Lockjaw!

zipping-mouth-shut

When I was a very small girl, I stepped on a rusty nail while playing around a stack of old wood.  I’ll never forget Sue Sammons having to hold me down as I screamed bloody murder, when Doc White plunged that tetanus shot into my behind!  Oh yes!  That day, Doc White was fifteen feet tall, had fangs and werewolf claws, and that syringe was as big as a cannon!   Mom told me, “If you don’t take the shot, you’ll get lockjaw (tetanus)!”  At the time, lockjaw didn’t seem like such a bad alternative; but alas, I was outnumbered!

Sometimes it would be nice to have selective lockjaw.  We’ve become a society who so values a good comeback or “diss” or insult; and in honing our skills, we’ve become quite the verbal bullies.  I want to address the issue of what’s coming out of your mouth.  It’s so easy to fire off a good insult, but why do we have such a hard time firing off compliments?  What’s WRONG with us?  Do we honestly feel as if our sharp tongue makes us appear intellectually superior to the person we’re cutting down?

The memory of you will go on long after you’re gone.  So think about this:  would you rather be merely tolerable or actually loveable?  To those people who surround you daily, I challenge you:  be someone they cherish instead of having to put up with!  Being nice is a deliberate action on our part.  We can sputter and spout off and gripe about all that’s wrong, or we can be considerate, kind, and sow love seeds.  You fall into one of two categories, whether you realize it or not.  You’re someone people look forward to being around, or you’re someone they dread.  You either make people feel poured into, or you drain their very spirit with your presence.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be someone for whom folks cringe at the sound of my voice on the phone, or dodge running into me in the grocery store or on the street.  I don’t want them to think, “Oh mercy…I wonder what it’s going to be THIS time?”

Life’s too short to wallow in that mess!  Even if you’ve been an old “sourpuss” your whole life, you can start today.  Just as you’re getting ready to spew off an insult or a grouchy word at someone, I want you to stop and think of something good about that person.  If it’s nothing better than, “Your hair’s parted straight,” then you pay that person a compliment instead of letting him or her have “what for.”

What comes out of your mouth is what’s been rolling around in your heart, so you’ve got to begin filling your spirit with good thoughts and not just everything that’s irritating or wrong.  The Word says this:   “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”  (Phil 4:8 MSG)  Sure, it’s so easy for us to let that sarcasm fly…but don’t you do it.  Not today.

I want you to pray this with me:  “Lord, I’ve been guilty of letting my emotions rule me.  I’ve done it so long that I’ve just let it get out of control.  Today I ask for Your forgiveness and help.  I don’t want to be someone whom my loved ones fear, dread, dislike, or even hate.  Please help me to leave a better legacy than what I’ve been leaving.  I surrender my heart and my mouth to You today.  I will meditate on Your Word, I will guard the gateways of my eyes and ears so that I don’t feed on violence, prejudice, hatred, and negativity.  I WILL think on the beautiful and not the ugly, and with Your help, I will speak life words and not death!  If necessary, do to me as You did to Balaam who, every time he opened his mouth to pronounce a curse on Your people, found that blessing is all that would come out.  Help me to find absolutely no pleasure in tearing down people with my words.  I ask You to lay conviction HEAVY ON MY HEART.  I want to please You, and I want to feel peace instead of frustration.  I want to stop injuring the people I love with my words, attitudes, and actions.  Most of all, I don’t want to embarrass YOU, displease You, or misrepresent You before a lost world.  Holy Spirit, speak loud and clear to me today so that I won’t miss Your voice.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“Take control of what I say, O Lordand guard my lips.”  (Psalm 141:3 NLT)

The Missed Turn

Wrong WayBut I have this [one charge to make] against you: that you have left (abandoned) the love that you had at first [you have deserted Me, your first love].  Remember then from what heights you have fallen. Repent (change the inner man to meet God’s will) and do the works you did previously [when first you knew the Lord], or else I will visit you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you change your mind and repent. (Revelation 2:4-5 AMP)

I can remember as a child, times when we’d be making family trips and would sometimes get lost on the road.  Though Mom and Dad weren’t much for arguing in front of my brother and me, one could feel the unspoken tension in the car as maps would get unfolded, Dad would look for a place to make a U-turn, and Mom would plead with him to just stop and ask for directions.  Looking back now, it’s humorous, but we all know that a wrong turn is never funny at the time.  Depending on where the wrong turn is, it can even be deadly.  One time, I remember that we were on the road for a long, long time before we even knew we weren’t going in the right direction.  We were so tired already…and how disheartening to find that we were even farther away from our destination than we ever imagined!  Roads can change; maps can become outdated; detours can delay our arrival indefinitely.  Even with our modern GPS devices, we can still get very, very lost!

