Saturday, December 30, 2006
Several years ago, I met a woman named “Sheila” who told a Christian study group she feared her father, who was deceased, was not in heaven. The group had been talking about evangelism and we were looking at a tract that featured a “sinner’s prayer” when Sheila began to cry.
“Was your Dad not a believer?” someone asked.
“No,” she said, choking back tears, “I think he was.”
“Then, what’s wrong?” someone asked.
“He never said these words! I don’t think he ever even saw this piece of paper!” Sheila exclaimed.
“But you do think he had a personal relationship with Christ?” someone probed.
“Yes, I’m just about sure he did,” Sheila said.
“If he had a personal relationship with Christ,” our group leader concluded, “then your father is with Him in heaven right now.”
Sheila had been under the mistaken and grievous assumption that access to heaven is gained by words. Unfortunately, there are many who similarly believe that salvation is tied to language and rituals—when, in fact, the words to a prayer alone never saved anyone. It is the belief and trust in Christ that saves us. The words to a prayer are a symbolic expression of an internal decision.
So trust is key. But how do you define trust? Dr. Douglas M. Cecil writing in “The 7 Principles of an Evangelistic Life" (Moody Publishers/2003) describes it like this:
“When I fly an airplane, I do not check to see if the aircraft is up-to-date on its airworthiness certificate. I do not check to see the pilots’ medical certificate and make sure that she has a commercial pilot’s license with the appropriate ratings. I walk on the aircraft, sit down, and trust that everything is in order. I have trusted my life to that airplane and pilot. Placing your trust in Jesus Christ is transferring your trust from your own efforts to save you to what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross.”
It is trust in Christ alone—or faith, if you will—that saves us. Not words or deeds.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- Ephesians 2:8
Coming Monday: The Heart of the Gospel
(Photo by dashingyankee. See http://flickr.com/photos/staylor336/193167313/ for restrictions.)
Friday, December 29, 2006
Just before Christmas break, my six-year-old had a school field trip to Forth Worth. About 20 parents signed up to join and transport the kids. The commute was on the other side of rush hour, but still a challenge because our little caravan hit pockets of traffic nearly dead-locked by highway construction along the way. A few parents who were commuter savvy took an alternate route to our destination which bypassed the worst of the mess. Most of the other drivers managed to follow them. I couldn’t make up my mind in time and stayed with the construction route. By now, I was all but separated from most everyone else and gingerly weaving in and out of slow-moving lanes en route to where we needed to be.
After about an hour in traffic, Daniel and I safely arrived, behind some and ahead of others. One mom, who showed up shortly after us, had a little announcement:
“I saw Sarah up ahead,” she exclaimed. “So I knew we were going in the right direction!”
Just then, my friend, Melissa, shot this lady a look. Then she shot me a look… and pronounced, “Oh, my.”
You see, Melissa realized that I have a blindingly bad sense of direction. I get so lost I don’t even know I’m lost. I have crossed state lines before… lines I didn’t intend to cross. I’ve spent upwards of an hour driving around wondering why I’m seeing cows and red barns instead of Starbuck’s and sidewalk sales. I could get lost in my backyard. I have gotten lost in my neighborhood. So the thought of someone following me under the assumption that I’d get them to the right address made me shudder. On another day, we could have ended up in Tijuana.
There’s a parallel here to things spiritual. Who are you following? And where are you going? Ultimately speaking, you have just two options. You can spend eternity with God, or you can spend eternity separate from God.
What my friend Melissa didn’t know the morning of our field trip was that Todd had bought me a GPS navigation tool for my car. So that day, I was taking one of several routes that would eventually get us where we needed to be. One group went one way. Another group went a different way. Yet we all arrived at the same place. As I contemplate the map of eternal destiny, however, the options diminish. There are no alternate routes to heaven. There is but one path:
“Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
Are you lost? Please come back tomorrow.
(Lost in Traffic pic by pulpolux; see http://flickr.com/photos/pulpolux/262235481/ for restrictions.)
