The Good Liar

I love a good movie.  There is a new movie out now called “The Good Liar” that stars Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen.  I don’t usually go to R-rated movies but I made an exception for this one and went to see it last night.  It was a good illustration of how casually we lie to others.  It got me thinking about lies vs. truth.

When I was a child, I was generally truthful.  However, there was a particular phase I went through wherein I told a lot of lies.  Sometimes I lied to keep myself from getting in trouble and sometimes I lied for no discernible reason.  I suspect that I was not a “good” liar, though, as I always seemed to get in trouble in spite of my lies (and often because of them).

A lying tongue hates those it hurts,
    and a flattering mouth works ruin.  Proverbs 26:28

That’s pretty amazing to me.  “A lying tongue HATES those it hurts.”  We dishonor others when we are not truthful with them.  Anyone who has been deceived by someone else can attest to this.

I remember the feeling that I had the first time that I realized that someone close to me had intentionally deceived me.  I was a child, but I remember that I was absolutely crushed.  I could not believe that they had lied to me; this was someone I thought I could trust!  Even at the young age of 5 or 6, I started to wonder what other lies I was being told.

Perhaps it’s because of these experiences that I now value truthfulness so much – in myself and in others.  I recently ended a relationship with someone dear to me because of the person’s pattern of deception which repeated in spite of being addressed on numerous occasions.  This person was a good liar, and I often didn’t realize that I was being deceived until the truth came out later, as it inevitably does.  I was unable to “read between the lies”.  I no longer trust that person at all, and it breaks my heart.  This person had an issue of character that played out in our relationship.

On the other hand, I am blessed to have relationships with many who are trustworthy.  Their trustworthiness has been proven time and time again, and I have no need to question it.  Their character has been tested and affirmed.  This Proverb is true of them:

Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say;
    I open my lips to speak what is right.  Proverbs 8:6

It is hard enough when we are lied to within our relationships.  This leads to the death of relationships, but not to eternal death.  However, there is another who will lie to you:

44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  John 8:44

He is “the father of lies” and “there is no truth in him”.  This is Satan’s character and it always plays out that way.  He tries to seduce you to his way of thinking, but his deception leads to the death of your soul.

There is One Who will never lie to us or deceive us, and His name is Jesus Christ.  In His Word, He tells us:

The Lord detests lying lips,
    but he delights in people who are trustworthy.  Proverbs 12:22

It is no wonder that the Lord delights in those who are trustworthy because He is truth.  There is no deception in Him.  That is the crux of His character.  He cannot lie or deceive because it would be against His character.

Jesus also says:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  John 14:6

So, then, if Jesus can only speak the truth, we need to examine His claim that “no one comes to the Father except through me”.  This cannot be a lie, because while people can choose to behave out of character, God cannot.  All of His ways lead to eternal life.

Friend, if you want to get to Heaven and to be with the one true God, there is only one way to do it, and that’s through a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  It’s not through Buddha or Mohammed or being “spiritual but not religious” or any other path.  It’s only through Jesus.  Examine His claims within His Word for yourself and you will find that this is the truth.  Amen!

 

 

 

Forgiving Myself

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.   Psalm 103:8-12

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m in a class at Celebrate Recovery through which the Lord has challenged me to let go of my resentments.  To do this, I made a list of the resentments that I still carry – some big ones, quite a lot of smaller ones.  Now I’m working my way through the list as I forgive each person who has hurt me.

Do you know who’s been the hardest person on the list for me to forgive?  Like, by far?

Me.

I have done some awful things over the course of my life, some by accident and some not.  I have brought hurt and pain onto myself with some of those actions and choices, but what’s much worse from my perspective is that I have caused harm and pain to others.  In looking back at many situations, I now feel like I should have known and done better, and I’m ashamed.  I find myself asking how I could possibly forgive myself.

As I asked trusted people for prayer as I go over this territory, it was mentioned by no fewer than three people that they struggle with forgiving themselves also.  I felt like the Lord was speaking to me about the prevalence of this problem among Christians.

So how do we forgive ourselves?  Well, I’m no expert, but here are some things that I’m learning as I go through this process.

