongholds against us.  He knows how to spin our past in a way that makes our sin look greater, more disgusting, and deeply shameful.   Satan puffs up our sin to look so horrible that we feel it would be impossible for God to find us worthy of anything.  We allow this to discount us and discredit us from God’s love, and Kingdom work.  People tend to respond in one of three ways.

  •  They do nothing.  They attend church, read their bibles, pray.  But, they never do anything more than that.  They disqualify themselves from being able to lead a bible study group, give their testimony, or even volunteer for the simplest of things at their church.  They say “who am I, what do I have to give?”
  • They run away.  In this case, the person is so haunted by their past that they are actively running away from God in shame.  They may run to a different religion or no religion, but they are running.  They attempt to hide like Adam and Eve after biting the fruit, hiding from God in their shame.
  • They go extreme.  This person is the one who is not running from God but actually chasing after Him.  They think that God has turned his back on them, or at minimal is deeply disappointed in them.  What they attempt to do is to win back His favor, His affection, by going to the extreme as a believer.  For example, if they had a history of immodest dress and immoral behavior… they will be entirely the opposite now, to the extreme.  Her ultra mini skirts have been replaced by ankle length skirts.  Her long flowing locks may be tempered by a tight bun, her make up drawer has been emptied into the trash.  He may have traded a life of drinking and parties for weekend long, isolated, and silent meditation.

I am certain that at least some of you are looking at the last one and thinking: this is a bad thing?  Yes, and no.   If the reason you have made these changes is out of deep, personal conviction… then NO, this is not a bad thing.  You are to be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.  However, if you are making these choices to try and earn back God’s love and favor, then YES … it is a very bad thing.  Keep reading, because I will explain why.

For the better part of twenty years, I allowed a spiritual stronghold to stand in my way.  I was totally ashamed of myself and some of the decisions I had made.  I would pray to God for forgiveness, but I was unable to let go of these things.  I held onto them with a tight grip.  His Word tells us that when we ask for forgiveness are sins are washed clean.   Every time I prayed to God to forgive those sins that haunted me, I was putting them at the foot of the cross & walking away.  Yet, in a very short amount of time, I was running back to cross and snatching them back up.

I was saying to God, I believe you can forgive me for so many things… but not this.  This is too big, too dirty, and too shameful for you to forgive.  I’d begin trying to work them off.  If I read more of my Bible.  If I pray harder.  If I volunteer more.  If I alter my dress, my speech, my thoughts, my life, my everything… then I can make up for this shame.

I was sinning against God, every single time I took them back.

I was saying, God … you are not enough.

When we are sinning, we create a division between us and God.  So, no matter how many good, noble, and wonderful things I was doing… they meant absolutely nothing because I was in sin.  I was doing things for a God that I didn’t trust.  I was reading a Bible, but not believing in the promises within it’s pages.   I was praying to a God that I thought wasn’t capable enough.  I was volunteering for Kingdom work, while believing I wasn’t worthy of being in the Kingdom.

You can change your manner of dress, the way you speak, and your daily study habits. You can pray from dusk to dawn.  You can give every cent you earn, volunteer every waking hour, and take up every noble cause.   Man can look at you in wonder and awe, you can have a million gold stars on your chart.  Women can hold you in high regard, men can respect your dedication and loyalty.  However, you will never feel good enough.  You will still feel guilty.  You will keep doing more and more to win the affection of God, because your guilt tells you that you are not worthy of His sacrifice.

We must let go of these spiritual strongholds, and cling to God.  We must surrender WHOLLY…. EVERYTHING.  We leave nothing behind, we hide nothing, we don’t hold anything back from God.

I know that I am not worthy.  That is why God is gracious and merciful.

I know that I never will be worthy.  The Old Testament reveals this every time the Israelites would turn from God.  The New Testament reveals this as Paul shares that he struggles doing what he knows is right.  I see it in my own life, every time I mess up and have to confess to God.

It is in this knowledge that the beauty of God’s love unfolds.

I am not.  I never will be.  I deserve death.

I was given the gift of Life.

There is nothing I can do that will separate me from God’s love.  I can not run or hide from Him.  There is nothing I could ever do, in my flesh, that will repay God for his mercy, his blessings, or his Son’s sacrifice.  It is arrogant and prideful of me to look at God’s gift, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and say:  Sorry God, that isn’t enough to cover MY sin.

God asks so little of us.

Love God with all of your heart and understanding. – When I love Him, I trust Him.  I know His word, and His promises.  I believe Him.  I hold nothing back from Him.  I am washed clean by HIM and HIM alone… not anything of my own doing.