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
I remember reading that most women would say that mascara is a cannot-leave-the-house-without-it cosmetic. It’s lipstick for me. I will no doubt waft off to heaven one day with a nice shade of mocha frost or shimmering pink all over my lips (not my teeth, mind you... this is a paradise fantasy). So when we went to a friend’s Christmas party last week and I noticed one of the guests, a lovely middle-aged woman with olive-toned skin, wearing a stunning shade of red lipstick I had to comment.
“I just love that red lipstick you’re wearing!” I chirped.
“Revlon ‘Love that Red’ shade!” she chirped back.
“Oh,” I lamented, “if only I could wear red… I think I’m stuck with pink.”
“No,” she consoled, “you can wear red, too.”
“You think?” I said, contemplating my skin tone which is across between albino lab rat and cement dust.
“It’s an attitude,” she said.
I’ve been thinking about the “attitude” of red lipstick ever since. Really about attitudes in general.
When Christ became my Lord and Savior, I was given the gift of salvation and the promise of spending eternity in heaven with God. The Bible tells me I am a new creation in Christ.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
(2 Cor 5:17)
This verse, written by the Apostle Paul, speaks to a transformation that takes place when we put our trust in Christ. We’re no longer standing on a quaking ridge that threatens to eternally separate us from God. Instead, we are settled on solid, unshakable ground and resting in the promise of a glorious eternal reality.
What this verse doesn’t say is that in an I-Dream-of-Jeannie “blink” we will be transformed from rusting-fender Jeeps to big, stylish Hummers behaviorally.
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
(2 Cor 3:18)
This verse talks about purification as believers become more and more like Christ. Notice the progressive form of the verb (“are being transformed”) and the compound adverb (“ever-increasing”) modifying the word “glory.” The tenses in this verse suggest to us that we are in the midst of a process of becoming more like Christ. While our salvation is secure the instant we put our trust in Jesus Christ, our sanctification—how we grow to resemble Jesus—is a life-long journey.
I love the Bible verses that encourage us to lean on Christ. There's no safer place to be. But leaning on Christ isn’t synonymous with giving up. Or becoming Passive Polly out there flapping in the wind like a slowly shredding flag. We still need to try! All of us have enduring work to do on our attitudes.
Do you carry a grudge? (I do.)
Are you ever prideful? (I am.)
Is your heart pure? (No.)
Do your actions always match your words? (Always? Uh-uh.)
Do you love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength? (All of it?)
Do you love your neighbor as yourself? (Depends who you’re talking about…)
These are in large part attitude issues. Matters that go beyond the surface of what we say and do to how we think and feel. I thought about making a New Year’s Resolution this year to work on purifying my heart. But those annual "commitments" are more of a wink and a laugh. So I think I will go to the Lord in prayer on this one… each and every morning as I start the day:
“Dear Lord, help me with my attitude today… so that I might better glorify you… authentically and honestly… from the inside out… in all that I do.”
(Photo by brtsergio; see http://flickr.com/photos/brtsergio/199164743/ for restrictions.)
Saturday, December 23, 2006
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. Luke 2: 8-11
Under the sliver of a new moon, the stars shine down cold--remote as that promise you never meant to keep. The rocky hills ringing Bethlehem look softer by starlight, but you don't judge this land by night. Truth doesn't come by starlight. Truth comes in the glare of the sun--your life, like your land, is flint hard, and buckets of moonlight and wishful thinking won't change that.
You complain a bit, this being your turn to get no sleep. But truth be told, you enjoy the quiet, the peace of the night watch. It's comfortable. Predictable. A lone wolf howls, far away. Just to remind you.
There's nothing special about tonight. Nothing to suggest that this speck of blue dust lost in a spray of glittering galaxies is about to host the God who made it all. Just another quiet, cold night with the sheep and the guys you grew up with. Life in the slow lane. Doing your job--watching out for wolves. Counting the stars, staying close to the fire.
Then, out of nowhere. Truth so bright, so close, so unpredictable, shines down on you. Someone's about to keep a promise.
By Dr. Reg Grant, Professor of Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary
Used here by permission of Dr. Grant and Dallas Theological Seminary
(Photo by Prio; see http://flickr.com/photos/91878814@N00/211493615/ for restrictions.)