First, I have to acknowledge my emotions about what happened.  I’m sometimes the queen of denial, stuffing feelings down deep.  These stuffed feelings keep bubbling to the surface, bringing the old memories back with them and making it hard for me to forgive myself.  When I acknowledge my feelings about what I did, I take ownership of my emotions and they no longer control me.

Second, I remember that I am fully and completely forgiven by Jesus for everything I have ever done, thought or said that was not in alignment with His will and His character.  It doesn’t matter if what was done happened before or after I came to know Him – I am fully forgiven.  Jeremiah 31:34 says that He remembers my sins no more.  That is, He doesn’t hold them over my head or throw them in my face in a shaming way.  If He has so fully forgiven me, who am I to argue with Him?  Because of the grace I have received from Him, I can give some of that grace to myself.

Third, I think what advice I would give to a brother or sister in Christ if they came to me for help because they were struggling over something they had done.  Would I suggest that they beat themselves up some more because what they did was really horrendous?  Of course not!  I would remind them of the grace that is ours in Christ Jesus.  Therefore, I choose to follow that same advice and give that same reminder of grace to myself.

Fourth, I ask myself if I still owe anybody an amends for something that is still bothering me.  I get the advice of a strong, mature, trusted brother or sister in Christ before making an amends to someone.  I want to make sure that my motives are right, and I don’t want to cause the person that I previously hurt any additional pain by reaching out to them again.  In some cases, it may not be safe or appropriate for me to make an amends to someone, so I must talk it over first with that trusted person.  However, after doing that, making an appropriate amends is a good way to help me forgive myself.

Fifth, I ask myself what I can learn from my past mistakes.  Have I grown as a result of what happened?  Is my step of growth in the forgiveness of myself or in the making of amends?

Finally, the Lord showed me that to not forgive myself is to say that Christ’s death on the cross was not enough to pay for all of my sins, and that is utterly false.  When I don’t forgive myself, I’m saying that I have a better way of paying for my sins than what Christ offers.  This is unbelief and it represents the height of a prideful attitude.  It is time for me to get on my knees and repent of (turn away from) these deadly sins!

If any of this has resonated with you, too, would you like to pray with me today?

Lord Jesus, we come to You for help in learning to forgive ourselves.  Forgive us for our sins of unbelief and of pride.  Help us to receive Your forgiveness for the wrongs that we have done; wash us clean of them.  Bring the freedom and peace that comes from knowing we are forgiven for ALL wrongs, big or small.  Wash away our guilt as we confess our sins to You.  Please help us to make amends in a way that is appropriate, and help us to learn from those mistakes and not make them again.  Thank You, Lord, that You have removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west and that You remember our sins no more.  We love you and ask these things in the name of Jesus.  Amen.   

 

 

 

 

Wrestling With Resentment

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Ephesians 4:31

Resentment:  (Noun.)  Bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly.  Synonym:  Bitterness

A couple of months ago, a friend invited me to come to a class that she would be co-leading at Celebrate Recovery that was called “Life’s Healing Choices”.   It’s based on the book by that name.  I heard the Lord whisper to me to go, so I did.  I wasn’t sure at first what exactly I was supposed to work on, but it quickly became apparent that I needed to work on removing resentment from my heart.

I admit that I didn’t think I had much work to do in this area.  I have been part of recovery ministries before and have been through the steps, including the fourth step where you make an inventory of all of your resentments so that in later steps you can forgive the perpetrator and make amends where you need to do so.  Through that experience, I had forgiven the guy who raped me in high school and some other really big offenses.  I thought I might find a few resentments from recent years but I didn’t expect to find resentments from years gone by.

Boy, was I wrong!

Just making my list of resentments has been eye-opening for me.  I asked the Lord to guide me in that process and to show me the true state of my heart, and I’m sorry to say that there are lots of old injuries still there.  Some of them are such small things…things like a kid who hurt my feelings on the playground one day in elementary school.  “Really, God?” I thought.  “That was so long ago and really isn’t of any consequence today.”  The Lord answered with a question of His own:  “It may be a small thing, but how much resentment do you really think it is okay to have in your heart?”

