You Never Know

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“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.” (2 Corinthians 7:6, 7 ESV)

You just never know. That word of encouragement that you bring today may seem so insignificant, so ineffective, even unnoticed. But you never know how God is using it.

Probably no one thought that someone as great as Paul would be so encouraged by a young understudy like Titus, or the now nameless people of the Corinthian church. But here we see evidence to the contrary.

From someone who has bought into labels and lies myself, I know all too well the feeling that whatever I have to say isn’t going to contribute anything worthwhile.

  • “Why would anyone care what my opinion is?”
  • “Do I really think someone as together as ___ would even have the time to listen to a lightweight like me?”
  • “How could I think that any person would hear advice from someone as spiritually ugly as I?”

Sound familiar? Maybe the questions in your head have sounded a little different, but I bet something similar has crossed your mind on occasion.

Sometimes when you speak into someone’s life, in your mind it appears like the conversational equivalent of tumbleweeds blowing across the plain. The right words aren’t there, the words that do come seem inadequate, or it seems the words are just not heard.

Most of the time this is your own self-image talking. Like me, you have convinced yourself that nothing you say can possibly be of value. The person you are speaking to is smarter, more spiritual, better educated, more experienced, too pretty, too popular, too cool, or [insert your own reason here], to listen to you.

But God is using it. He told the people of Israel “My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do” (Isaiah 55:11, HCSB). Likewise, He also promises us that the things he prods us to speak into the lives of others will not be wasted.

The best rule to live by is amazingly the same as it is for about every aspect of life: Always let God’s promises (“My word will not return void”) trump the Satan-inspired and self-imposed lies (“Nothing I say is worth hearing”).

Just remember that our impression of the situation is not perfect or complete.

The truth is we don’t really know who is paying attention or how deeply our words are penetrating. But God does.

We all need more encouragers in our lives. We all need to be encouragers in the lives of those around us.

So let Him speak through you, even when it doesn’t ‘feel’ effective. If your focus is on obeying and pleasing Him (Whose opinion is the only one that counts anyway), you don’t have to worry about whether you’re being effective. He will use it, in His way and in His time. Just stay faithful.

Do you have a story of a time when you felt a word of encouragement flatlined the minute it left your lips, only to find out later it really did lift someone up? If so, leave a comment below and tell me about it – those are exactly the kind of ‘war stories’ we need to share.

Highway To …

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It’s no wonder that we are so wrapped up in labels. It’s throughout the news media, entertainment, literature, religion, society. Bad people are bad people because they do bad things. Good people are good people because they do good things. In the movies and storybooks and even much of our religious and moral teaching, it’s just that simple.

And so we strive to do good things so we can be good people. And if (when) we end up doing bad things we see ourselves as bad people.

Then comes the next layer, regarding eternal destiny.  Good people are on the highway to Heaven, while bad people are on the highway to Hell.

Add this all up and it says if you’re good, you’d better keep striving to do good things, so you don’t end up on the other road. And if you’re bad, you might as well just keep doing bad things and enjoy the ride because you’re on your way to Hell anyway.

What a fantastic lie! So masterfully constructed, intricately reinforced, and wholeheartedly believed – usually without even thinking about it. You have to give the devil credit for this one. The master manipulator outdid himself.

But here’s the truth: No one is going to Hell because they visit strip clubs, or have illicit sex, or drink too much beer, or abuse their spouse or children.

No one is going to Heaven because they don’t do those things, or because they attend church, rescue baby otters, or feed the homeless.

Don’t get me wrong, the first set of things are definitely things we need to avoid if we really want to live free in Christ. And the second set of things are definitely admirable and commendable. But where you are heading is not hinging on any of it.

Because it is about relationship. Anyone who is on their way to Hell is on that road for one reason and one reason only…because they don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s it. No amendments, no escape clauses, no additional qualifiers, no purchase necessary. Relationship with Christ, period.

Now, once you have that relationship, you are going to want to live your life a certain way, for sure. The things you want to do and not do in life will fall in place, rising out of your relationship with Him and your desire to please and obey Him. But don’t miss the fact that these desires are based on your standing position with Him, not a scorecard to get you into position with Him.

And while we’re at it, let’s remove the notion that it’s all about the destination. The only reason Heaven is Heaven is because God is there. The only reason Hell is Hell is because God is not there. The light and joy of Heaven is God’s presence. The darkness and torment of Hell is God’s absence.

So you see it’s all about relationship, now and in eternity. It’s about where you will be in relation to where Jesus is. And that relationship starts here and now, not at death’s threshold.

How’s your relationship? Are you trying to keep score and hope you end up a winner when eternity calls? Or are you trusting in Jesus as your Savior and living in relationship with Him? If it’s the former, make it the latter. If it’s the latter, be sure to live like it!