Thursday, December 21, 2006
I received the note below from a friend... looks like it's made the rounds on e-mail... but in case you haven't seen it... and you're feeling stressed out today... this might cheer you up!
A man came home from work and found his three children outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.
The door of his wife's car was open, as was the front door to the house and there was no sign of the dog. Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall.
In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing.
In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the fridge door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door.
He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened.
He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door. As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap and more toys strewn over the floor. Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls.
As he rushed to the bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel. She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went.
He looked at her bewildered and asked, "What happened here today?"
She again smiled and answered, "You know every day when you come home
from work and you ask me what in the world I do all day?"
"Yes," was his incredulous reply.
She answered, "Well, today I didn't do it."
(Photo by Gemsling. Follow link for source and restrictions: http://flickr.com/photos/gemsling/278243753)
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Photo shows lyrics to U2's "One" followed by part of the Nicene Creed. Who knows what Bono had in mind. But whoever snapped this picture made a connection. I know there's at least one U2 fan out there who might have an opinion on this. I won't name you, but you know who you are!
Coming in January: The Trinity Series
(Photo by Bowie Snodgrass; see flickr.com for restrictions.)
Friday, December 15, 2006
Sonia Brown said you can cook cauliflower and prepare it like mashed potatoes. She said it was good. I was really not sure about this one. But I tried it. She's right! It it so good!
1 head of fresh cauliflower
2 T butter (better yet... Smart Balance)
Up to 1/4 cup of milk
Salt to season
Optional: Cheese, chives, etc.
Simply boil chunks of cauliflower in water until very soft (about 15 minutes) and drain. Then add other ingredients and mash or whip just as if you were making mashed potatoes.
Makes 4-5 servings.
Monday, December 11, 2006
What if I said, let’s take the veterans out of Veterans Day. Or remove Martin Luther King Jr. from Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Or maybe we should take presidents out of Presidents Day. How about marking something other than the New Year on New Year's Day. Or something other than independence on Independence Day. Why give thanks on Thanksgiving? While we’re at it, why not turn Columbus Day into "X-Day." Lose the flag on Flag Day. Nix May from May Day…
You’d call me crazy! Or shockingly insensitive!
How is it then that we can take Christ out of Christmas… and many of us are OK with that.
There's an e-mail going around encouraging people to send Christmas cards to the ACLU. I thought that was funny at first. But I now think it's possibly misguided and disingenuous. Better to be authentic and pure in our Christmas spirit toward others. Maybe there's a better way to reach the ACLU apart from intentionally clogging its mail system with our cards. That's just my opinion. I realize you might disagree!
Why not find 10 people this week to hug (yes, guys, I promise you won't die if you hug someone!) and wish a Merry Christmas. Can't find 10 people who need a hug? Why not stop off during lunch one day this week or after work and pay a visit to some folks at your local senior center or nursing home. That's where I'm headed this week. Some of those sweet people are all alone... with no one left living who loves them. I know they would appreciate a visit and a hug... and the joy and love of Christ shining through you this Christmas.
(Photo by hamdilah kamaluddin; see flickr.com for restrictions.)
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Part II of an outtake chapter from Little Sins, Big Problems (AMG Publishers, 2003)
And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, "Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened." (1 Kings 18:27).I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the image of someone beckoning a concocted god to wake up. While the verse above conveys the unvarnished futility of idol worship, it's no laughing matter when we contemplate the eternal destiny of those who've pinned their hopes and dreams and souls on cold, hard artifice.
Lest any of us become smug in our salvation, however, we're wise to consider whether or not we as Christians are guilty of our own adhesion to "false gods" in daily living. Maybe we don't bow down to rocks or connect-the-dot patterns in the night sky, but if we are chiefly defined by something other than our faith in Christ and love for one another, we might be chasing after idols, as well.
Do you carry debt beyond life's more practical needs (e.g., mortgage and car payments, school loans, medical bills, etc.) for frivolous things that you simply desire?
Is there something you own that you think about continually and worry about protecting?