Love others as you love yourself. – I forgive as I wish to be forgiven.  I love as I wish to be loved.  I help others as I wish to be helped myself. 

I believe, the very first step in letting go of those crippling spiritual strongholds begins when we acknowledge it for what it really is.

Sin.

Confess this sin, ask God to forgive you for taking back what you have put (or keep putting) at the foot of the cross.  Pray for His Word to quiet the voice of the enemy who haunts you.  When you feel the urge to pick it back up, rebuke Satan’s hold on your life.  Then remember you are not who you once were, you are a new creation.  The past has faded, it is gone.  Today, you are a child of God, adopted into his family to start a new life… a far better life than you could ever imagine.

Let my stronghold be the Lord. (Psalm 18:2)

How Does This Scripture Apply to Me? – WRONG QUESTION

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Early in my Christian walk, I read the bible to understand what Christianity was about.  I saw it as a collection of stories & history that explained how we (gentiles) came to believe in God, who Jesus was & why the crucifixion was needed, and to understand what awaits us in the future.  In time, as I would mature in my walk, I would begin to see that this was more than just a collection of information that justified or explained my faith.  It was the true Word of God, it had an enormous amount of value.  The scriptures are filled with stories of people, just like me, who failed miserably but that God could and would redeem.  It became a book of Hope for the weary, Faith for those who love Him, and Promises of an eternal heavenly future.

Under the teaching of some very respected bible teachers, study authors, and church leaders… I began to read the scriptures differently.  I was taught to read the scriptures and ask “How does this apply to my life?”. Now, in some cases of scripture, that is a really easy question to answer.  The Proverbs are full of wisdom that can be applied to every day life.   But there would be times, when I would read a passage of scripture, that I was left scratching my head.  It just didn’t seem to apply.  I wasn’t like the person in the story, the situations I was dealing with in life were different than the point of the story.  I just couldn’t figure out how it applied to me, at all.  In those cases, I would cast it aside for the time being.  My reasoning was that it just didn’t apply at that moment.  But, I figured God revealed it to me because at one point it will.  I will recall reading it, and at that point in the future, I will know where I can return to find the wisdom and encouragement I need.

I am certain many of you who are reading this, are shaking your head in agreement.  But, what if I told you … we are totally wrong.  What if I said that is not the right question to be asking?  Hold on to your hats, if you are, because I am about to rock your socks.

I had an opportunity to attend an amazing conference that would forever change how I viewed the Bible.  I have never looked at a passage of scripture the same.  I study the Bible in an entirely different way.  It came from a group of very well known teachers, that a new question was posed.

You see, the scriptures are not about you and I.   The Bible is the collective story about God’s ultimate plan of redemption.

The Old Testament serves as a witness, or testimony, to how fallen God’s people are.  God gave us everything, perfect and in union with Him.  Man’s choice to go against God’s wills happened in the very beginning… when Eve and then Adam, took a bite of that forbidden fruit.  As the Old Testament unfolds, we illustration after illustration of a repetitive cycle of sin and redemption.

God sets rules.

Man breaks or can’t keep rules.

Man should be punished.

God ultimately saves them from themselves.

They thank God, renew promise to follow his rule.

They do for a while.

Then the cycle repeats itself… again and again…. and again.

Because man continually repeats this cycle, atonement has to be made for these sins.  The Gospels of the New Testament deliver to us a Savior, who will be the final lamb sacrificed for sins of a stiff necked people.  The New Testament continues, with the Good News spreading to new areas, the real life experiences believers faced, and leads us to the end… when Christ comes back for His church.

The Bible from start to finish, isn’t about you… or me… it is about Jesus Christ, our Savior.  The question we should be asking, first and foremost, when we study scripture is:

How does this passage reveal Jesus Christ to me?

Does it reveal the promise of his coming, his birth?

Does it parallel his life to death, on earth?

Does it reveal the need & promise of his sacrifice?

Does it reflect the call He puts on those who follow him?

Does it establish his person-hood, his divinity, his character, his love, his compassion, his mercy, his grace, his obedience… his example?

The Bible was written about Jesus Christ, for you. For you to see that you are not alone in your failures, that just like others in the scriptures you can be redeemed.  But that comes by first KNOWING HIM, and you will get to know Him best when you look for Him in God’s word, before you look for yourself.