It then dawned on me that allowing ANY degree of resentment to stay in my heart was going to continue to leach poison into my soul.  This poison threatens all of my relationships.  I quickly decided I don’t want any of that.

In addition, the Lord has revealed some larger resentments to me.  I’ve dismissed them before as, “Oh, that’s just who he/she is, and I’ve learned to live with it.”  The fact is, though, that the underlying wounds have not been adequately healed, even though some of these are decades old.  It’s time to let Him heal those wounds and let go of the resentment that festers in deep, dark, hidden places of my heart.

I am now finishing up my list of resentments with the Lord’s help.  New or old, I want to get these dealt with.  I want to be a person who keeps short accounts, dealing with resentments as quickly as they appear and forgiving instantly.  I don’t want my heart to be a toxic soup of resentment and bitterness and anger; it’s already had way too much of that over the years.

And here’s the thing…carrying resentment is heavy, y’all.  We were not designed to drag that kind of weight through our lives.  Thanks to Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection, we don’t have to carry it any longer – it has been nailed to the cross with Him!

It’s time to make amends to as many people as I can for my past resentments and to move forward into the freedom that the Lord has for me as soon as I can.  I can’t wait for more freedom!  Amen!

 

 

Praising God for the Trials

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  Romans 5:3 (NLT)

I have not one, not two, but several major trials going on in my life simultaneously.  They have been going on for long periods of time and I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by them at times.  I do not say this in order to have a pity party for myself or to try to evoke your sympathy; it’s just the fact of my current circumstances.  While I am quite familiar with the above verse, I have never rejoiced at the onset of a trial, or in the middle of one.  I rejoice when they’re done.  Anybody with me on that?

This past weekend, I thought the opportunity would arise for a big turning point for the better in two of the trials that I face, so I cued up some trustworthy friends to be praying for that specifically throughout the weekend.  However, by the end of the weekend it was clear that these trials aren’t changing any time soon, much less going away.  I ended up baring my heart through tears to the Lord, letting Him know how much it hurt but asking Him for His perspective.  He finally asked me a question:  Will you believe I’m at work in these situations even when you don’t see any evidence of it?

His question coalesced with the other work He’s been doing in me.  Through various means, the Lord has recently been prompting me to examine the state of my faith.  I thought my faith was pretty strong; faith is actually one of my spiritual gifts.  However, the Lord pointed out to me that although I KNOW the truth of His word (I have it memorized), I don’t always BELIEVE His word (apply it to my own life).

Ouch!  He was right.  He showed me that while I have no problem believing that His word is true for other people, I have not believed that it’s true for me also.  I haven’t dared to hope that it could be true for me and that He would work in miraculous ways in my life as well as in the lives of those around me.

So here I was, at a crossroads.  I was faced with choosing to continue in my unbelief or to change paths and start to believe that His word is true for me as well as for you.  It felt like a big risk to believe that I could have the hope of all of His promises for myself.  However, the decision was an easy one – I chose to believe Him.  I repented for my unbelief and chose hope instead.  This was equivalent to a tectonic plate shifting in my heart.  Wow!

My first request of the Lord was for Him to give me joy in spite of my circumstances.  I cannot manufacture joy in my life even when things are going well, and I certainly couldn’t do it in the face of the trials.  It had to come from Him or not come at all.

It didn’t come immediately.  I had to push through a lot of garbage and lies from the enemy by continually affirming that I trusted Jesus and Jesus alone and affirming that His word is true for me.  I reminded the Lord of His promise to give us joy and of His Romans 5:3 promise that we can rejoice in the middle of trials.  It felt like re-programming my 54 year old heart to believe differently.  Soon, the joy came.

There is still no end in sight to my trials.  They might rage on for several more days, weeks, months or even years for all I know.  What I know is that my heart would not have been changed without the simultaneous onslaught of these trials.  I have learned not just to praise God IN my storms but to actually praise Him FOR the storms.  What a blessing!

