FULLY ALIVE!

Your life will be as bright as the noonday sun. Job 11:17


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Responding

Sid Evans, writing for Southern Living magazine, said, “The horrific shooting that took the lives of nine churchgoers threatened to rip the city of Charleston, South Carolina apart.  But by responding with public displays of compassion, love and unity, Charleston has shown us how to move forward.”  Within hours, hundreds of flowers were piled outside the church forming a makeshift memorial.  People – black, white, old, young lined up to pay their respect, and instead of riots there were vigils.  Instead of warring, there was peace.  The people of Charleston gave a “soft” response and turned away wrath (Proverbs 15:1 ESV).

“God,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he eulogized the victims of the Birmingham church bombing, “still has a way of wringing good out of evil.”

It comes through the response.

Evans wrote, “It’s hard for an average person to know how to respond to a tragedy like this.”  It’s not only hard to know how to respond sometimes, even when we know better, it’s just easier, just preferred and sometimes just (we feel) justified for us to lash out, to get even, to fly off the handle, to seek vengeance.  What do those responses bring us?  More pain because harsh words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1 ESV).

James teaches, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20 ESV).  This is the thought that we must ever be cognizant of – what results from our responses.  Do they honor God and produce His righteousness or do they grieve His Holy Spirit?

As Christians, we are called to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving (Ephesians 4:32 ESV), and if we do speak, we speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15 ESV); we get angry, but we do not sin (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV).

THIS WEEK check your responses.  Are they soft?  Are they turning away wrath or stirring up anger?  Ask God’s Holy Spirit to respond through you so that in your responding you produce His righteousness.  Pray that your responses will be the “good” wrung from any evil situation.

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Me First!

The first to apologize is the bravest.

The first to forgive is the strongest.

The first to forget is the happiest!

~Unknown

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

~Ephesians 4:32 ESV


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I Don’t Want to Forgive

Have you been hurt so deeply that you feel trapped by the pain, yet there is something deep within you that refuses to forgive?

At times it seems there are two forces pulling at you, kinda like those cartoons we’ve seen of characters having an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.  That angel whispers the Scriptures into your ears – “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).  “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).  “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” (Luke 6:27). “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19). “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44).  “Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you” (Proverbs 20:22).

That devil on the other shoulder is whispering, too.  “Don’t forgive them; they don’t deserve it. Don’t you remember what they did to you?”

The angel whispers all the more…,”Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless…” (1 Peter 3:9).  And the devil ramps up his whisperings, too…, “What you need to do is get even.  If I were you, I’d get them back!”

Forgiveness is hard.  It’s even harder when you don’t really want to forgive.  Yes, you want to empty yourself of all that bitterness, and you want to enjoy a close relationship with God (because in case you didn’t realize it, bitterness and refusing to forgive separates you from God).  But deep down within, you crave vengeance.  You just want to even the score somehow, pay them back.  After all, that’s what they deserve!

Confession.  I have held bitterness toward a certain “them” and “they” in my heart for quite some time now.  I said that I forgave, but I didn’t.  I thought for a while that I had, but I haven’t.  I was sure that I wanted to, but I don’t.  I don’t want to forgive them.  Oh, in my head I do; I know right from wrong.  But the awful, cold, hard truth is that in my heart, I don’t want to forgive them.

I realized that today when I had an opportunity to celebrate “them.” To praise “them.”  To congratulate “them.”  I didn’t want to do any of those things.  Rather, I wanted to remind “them” of their evil, their spite, their prejudices and their mean-spiritedness.  But therein lies the rub.  I couldn’t remind them of any of their shortcomings and faults without being reminded of my own.  Dang.

And so today I realized, fully realized what I already knew in my head.  Forgiveness is not really for “them.”  It is for me.

You see, by refusing to forgive, I imprisoned myself.  I shut myself away in a lonely, desolate and miserable place where I played and replayed the videos and recordings of all that they had done wrong.  Meanwhile, they went about their lives – happy, laughing, enjoying.  I am sure that they haven’t spent one minute thinking about what has robbed me of peace for more than a year now.

Today, I decided it’s time to be released from prison.  I forgave.  Once, for all and for always – with the help of the Holy Spirit!

As children of God we are commanded to forgive.  It really is not an option, but God will not rush us.  He’ll let us linger and languish in the prison of bitterness as long as we desire.  When we come to our senses, we understand that He empowers us by His Spirit to forgive just as Jesus forgave when He looked down from the cross at His false accusers, the naysayers and the soldiers who had beaten and whipped Him and now cast lots for His clothing.  Amidst all that, He said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  Surely, I can forgive those who hurt me, and I did.

Here’s what we can be sure of – What God commands us to do, He empowers us to do by His Spirit. And that includes forgiving just as Jesus did!

THIS WEEK break free of any prison of unforgiveness that has you bound.  “As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:12-13).  Identify your shortcomings and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for those then, if possible, reconcile with your offender.  If you cannot reconcile because your offender is not ready, know that you have done what the Lord has required of you, and go in peace (Romans 12:18). 