So it also is with life.  There are times when we know exactly where we missed the turn; other times, we’ve been on the wrong path so long that we don’t even know where we got messed up.  The good news is, our roadmap of life—the Bible—doesn’t become outdated.  Regardless of whatever “new” roads spring up, all promising to take us in the same direction, there is still only one true Way.  The rest are dead-ends.  The beauty of God’s Word is, it’s so complete that we can even use its unchanged, un-evolving truth to get us back to the right path, no matter how far away we may have strayed.

I heard a lot growing up about the “doing your first works over” Scripture, but little elaboration on what it might really mean.  Back then, we took it that you had to march yourself back to the altar, the baptistery, and through the saved, sanctified, pray-for-the-Spirit experience all over again, basically losing any ground whatsoever in your relationship with God.  While it’s true, sometimes we really do need to hit that altar and pray through, I’ve come to more fully understand what the “first works” really are.  Were it just a literal march back to the baptistery, my fingers would probably be shriveled from staying in the water so much!  I’ve made my share of bad choices, mistakes, and yes, let’s call them what they are –- sins -– in my life.  Thank God for His grace and His never-ending quest to lead us toward His righteousness.

Whether we’ve gotten lost on a highway, fallen out of love with our spouse, or have gone from walking in God’s will to a rock-bottom place in our spiritual condition, we have to take steps to recover.

The first thing we must do is stop heading in the wrong direction!  That’s a given!  As Jesus told the woman caught in the act of adultery, “Go and sin no more,” we too must do an abrupt about-face.  It doesn’t mean we can never ever make another mistake or sin again, but it means that, right here and now, we put down that thing down.  Paul tells us to lay aside “every weight and the sin which so easily besets us.”  We don’t continue with the sin still in our hand and just keep praying for God to keep us from its consequences.  He requires accountability and responsibility on our part.

After the stop comes the U-turn.  Repentance means more than just being sorry for getting caught, or being sorry for the consequences.  We need to be sorry for grieving the Holy Spirit, but repentance literally means an “about-face.”  It’s a change in our attitude,  a change in our actions, and a change in our hearts!  The U-turn itself perhaps doesn’t make everything automatically alright, but for the first time since your wrong turn, you are actually moving toward your healing.  Not only are we just going in a different direction, but God’s Word takes us in the right direction.  So many times, people will try to stop doing one wrong thing, only to replace it with doing another wrong thing.  Example:  someone gives up using drugs but then turns to alcohol to drown the pain, perceiving it as the lesser of two evils just because it’s not illegal!  If we don’t address the nature of the void in our lives, we’ll fill it with everything else BUT God… and in the end, be just as bad off.

When a couple sits in marriage counseling, often the counselor will ask them to backtrack to the time when they actually were in love; and that’s how I’m going to address the “first works” issue.  What attracted you to God in the first place?  Was He an answer to a crisis, or did you just respond to conviction and accept Christ?  Once you received salvation, what actions and attitudes did you display then that perhaps you’re not doing now?  Did you pray more, read more, spend more time with like-minded believers rather than people who might pull you back into a life of sin?  Did you let an offense or unwillingness to forgive drive a wedge between you and your Savior?  Some of the answers may not be easily found.  Just as when you are traveling on a route back to where you first got lost, sometimes we have to remain in an honest time of self-examination just to get back to where we took the wrong turn.  We so easily feel justified in some of our decisions, especially in unforgiveness.  “Well, the church hurt me,” you might say.  Or, “I just won’t rest until I get back at so-and-so for what he/she did to my child.”

Now is not the time to be lazy or a chicken!  Your life will not have any sense of normalcy until you deal with what has led you on a path away from God’s peace.  How easily we buy into the lie that wallowing in wrongdoing feels better than walking in peace.  Backtrack.  When you ask the Holy Spirit to reveal where you’ve gone wrong, He won’t play games with you.  When He reveals what you need to do, OWN IT.  God wants to reconcile you to blessing and favor, not leave you going around in an endless loop on sin’s beltway.  He who covers his transgressions will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes his sins will obtain mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13 AMP)

So, with an honest self-examination through the lens of Scripture, we really will come back to the missed turn.  And though you may have squandered precious time—though you may even have to reap the consequences of some bad decisions—God can put you back on the highway of righteousness!  Realize that some things can only be fixed supernaturally.  Restitution where possible is needed, but God can fix what we simply can’t.  Be encouraged in this:  a relationship with Him isn’t like playing one of those wretched video games where you run out of lives and then have to start, every single time, back on level one.  If your heart is sincere, He can redeem time for you.  You’ve not lost the knowledge and previous experience you’d already gained; those are still in your history to help you and bolster you forward.  A mature Christian who falls doesn’t find himself or herself all the way back to a “baby Christian” status…whatever we’ve learned in the Word, we still have it.  Take what you’ve learned from your fall and use it to keep you straight in the future.  “First works” gets us from the crawling position to the walking position again.  You are now empowered with the knowledge of what weaknesses you need to shore up. You can be certain the Devil knows your weak areas, so you need to honestly acknowledge them and use the Word to help you conquer those weaknesses.   How you choose to use that information will make a huge difference, from this day forward, in whether your end is better than your beginning!