I am not suggesting we don’t ever ask how it applies to our life, if that were the case there would be no need for the wisdom scriptures.  I am suggesting that before we can understand the wisdom & themes of scripture (as they apply to us), we have to understand the ONE whom the wisdom originates.  We have to understand how these pieces of scripture, stories and history relate reveal Jesus, first.

I understand that for a good portion of my readers, this a “DUH” moment.  Either because you already know it, or you are simply trying to figure out how you missed it.. it should be a given.  It is very easy for human beings to get so wrapped up in themselves or the situation they are seeking guidance through the scriptures for, that they forget to start with Jesus.

This past summer, I had an opportunity to do an in depth study of the book of Nehemiah.  It was conducted by a panel of biblical scholars; who worked independently on their assigned sections of Nehemiah, while making sure they stood in agreement as team under the Word of the scriptures.

On the surface, you could easily pull out some very “me centered” themes.

* It’s a story about a man who chose to make a difference in his community.

* It’s a story about a man who brings his community back together, back to God.

* It’s a historical point of time, regarding the city of Jerusalem.

* It’s a story about what we can accomplish, when we work together, for the glory of God.

On their own, none of these things are bad.  However, they do not truly reveal the point of the book of Nehemiah.  They don’t get to the heart of the story.  They don’t get to Jesus.

If you really take time to look through the scripture in Nehemiah, you will find that is parallels the ministry & purpose of Jesus.

The city is in ruin, the people are far from God.

Nehemiah leaves his comfortable position, with the king to go to the city & restore it.

While Nehemiah is present, restoration begins.

Nehemiah sets the example & standard.

Nehemiah returns to the king, leaving the people to continue on their own.

The people fail miserably in his absence.

Nehemiah must return.

When you look at the book of Nehemiah, with intention of revealing Jesus… it’s right there, plain as day.  You just have to get yourself out of the way to see it.  This is why, we must come to the scripture first, seeking to reveal Jesus.  It’s not about us, it’s about Him.  Always has been, always will be.

I challenge you to start looking for Jesus, when you study the word.  You will find him. 

In the next installment, we will address what the second question you should be asking is.

OLD TESTAMENT LESSONS FOR OUR GOOD

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I have been taking classes with Christian Leaders Institute, and I am currently finishing up my Old Testament Survey class.  Before I took this class, I was already in love with the Old Testament.  I actually find it very relatable to the every day struggle we have to do what God has asked of us.  This class has really helped bring to the forefront some points I may have been glossing over.

In the Old Testament, God set out some very specific directions for Israel.  In fact, it couldn’t have been more clearly stated.  It was repeated over and over again.  It was even written down.  For all intents and purposes, there was absolutely NO REASON Israel should have had trouble understanding what was expected of her.  Yet, time and time again, Israel would fall away from those directions and do her own thing.

And, time and time again, God would send someone to set her straight.

To most people, today, they do not see the direction of God very clearly.  In fact, an overwhelming number of prayers revolve around people wanting to understand what God’s will is for their life.  Praying for his plans to be revealed to them, praying for His will to be done in a situation.  And, as Gentile believers, we didn’t get such a specific list of what we should and should be doing as Israel did.  This became a point of conversation at a council meeting amongst the disciples and elders.  They flat out admitted that they couldn’t expect the Gentiles to keep a law, that they couldn’t even keep as God’s chosen people.  So, they went into prayer & came up with a few chosen things.

Even Christ, himself, left us with two commandments.  Love God.  Love one another.

So… what does that mean about all of those rules?  What do we do? How do we follow God?    We are left having to work that out with God, one on one…. daily, hourly… minute by minute, at times.  Thankfully, we do have the Holy Spirit to convict us and guide us.

But, let’s go back to Israel in the Old Testament for a second.  Actually, lets go back to the beginning.

God created everything, including man and woman.  He set out some pretty simple rules.  Tend to the garden. Name the animals.  Have babies.  And, don’t eat from that tree over there… or you will die.  Adam and Eve were not bound to the rules that would eventually be placed upon Israel.  And, the serpent managed to derail them from the most simple set of rules ever given.

They had it easy.  They walked with God.  They didn’t have the weight of sin upon them yet.  They had NO REASON to disobey God.  But, they did.  And, it would cost them & forever changed their relationship with God.  He would no longer walk among them, as he once did.

Over time the burdens on God’s people would grow from this original sin.  And God would continually pick people to step up & save Israel from her own doing.

The world would become so wicked, that the only way to make it better would be to send a flood to wipe away all the evil… save a man and his family, whom God favored.  All evil was wiped away, yet sin remained and flourished, after the flood waters rescinded.