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Loose Lips

“Once upon a time, there was a village called Smoldering Pines.  Smoldering Pines… lay at the foot of the great sleeping volcano, Mt. Discordia.  Spoken words in Smoldering Pines take on a physical form.  Whenever people talk, their words appear in the air and then fall haphazardly to the ground.  Homeowners then rake their discarded words into piles at the edge of their property.  Over time, these piles…become fences.  Thoughts, like words, can become visible, too.  Granted the town does like dangerously close to a volcano.  But this isn’t a concern for the residents.  After all, Mt. Discordia has been dormant for hundreds of years.”

Bet you can guess the rest of David Hutchens’ story.  Listening to the Volcano is a marvelously funny yet thought-provoking fable about many things including the power of our words.

Research says that women speak about 20,000 words a day – some 13,000 more than the average man.  That alone ought to caution us because Proverbs 10:19 (ESV) says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”   Admittedly, I have to agree.  Somewhere among that many words we are bound to find some that would have best been kept behind the teeth.

In Hutchens’ fable, spoken words actually materialize into wooden placards and fall to the ground.  They mound up into piles and form fences around the speaker.  Likewise their thoughts.  Guess what?  In reality our words and thoughts form fences, too.  We do not see them as readily as in Listening to the Volcano, but it might be a good thing if we did because they would be a very visible reminder to us.  How powerful if we actually saw that hateful thought, that sarcastic word, that vengeful or vindictive contemplation and that spiteful, spirit-killing word – materialized and lying right before us at our feet.  I can’t help but believe we might have some pause before speaking again and that we might be more obedient to 2 Corinthians 2:5 and actually take captive our thoughts.

As wedding presents my maternal grandmother gave me gifts of her wisdom.  One tidbit I remember is, “Choose your words very carefully.  All the “I’m sorries” in the world cannot take them back.  Even if your husband tells you he forgives you, he will remember what you said.”  That was good advice for me as a newlywed, and it is good advice for anyone.   We can say we’re sorry, that we didn’t mean it or that we weren’t thinking.  We can offer a ton of other excuses about not feeling well, misunderstanding and being confused.  But once a word is spoken, it’s out there, and you cannot take it back.  No one can ever misunderstand a word not spoken!  Proverbs 21:23 (ESV) says, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”  Another way to think about it might be as my grandmother put it.  “The Lord gave you two ears and one mouth; that ought to tell you something!”  Practice listening and speaking proportionately.

Sometimes we feel pressured to speak.  Someone angers us, falsely accuses us, slanders us.  This is one that I have struggled with.  As a retired school administrator, I’ve had more than my fair share of false accusations – some, stretches of the truth; others, just out right lies.  Proverbs 26:4 (ESV) teaches us, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself,” but I had a friend that summarized this lesson with his own adage, “When you argue with a fool, you become the fool.”  Ecclesiastes 5:6a (ESV) says, “Let not your mouth lead you into sin,” and Proverbs 17:27 (ESV) adds, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”  Proverbs 21:23 (ESV) goes further, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”  When I taught Junior High School (where there were a lot of hot, angry, teenage tongues) I posted an African proverb on one of my bulletin boards, “Must you turn around and look at every dog that barks at you?”  It was a good reminder for my students to ignore the lies, accusations and gossip their classmates spread.  More than 25 years later, that is still good advice.

Finally, we sometimes get caught up in conversations and dialogue because we are around others who talk too much.  I am convinced that a loose tongue can be caught – something like a cold or the flu!   Do you work with colleagues who tell “off color” jokes?  Do you have family members that curse like sailors or girlfriends that should be on gossip television?  Perhaps you have friends that are super negative – every spoken word is a complaint or a put down; they see (and point out) only what is wrong; their throats are open graves and their mouths are full of curses and bitterness (Romans 3:13-14 ESV).  We do not have to be unfriendly, and we need never act superior to others, but 2 Timothy 2:16 (ESV) teaches us to “Avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness.”   You need only remember this childhood ditty, “Loose lips, sink ships.”  They will sink you, too.  When we dwell in the presence of these individuals, it is often not long before we sink to their level – we repeat the jokes, begin cursing and spread the gossip.

Words are powerful. Consider the following Scriptures understanding that there are at least a dozen more found in the pages of the Bible.  God’s word is never in vain. It always achieves its purpose (Isaiah 55:11).  Surely there is purpose in so many Scriptures addressing our tongues and our words.

“Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18, ESV) 

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21, ESV) 

“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.”  (Proverbs 17:9, ESV)

“By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”   (Matthew 12:37, ESV) 

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”  (Proverbs 29:20, ESV) 

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”  (Ephesians 4:39, ESV)

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.”  (Matthew 15:18, ESV)

THIS WEEK, observe your speech and consider your words.  Are you talking more than listening?  Do your words heal or thrust as a sword?    When you speak, are you building up or tearing down?  What do your words reveal about your heart?

Remember, “On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”  (Matthew 12:36, ESV)  Don’t you want to stand before our Lord knowing your words restored, built up and made better?