Is there something of a material nature that you want so badly, you can't stop thinking about it?
When you get a pay raise or bonus, do you go out right away and start upgrading your lifestyle?
Answering "yes" to any the questions above doesn't make you a bad person! But it could indicate that you need to reflect upon how you oversee your budget and possessions to avoid being owned by your things.
Five Steps to Liberation from Things:
Confess to God (1 John 1:9)that you have an unhealthy relationship with things and pray that He will help purify your motives and shine a light on areas of weakness. Have faith that He will answer your prayers and seek guidance and comfort in the Word!
. Remember that God is in control
Control issues underwrite many problems associated with our attachment to things. When you have an internalized understanding that God is in control, you will relinquish your cares and troubles to Him. Because you will trust in Him. You won't need to micro-manage the lives of others. You won't have unnecessary worries or fear about the future. You won't need earthly emotional comforts or “fixes.” You will surrender to God and He will carry you.
. Serve a higher purpose
We can smother under the weight of our own troubles when we dwell on them to excess. The surest way to get some fresh air and boost our spirits is by serving the needs of others. When we find a person or a group in need -- someone or something that fuels our passion -- and we set out to help them, we benefit spiritually and emotionally.
. Scrutinize your motives
Think about why you buy things for yourself and others and take a “time-out” before making big purchases. Do you really need that new car for cargo space? Or, do you want to turn some heads in the neighborhood? What about that new designer dress? Does your wardrobe really need a lift? Or, are you trying to outshine Mary Jane at the office "holiday" party? Are your motives worthy? Or are they coming from a state of emptiness that only God can fill? Pray to God that He will help you discern the difference.
. Inspire people
Get out of the vain game! Stop competing with the people around you and this will neutralize their desire to compete with you. Seek, instead, to become a Christian role model for others and a woman of inspiration. Maybe you have a talent for music or crafts. Perhaps you are a good listener or God has given you the ability to easily comfort those who are troubled. Perhaps you are a joyful person whose cheer can brighten a room. Maybe you are cool under pressure and have the ability to help others navigate storms. God has given you gifts! Perhaps you don’t even realize the full extent of the power you have in Christ! Use your gifts and shine for God!
A few months ago, I came across an old book I’d been given as a child. I opened it in the middle and an old pressed cloverleaf fell to the ground. Then a memory came to me. I was a little girl living in Colorado Springs when I came across a four-leaf clover in a patch of green summer grass. I remember thinking I would keep it forever.
Flash forward more than 30 years and, staring at that small dried leaf, my head was flooded with grainy sweet memories from childhood. I remembered the snow-topped mountains and hot dogs roasting over white coals. I thought about bouncing on the bed with footed pajamas and the smell of fresh baked cinnamon apples. I remembered the rabbit ears wrapped in tin foil that sat atop a black and white television and the spotty images of a man on the moon. I thought about Love's Baby Soft perfume and pots of frosted peppermint lip-gloss. Mom and Dad were young and healthy. My brothers made me laugh until I cried. There was no sickness or sadness or hurt. And it was all right there beaming at me in memories from that old pressed cloverleaf.
Then I thought about that old silver box. A box I couldn’t bear to look at for years. It struck me now as the perfect home for my special clover and all those warm gauzy memories. Two gifts from God, indeed.
(Photo by hodja. See flickr.com for restrictions.)
I was going through some files and ran across a chapter outtake from my book, Little Sins, Big Problems.
Overcoming Unhealthy Give & Take
I received a special gift once. I remember reaching deep into a cake-size blue box and working through clouds of white tissue paper. My fingers landed on cold metal. I remember audibly taking in some air as I retrieved a lovely antique silver box covered in textured swirls and bygone metal loops. I touched my hand to my heart and said “It’s just beautiful… thank you.” To which the gift giver quietly but purposefully relayed a condition around which the gift could be kept.
So I had just opened and accepted a gift that was not really a gift. But a strange loan of sorts. I could feel the blood swoosh from my feet to my head as I contemplated the deeper meaning behind the gift and what it said about the giver's feelings toward me.