God would hear the cries of his people, enslaved & oppressed, and rise up a man to deliver them from the hands of their captives.  Moses would lead the nation of Israel, making a covenant with God, setting up some very clear directions and expectations.  Yet despite their deliverance from captivity, Israel couldn’t keep it together.  Every time Moses would step away to commune with God, they’d start doing their own thing again.  And even their leader wouldn’t make it to the Promised Land, because of sin.

In the time to follow, when Israel was without a leader or a king, Israel would once again go about doing her own thing.  Each man doing what was right within his own eyes, what made sense to him.  They would fall under oppression and hard times, and God would hear their cries.  He would raise up a judge to bring Israel back into the fold.  But, scripture tells us repeatedly, that as soon as the judge would die, Israel would go back to her old ways.  Doing what seemed right, in their own eyes.  Israel could only keep it together when there was a leader, headship… person of authority, in place.  And even then, they were still messing up some.

Then, when earthly kings were raised up…. sin was still abound.  Even that king, who was a man after God’s own heart, couldn’t follow the rules.  Simple rules, written out, taught by the priests, and with warnings from the prophets.

A theme here in the OT, is Israel’s inability to follow the rules.  But when you look closely, you will notice part of that theme is that they did better when they had a clearly defined leader.  But, as soon as that leader was out of the picture, they couldn’t keep it together.

Fast forward to Nehemiah.  By this point, Israel had really messed up & they were paying the price for it.  They had been taken into captivity into Babylon.  Jerusalem, the city and the temple both, were destroyed.  They were displaced and scattered.  They were breaking all sort of rules from worshiping the gods of the locals, intermarriage with people who were clearly on the “do not marry” list, they were not sacrificing for any sort of atonement, and were once again doing their own thing.  The law was forgotten.  New generations had come, and had no understanding of what God had done for Israel in the past, and what His expectations for them were.  In Ezra we learn that God softened the heart of the Persian King (who was now over Babylon) and allowed Israel to return to it’s city & rebuild it (and the temple), seeking favor from God.  They get there, come up against some opposition and everything stalls.  Then Nehemiah gets wind of what has happened, he is grieved over it, and with the permission of the king, he returns to Jerusalem and takes on the big task of putting it all back together again.  Not just the physical city, but also the people and more importantly spiritually.  They find the Book of Law and share it with the people.  Everyone is reminded of what God had done for Israel, they grieve over their sins, they renew the covenant, and everything looks great.

Then, Nehemiah goes back to the king’s house to do his job.  What happens when Nehemiah leaves?  In short order, it all falls apart.  Once again, without that leader that God raised up…. Israel can’t keep it together.

So…. after all that history lesson (LOL)… how is this relatable to us today?

While we don’t have the same Book of Law that Israel was given, there are some things we do know.

We know that were a supposed to do what is good, noble and true.  We know that we are to be honest, hard workers, ethical and moral.  We know that we are supposed to submit to God, our spouse, etc.

Yet… when the cat is away, the mice will play.

The boss is out of town?  Great, lets toss the required suits and wear jeans and tshirts all week.

Dad isn’t home?  Cool, we can bend some of his rules with the kids… right mom?

Not in church today?  No problem, go right ahead and overcharge your customer.

Teacher is absent?  No big deal, we can skip class or tell the substitute that we were going to watch a movie.

When left to our own devices, when our leadership & authority is out of sight…. we don’t follow rules.

We speed when the cops aren’t looking.

We change or relax the rules when the other parent isn’t home.

We do bare minimum work when our boss isn’t around.

And, we don’t even think twice about it.

Which is exactly why I am glad that the story didn’t end with Nehemiah.  I am so grateful for the New Testament, which gives our stiff necked, wayward selves… HOPE.  Hope that came in the form of a baby, who would walk this earth sinless, yet pay the price for the sins that had already been committed & the MANY yet to come.

When Christ left, we once again began to falter.  In fact, the two rules he left us with… Love God, love others.  We have a hard time just following those.  We are the same today, as Israel of the Old Testament.  Everyone doing their own thing, and what seems right in their own eyes.   And, just like they were waiting for a Messiah then…. we await His return now.

The truth is, we really know what we should be doing.  In many ways, it is simpler for us now (after Christ) than it was for those in the Old and New Testament during his ministry and just after.  The question is, what are you doing about it?  Are you accepting that you’ll never be perfect & making excuses and exceptions to what God wants from you?  Or, do you have an open mind, heart and soul… wholly surrendered and trying to do what God asks of you to the best of your abilities… at all times, not just when others are present?