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Cleaning Closets

Deciding is half the battle “they” say.  You know, the infamous, elusive, unidentified “they.”  I’m hoping “they” are right with this one because I have decided to clean my main closet.  It’s huge, and it is a mess – partly because for a few days I haven’t followed my own rule of putting things back where they came from and partly because I really need to get rid of some stuff!  Maybe I should start with the shoes I bought for student teaching…  Hmm, that was more than 35 years ago.  Perhaps I will get rid of the dress I wore when I first met my in-laws.  That might be a good choice since (1) I am divorced, (2) I weighed a LOT less then and (3) it’s almost 20 years old!  This could be a good time to toss the ugly Christmas sweaters – the ones that were so popular in the 70s and 80s.

Are you getting a picture?  We often hold onto things much longer than we should – and not just dresses and shoes.  How about attitudes, thoughts, grudges, wounds?

Ephesians 4:22-23 (AMP) says, “Strip yourselves of your former nature.… And be constantly renewed in the spirit of your mind [having a fresh mental and spiritual attitude].”  In other words, let the past go.  Clean the junk out of the closets of your mind and heart.  Let go those thoughts of what you think you lost, how things might have been, what you’ve given up, ways that you were mistreated, times you felt overlooked or undervalued.

It helps to have someone help me clean the closet.  I tell stories about my stuff, we laugh, and we bag it or box it and take it out. Then we forget it!  Kinda like Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV) which tells us to “Forget the former things” and to not “dwell on the past” because the Lord is doing a new thing.   You must clean out the old to make room for the new.

Ponder the following Scriptures and the contents of your heart’s closet this week:

Monday:   Proverbs 4:25-27 (ESV)

Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.

Question for reflection: What is calling you to look back and keeps you from looking forward?

Tuesday: Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Question for Reflection:  What thoughts do you need to swap – untrue for true, dishonorable for honorable, unjust for just, unclean for pure, etc.?

Wednesday: Hebrews 12:1 (ESV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…

Question for Reflection: What are you holding on to (thoughts, habits, relationships, etc.) that not only “weighs you down,” but impacts your testimony and witness before those you encounter?

Thursday: Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…”

Question for Reflection: How many treasures can you find in your closet that might better serve someone else? Can you take them to a neighbor? To Goodwill? To a clothes closet? Other?

Friday: Isaiah 12:2 (ESV)

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

Question for Reflection:  Of what (or whom) are you afraid? What (or whom) are you holding on to rather than trusting God?

PRAY: Heavenly Father, I love You. I know that You love me. I trust You, and I trust the plan that You have for me and my life. Search my heart and my mind. Show me those things, those people, those feelings, those memories and those attitudes that I need to let go of. Sweep clean the corners of my mind and the recesses of my heart and fill each with what will honor and glorify You. I claim the peace and joy of an uncluttered mind and a clean heart. In Jesus’ Name I pray. Amen.

SHARE: Post comments to share your reflections and reactions from this week’s post. (One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. One woman’s sharing is another woman’s blessing!)


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It’s All in the Preposition

For a few seasons of my life I served as an English teacher which is probably why I occasionally get fixated on words.  I especially find myself listening intently to what people say (as well as to what they don’t say because both are very enlightening).

I am particularly intrigued when people talk about the blessings of God and what He has done for them.  Indeed, as the author of Lamentations wrote, His mercies are new every morning and great is His faithfulness.  Personally, if I wake up, I count it a good day.  If I am able to get up and ambulate without assistance or much pain, I call it a great day!

I once had a job that necessitated me rising VERY early every morning (somewhere around 3:00 a.m.).  I would leave home about 4:15 a.m. to drive to my office.  I dreaded every morning, so I used to focus on thanking God all along the way.  “Thank you for running water.  Thank you for hot and cold water at my fingertips.  Thank you for inside plumbing.  Thank you for showers and toothbrushes.  Thank you that I have teeth to brush.  Thank you for sight.  Thank you for road signs.  Thank you for letting me learn to read.”  It might sound ridiculous, but I found it particularly strengthening and encouraging and I found that it gave me a different connection with God which was especially comforting as I parked and walked dark streets that were milling with unique characters at 5:00 a.m.!  (I had to go to work.  Why were these people on the street at that time of the morning?!!!)

But back to my point. (I really do have one!).  We cannot dispute that God has blessed us.  If He doesn’t do one more thing for us, we really can have no complaint.  What I find intriguing is how often people talk about what God has done for them as opposed to what He has done in them.  Both words are prepositions but what a difference.

In Ezekiel 36 we read that God will give us a new heart and put a new spirit in us while removing our heart of stone. Ephesians 4 says that we receive a new nature to be like God, truly righteous and holy and II Corinthians says the Lord makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image.  This is what God does in us, and this is the testimony we must share – to encourage fellow believers and to draw non-believers to Him.

In I Samuel 16:7 (NASB) we are reminded that man looks at the for – “the outward appearance,” but the Lord looks at the in – “the heart.” Today as you think of your relationship with Him, what will you look at?