 

Building On Top of the Rubble

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I want to know a song can rise,
From the ashes of a broken life,
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn.
                                      — Worn, Tenth Avenue North

God is not only a master builder, but also a master re-builder.

When our own poor choices and bad judgments cause what He has built to crumble, and our lives and testimonies become a big pile of ashes, He is not finished with us.

He begins to rebuild. And He always builds on top of the rubble. He doesn’t move on to another building site and leave us to lie in pieces. He builds on the site of the disaster and makes us bigger and better and stronger and more mature than we ever were before.

Two years ago, when my own poor choices and bad judgments caught up with me, causing the loss of friends, loss of respect even with those who remained at my side, and the severance of family relationships that were so very dear to me, I first heard the song Worn by Tenth Avenue North. The entire chorus goes like this:

“Let me see redemption win,
Let me know the struggle ends,
That You can mend a heart that’s frail and torn,
I want to know a song can rise,
From the ashes of a broken life,
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn.”

I can remember hearing those lyrics and lifting them up as my own plea with every ounce of my being – pleading desperately with God that the words could be true.

Today, two years later, I hear those words and I smile, because that prayer has become a praise. Because now I know that redemption does win, that struggles do end, that frail and torn hearts can be mended. I know that songs do rise from the ashes and dead things are reborn.

None of these realities are perfect or complete. There are still relationships that haven’t recovered, and maybe never will. There is still hurt in the lives of loved ones caused by the choices I made. There are still moments of regret and guilt and shame over my bad decisions. And there are still weaknesses and the realization that old struggles can come back – this life is lived on a battlefield.

But God never promised to rebuild us perfectly in this life. There are still traces of the rubble around the construction site. And there is always a new phase of the building project on the horizon. That’s called growth, or in Christian parlance, sanctification. It is a process, not an artifact.

Maybe the place where you are now is in the midst of the rubble, with dust flying and brick and mortar crushing down and the occasional spark bursting from a severed power line. If that’s the case, take heart, trust Him, and just press through today. He’s not done with you yet.

No matter what you did, or what was done to you, He will rebuild, and you will rise again.

 

Who Needs Church?

 

 

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“…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…” – Hebrews 10:25

Unfortunately, one of the things today’s church excels at is causing pain. As someone who has experienced wounding from both sides, I truly believe it’s not intentional in most cases. It’s usually a matter of trying to figure out where to draw the line between grace and truth. And there’s not a person in the church who hasn’t at one time or another drawn that line a little off-center. I look back at some of the judgment calls I have made as a Christian toward others and I cringe at the thought of it. I know many others would say the same. Some don’t cringe at all, but convince themselves and others that they made the right judgment – and, on some occasions, they did. Either way, the reality is someone walks away hurt.

It’s a tragedy that the body of Christ can be so disenfranchising toward the same people that God loves so dearly.

But don’t give up on God just because His people have made mistakes. Whether it was an honest mistake or a flagrant disregard, I guarantee you that God never intended for you to be condemned, humiliated or ignored. That’s not the way He operates.

You see, the church’s main problem is that it’s full of people. And as in any other setting, when you get people together things can go wrong. Different viewpoints, competing priorities, varied backgrounds and experience, mixed in with a touch of selfishness, and you have a recipe for hurt.

Can the people in the church be a bunch of hypocrites? Absolutely.

But wait, let me ask another question:

Can the people outside of the church be a bunch of hypocrites? Absolutely.

People are no different whatever their purpose or surroundings. The bar is set a little higher for people gathered in Jesus’ name, as it should be. But let’s lose the illusion that the church has a lock on hypocritical attitudes. Hypocrisy is a human flaw, not exclusively a Christian one. In fact, often the very people that judge the church for being a bunch of hypocrites are being quite hypocritical themselves.

The church indeed has faults. And yes it should be held to a higher standard. But it shouldn’t be held to an impossible standard. Life is about decisions, and sometimes we’ll display poor judgment, and people will be wounded.

When we’re on the receiving end of the wounding, we should try to understand – though moving on still may be the prudent choice. Trying to be understanding doesn’t mean exposing yourself to more hurt. Sometimes you forgive, and then you dust off your feet and move on.

When we’re on the business end of the wounding, we should seek reconciliation with the one we hurt. Often the best balm of healing is the apology and caring embrace of the one who did the wounding.

But through it all, remember God still loves every one of us more than we can ever know. And He still desires for His people to come together for encouragement and for worship and for prayer and for learning. The benefits far outweigh the risks.

So be part of a local church. It may take a few visits and false starts to find the right one, but it’s out there. Wherever you are, wherever you’ve been, don’t abandon the church. Allow God to embrace you through it.