Friends, if you find yourself facing problems and trials today, here are some things that will be crucial to navigating them with a soft heart towards God:

  1. Get people praying for you and with you in the middle of it.  Don’t just say, “I’m going through a hard time,” but let yourself be known!  I cannot overemphasize how important this is.  Doing life in community MATTERS.  Prayer MATTERS.
  2. BELIEVE God.  The word “believe” is a verb; it denotes action.  Put your trust in Jesus and Jesus alone.  Don’t tough it out and grit your teeth until you get through it – trust that He will bring you through and also that He has your very best in mind.
  3. Praise God.  Praising Him for Who He is takes your eyes off yourself and puts them squarely on Him, where they belong.  Ask Him to help you praise Him FOR the storm – He will do it!
  4. Ask God for everything that you need.  No, I don’t mean that you need your problem or trial to end.  I mean, do you need more joy while you’re in the storm?  More endurance?  More strength?  More wisdom?  Ask Him – He is eager to answer.

Let me know if I can be praying for you too.  Comment below or send me a private message if you prefer.  We can be on this journey together.  🙂

Sunflowers

Recently, I was driving home from a speaking engagement in Georgia on a sunny late summer day.   My path took me down a two-lane highway that wound through the North Georgia mountains.   I came around a bend, and spread out to the left of me was a field full of rows of sunflowers!  It wasn’t just a small field, either – there were almost thirty acres of gorgeous sunflowers, all in bloom.  It was breathtaking!

It didn’t just take my breath, though – all of the traffic on the highway slowed down from the 55 mph speed limit to around 25-30 mph.  I’m sure that the other drivers were also trying to take in this astonishing sight.

The sunflowers were very tall, at least 7-8 feet in height, I would guess.  Above the leafy green foliage of each stalk sat a dark face framed by a fringe of yellow petals.  Each sunflower face was turned up toward the midday sun, shining in its light.  Marvelous!

As I continued slowly past the sprawling fields, I thought about how the sunflowers’ faces track with the path of the sun so that they are always turned towards it.  “Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” I felt like the Lord was saying to me, “if all of My followers were like the sunflowers?”

My mind was then flooded with images.  I could “see” all of His followers, clothed in shining white robes and standing together in a massive group that could not be counted.   We stood shoulder to shoulder in row after row with our faces turned towards Him, beaming reflections of His glory, and with all of our eyes trained on Jesus.  Like a garden with a burgeoning crop of faith and devotion, we were all transformed into Son flowers!  Magnificent!

I know that I fail almost daily to keep my face turned towards Jesus, at least for part of the day.  There are always distractions that try to take my focus off of Him.  In addition, storms come up that can take my gaze off of Him unless I’m careful, and over the past months of difficult times, I confess that I have not been as diligently careful as I should.  I often have had my head down when I should have been looking at Him, the lifter of my head!  (Psalm 3:3)  I thank God for His mercy and grace, though.  With His help, I will be more careful in the future to keep my gaze right where it belongs – squarely on Him and only Him.

 

 

 

 

 

The Twisted Tree

This past Sunday, a girlfriend of mine and I went hiking together in the mountains in Tennessee.  We followed a 5.2 mile path into the woods where the only sounds were those of the gurgling river that our trail followed and the birds and squirrels that were busy in the treetops.  It was so peaceful!  The day was glorious – sunny skies and very favorable temperatures.  We enjoyed the many lizards that we saw scurrying across the rocks, some butterflies that fluttered by and even a baby snake that was traveling the same path.

As we finished the trip to our destination, we drank in the sights and sounds.  We had arrived at the site of a beautiful waterfall which flowed into an emerald green pool of water, lined by large rocks.  Tall trees towered above us.  A cool breeze was blowing, birds and cicadas were singing and huge dragonflies zoomed around us.  No man-made cathedral could have been more magnificent!

After a while, we took a shady seat on a fallen tree near the water and began to eat our lunches.  As I finished my lunch, I heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit urging me to look at the place where I was sitting.  I looked down at the tree trunk that served as my seat, but He re-directed my attention quickly.  I looked behind me and to the side of me.  At first I didn’t notice anything remarkable, but then He directed my gaze to the tree whose shade we enjoyed.