Don’t stumble over the fact that it may take some proving time before others are convinced that your turnaround is sincere, if you’ve fallen into a serious erring from your faith.  Accountability is a good thing, especially to those in authority over us and to the people whose lives have been adversely affected by our choices; but your accountability to God is by far more important than even man’s approval.  Often, we dread the process of getting back into man’s good graces more than we do God’s.  We figure people won’t forget our mistakes, so why bother?  Well, it’s good when people trust you, and it’s good when you don’t violate THEIR trust, but ultimately, be someone GOD can trust.  People may or may not give you a free pass on bad choices.  Licenses get jerked; a failed audit may get us a whopper of a penalty; we might get disbarred after years of college over one foolish choice; and we can’t go back and reclaim relationships with people who no longer want to be with even a reformed, better us.  As my father-in-law says, “You can’t un-ring a bell.”  These are realities we must accept.  God’s grace, however, is always sufficient to cover!  Keep your eyes on the Lord, and not whether others feel you’ve done sufficient “time” in atonement for your sins.  This word is just as imperative for the business executive, the housewife, the preacher, and the person spending life behind bars!  Look to the eternal future and focus on Him.  Yesterday’s in the “tomb of time.” Your destination can be eternally good; and the journey to get there, from here on out, can be as well.

So, pull out the only map that will get you on the right road—GOD’S WORD—and for heaven’s sake, don’t be too proud to ask Him for directions!   He’s already got a plan to set you right.  Never settle for being a believer who, though saved by grace and still headed to heaven, lives a less-than-abundant life HERE!  God forgives those who confess and repent, but remember:  simple obedience will save you many, many heartaches.  The Word is your GPS—God’s Perfect Solution.

A Mother’s Day Tribute

Mother and Daughter
Mother and Daughter

Mothers aren’t perfect. They’re certainly not invincible, or shatterproof, or immortal. We don’t seem to understand that when we’re teenagers; but when we get old enough, we come to appreciate the perfection that lies in their imperfection. We realize that they juggled a lot more pressure than we ever knew in our carefree young lives…and they gave up a lot more than we knew just to see us have more. They didn’t wave their sacrifices in our faces to get our sympathy; but they didn’t get shoes or dresses or needed items many times, just so that we could have shoes, clothes, toys, music. Their advice wasn’t always welcomed—and times we may have copped an attitude, snapped at them, or rolled our eyes; but there was truth in their weary voices when they said, “One day you’ll understand when you have kids of your own.” And the first time you realize that she’s not there when you pick up the phone to call her, it will grieve you that you didn’t do more for her—no matter how good you were, how often you called or visited, or how much you did for her.

I beg of you, if you still have your mother, treat her with honor! Whether she’s a saint or the lowest sinner, show her the respect that a mother deserves. God’s Word doesn’t tell us to honor our parents only if they’re GOOD parents…but to honor them, PERIOD. If she’s angered you, hurt your feelings, abandoned you, embarrassed you with her weaknesses, or otherwise failed to measure up in some way to your expectations; or, if you’ve become upset and refuse to speak to her, please, reach out to your mother this Mother’s Day.  And for heaven’s sake, don’t wish someone else were your mother instead of her.  Life is too short to harbor unforgiveness or bitterness.  You owe it to her AND to yourself to put aside whatever might have become a wall between you, even if you’re having to make peace sitting at her grave. Say what you need to say even if it’s “too late.”  Let this Mothers’ Day be one of healing and closure.

When I was a child, the tradition was that the ladies/girls wore a red carnation to church if their mothers were still alive, or a white one if their mothers were gone. I used to feel sad on Mothers’ Day for the ones who had to wear a white flower. By the time I’d turned 21, the tradition was long gone; but were it not, by this coming Sunday, I would have collected 25 of those white carnations.

Was Mom perfect? Far from it. But how I miss her. So many questions I would love to have asked her in the years that have transpired, things that only a mother and daughter talk about. She missed practically my whole adult life. Though we were always open and honest, close and loving, I respect her so much more now than I did. I see her strengths and gifts so much more than her frailties.  I even “get” her finally, as I find myself doing little things she did:  laughing her laugh, or exercising the creativity I inherited from her. I laugh at the aging process as I’m arriving where she was when her life was cut short; remembering fondly her joking about hot flashes, insomnia, gray hair, and wrinkles.  Time only seemed to trace a beautiful patina on her countenance, and I know now that she was truly remarkable. I was blessed.

Happy Mothers’ Day in Heaven, Mom. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.