Many years have passed and the sting of that incident has faded. What’s more, this unusual present would ultimately become one of life’s most special gifts. Because it would begin for me an uncomfortable but spiritually essential journey to a place of discernment about the things in life that really matter.
A Biblical Perspective on Things
The Bible tells us this: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25) This is one of those passages that makes you sit up a little straighter in your chair! But is the Lord reflecting upon the evil nature of wealth in and of itself? In Proverbs, we are told that “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and He adds no trouble to it.” (Proverbs 10:22) If God thought that things were evil, certainly He wouldn’t reward people with the wealth to acquire them!
Instead, the verse about the camel and the needle speaks to the way in which people can be altered and corrupted by money. Wealth exposes people to a world of options. Before long, we find ourselves in a looping pursuit to acquire and upgrade. Wealth can make us proud and vain. It distances us from the poor whom Jesus tells us to know and help. And wealth exposes us to the snares of temptation. These are the problems with things.
Consider the rise and fall of Solomon. A man inordinantly blessed with wisdom and riches who imploded when he turned from the Hand that fed him.
So it is not the things that bring us down. It is our relationship with those things that gets us into trouble.
Unhealthy Give & Take: The Things That Poison Our Soul
A gift can reveal a lot about the giver if we look closely for clues to the motivation behind the gift. And while most gifts are a healthy expression of celebration and love, there are times when the things we give to others and the things we buy for ourselves have a darker underlying basis. It’s helpful to look at the unhealthy relationships in terms of the giver or taker and his or her motivations.
• The Puppeteer
She is the gift giver with a hidden agenda. The generous and often costly items bestowed upon you by The Puppeteer appear to be coming from a big loving heart. But if you get beyond the surface to her motivations, you will see that her gifts are not coming from a healthy place. They are used as tools to control and manipulate. The Puppeteer is trying to buy you. She wants to be pulling the strings. The Puppeteer has a core-deep need for external validation and she mistakenly equates gifts with love.
. Bestows gifts frequently and for “no reason”
. Selects gifts that are often intimate in nature (e.g., home furnishings)
. Reminds recipient of gifts given in the past and inquires about their use
. Leverages generosity to create a “debt” to invade boundaries
• The Squirrel
She is the hoarder. The nuts in her cheek are the shoes in her closet, the 17 jars of peanut butter in her pantry, and the stuff that’s spilling out of cracks and crevices all over her house. The Squirrel amasses things to create an earthly cocoon of security. Clothing and accessories and an exploding pantry help insulate her from uncertainty and fear of the unknown.
. Not a “cheerful giver”
. Has things and “back-up” to things (e.g., four pairs of the same shoe)
. Worries about her things (e.g., plastic protectors are still on the lamps)
. Selfish and often a poor listener
• The Peacock
He uses things to puff himself up and cultivate an identity that masks his low self-esteem. The Peacock likes expensive clothes and jewelry. He drives a late model car and likes to flaunt his financial prowess. His zip code and upper-tier associates are important to him. He lets you know he’s in the money.
. Brags a lot
. Flaunts expensive clothes and accessories
. Likes to compete with other peacocks
. Full of unsolicited advice
• The Junkie
She needs to acquire things to get a “feel-good” high. Instead of turning to God, she goes to Saks. The high from a shopping fix feels real good. But she’s going to come down hard and fast. When she does, she’s depressed. Then she’s off to Nordstrom’s...
. Shops ‘til she drops – often!
. Prone to extreme highs and lows
. May be deeply in debt
. Often feels helpless and out of control (except when she’s shopping)
Coming Soon: Five Steps to Liberation from the Thing Trap
(Pic by Irish Typepad; see flickr.com for restrictions.)
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Christian Counselor Greg Wells has graciously agreed to answer some of your questions in an "Ask Greg" format from time to time here! If you have a question for Greg about issues or burdens you face and would benefit from the advice of a counseling specialist, send your questions to:
Your issues will be handled confidentially and will be published without attribution--i.e., no names!
This ia a great opportunity to learn and heal, so send in your questions!
(Photo of woman by frenchie 1187. Photo of man by Simon Pais. See flickr.com for restrictions.)