I wish I had taken a picture of the actual tree so that you could appreciate just how incredible this tree really was.  Instead of coming straight up out of the ground as you would expect a tree to do, this tree’s trunk ran for about six feet almost parallel to the ground.  After that, it twisted and turned into the more upright stance that you would expect a tree to have.  From there, the twisted branches reached out in every direction, their leaves shading the bank and the edges of the pool of water.

“Wow,” I thought, “what must this tree have been through in order to make it grow in such a way?”

Suddenly, I knew that that was His point in drawing my attention to the tree in the first place.  He began to “speak” to me, more in images than in words, although the meaning was clear.

I saw my life as the trunk of a tree.  It started out straight, but then something terrible happened to me in childhood.  Twist.  I made bad choices as a teenager.  Twist.  Unexpected tragedy struck.  Twist.  I continued to make poor choices as a young adult.  Twist.

That wasn’t the end of my story, though.  As an adult, I entered counseling.  Growth.  I went back to church and began learning about a God who hadn’t given up on me and still wanted to be in relationship with me.  Growth.  I gave my life to Christ.  Growth.  I was able to share my story with people who needed some hope for their own lives.  Growth.

He reminded me that my life still has twists in it, even as a Christ follower.  The twists of life don’t have to drag me down, though, because they don’t stop my growth – they’re part of my growth.  That idea amazed me.

He then finished by asking me to look again at the twisted tree whose shade I enjoyed.  I realized that the tree was really beautiful, not in spite of its twisting trunk, but because of it.  The twisting growth pattern made it unique among all the trees.

My own twisting growth pattern makes me unique as well, and I trust that He is making me beautiful in the process.  All glory to Him!

 

 

Beautiful Scars

She was beautiful, and her scars told her story.

She was a customer at the retail store where I have my second job, and she asked me to find the dress that she was trying on in a different size.  “I’m trying to find one that covers my radiation scars,” she said, as she pointed self-consciously to her chest.  The scars were clearly visible.

Ah, I thought.  The radiation explained her ultra-short hairstyle.

I didn’t really think that a different size dress was going to help her achieve her goal, but I gladly brought it to her anyway.  When she came out of the dressing room, she confirmed as much, but she decided to purchase the first dress and to wear a camisole under it.  I wished her a good evening as I directed her to the section of the lingerie department where she could find the camisoles.

I couldn’t help but think about her as I went through my evening.  The first thing that I had noticed about her was the hairstyle.  As I mentioned, it was ultra short, but it set off the beautiful features of her face.  I also noticed that she didn’t look me in the eye when she mumbled a response to my greeting.

That got me wondering about her story.  The fact that she’d been through radiation treatments told me that she had received an unpleasant diagnosis, probably quite unexpectedly.  What had her life been like before that diagnosis?  Had she been more confident then?  How had she gotten through that storm?  Did she know Jesus and rely on Him for strength or had she struggled through it without Him?

I began to be sorry that I had not engaged her on a deeper level.  Her scars spoke to me of strength and resilience.  They told of the blessing of God for healing her.  She was clearly a survivor.  Could she see the beauty of those things?  I could see it for her.  I wish I had told her that.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.  Isaiah 53:5

24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”  1 Peter 2:24

Jesus bears the scars of our disobedience (sins) on His precious body.  He first was whipped with a whip that had lead tips, tearing His flesh from His body with every strike.  A crown of thorns was twisted together and driven into His head.  Then He was led up the hill of Golgotha to the place where spikes were driven through His hands and feet as He was crucified.  Finally, a spear was driven into His side to prove that He had died on the cross.

The agony He endured left scars on His body.

Because our sins were laid upon Him as He suffered and died, you and I can be free from sin.  We are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:16 NLT) but have been freed to live lives of righteousness.  His death and resurrection brought many sons and daughters to glory through what He suffered (Hebrews 2:10).  Why did He volunteer for this?  The Word says it was “for the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2).  That joy, my friends, is His ability to be in relationship for eternity with you and me!

Yes, His suffering left scars on His body, and they are the scars of love.  I look forward to the day when I will see Him face to face, when I will look upon His scars, His beautiful scars.  All praise to God!

Can you see the beauty in His scars?