Shhhh…

Sometimes we just have to hold our peace, because no answer is going to be the right one–and that’s generally true when emotions run high. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into commenting about something just for the sake of speaking about a matter, especially if you can’t see the big picture or have too little information to give a fair assessment.

When you blurt out a thought in haste that can be perceived in a way other than what you intended, it quite possibly will be! You or I can’t always convey with our mouth what’s in our heart…and sometimes we don’t realize how foolish something sounds until it rolls out. Man, it’s tough to walk that line in a culture where everyone is so vocal about anything and everything.

If you’ve ever experienced being misunderstood, you can relate to the embarrassment, horror, or pain that comes with it; so cut some slack to the other person whose words appear to have come out very wrong, especially if his/her comments can be taken multiple ways. We live in a world that loves to uncover and replay other people’s gaffes and flawed expressions for the purpose of discrediting, mocking, or harming. Even though it’s true that from the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks…remember also that the mouth doesn’t always do a very good job expressing what’s actually in that heart.

As communication goes, we know how to do quantity; but quality, maybe not so much. Just as others don’t fully know us, we likewise don’t know what’s truly in the thoughts and intent of others; so perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to assume absolutes. Let’s be a little kinder to one another.

James 3:2 “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”

Lord, help us not to stumble with our words!

Unrefined Evangelism

Before they came to be known as the Twelve Apostles, they were just some men who dropped what they were doing and said yes to the invitation to follow Jesus. They weren’t seminary students, temple dwellers, priests, or skilled with anything other than the tools they used to make a secular living. They had rough edges and obvious flaws—issues to be worked out. One of this team would even become His betrayer. And in a critical time when He needed them most, they fell asleep instead of watching and praying, or fled when He was arrested. In other words, they were ordinary, very imperfect people who were blessed to become part of something way bigger than the scope of their lifetimes.

And yet, when among all the followers, Christ hand-picked his core, The Twelve (and even an inner core of three of those), He “deputized” 😉 them to do something great. It was on-the-job training like the world had never seen. He was continually having to work on them, cultivate them, correct their attitudes, even referee when they disagreed with one another. They sounded a little bit like…us, don’t you think? We’re in on-the-job training, too.

So when you see an unlikely someone whose testimony attracts a whole crowd and compels them to follow Jesus Christ, don’t be so quick to write it off as counterproductive, not genuine, a ploy for attention, or even “another gospel.” Don’t pick apart his or her fledgling faith and the untrained tongue that simply tells what God has done in that person’s own life. If you or I or these excited new witnesses wait until we are all “qualified,” there will never be carriers of the Good News. We are the unqualified called—all whom Christ has rescued!

Yes, there’s always that risk that the person won’t get everything just right. We ourselves don’t always get everything just right, either. If God has called him or her to a higher place of ministry, He will groom that new disciple with time, experience, and correction.

Inexperienced and untrained as he was, one of the most powerful “witnesses” in all the Bible was a man who didn’t even know Jesus was the Christ, in the moment he was asked to give account for the unusual miracle which been done to him. The Pharisees were hoping he would give evidence to support that the miracle didn’t really come from God, because they were already accusing Jesus of being a sinner. The man, when asked, simply told the people what had been done for him: “Whether he (Jesus) be a sinner or not, I know not. One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25). Isn’t it interesting that the Lord healed people who didn’t have a clue who He really was? What love for a humanity who were so unprepared to host such a Guest among them!

I believe that the last days will see more non-“preachers” leading souls to Christ than suit-and-tie clergy behind podiums in ornate buildings with stained glass windows. In moments when people are desperate for hope, they won’t be asking the witness for a copy of his/her ordination certificate; they will instead be wanting honest answers as to why we actually believe in this God we call our Heavenly Father, with whom we embrace a relationship. A hundred bullet points of theology won’t resonate to a troubled, unchurched soul like the simple words, “This is what He did for me. He will do it for you, too, if you put your trust in Him.”

The theology will come. Spiritual maturity will take place all in good time. But let the Good News run through the streets like floodwaters, spilling out of those who don’t even know the fullness of the gospel…but they DO know that, once they were blind but now they see. Don’t beat down their zeal or crush their spirit just because they’re not as schooled in the Word as you, yet. Let the babes in Christ wave their palm branches and cry, “Hosannah!” who aren’t even old enough in their spiritual birth to know why He is who they proclaim Him to be. God will use for His glory and purpose those whose gifts may have been used elsewhere. He will pull His most grateful out of crack houses, gutters, jail cells, and nightclubs. He will turn the once foul-mouthed fisherman into a follower, then a disciple, and then perhaps even an apostle—and a fisher of men!

And never hesitate to be one of those inexperienced, uneducated carriers of the gospel yourself. While many argue who can be a “preacher” and who can’t, remember: the moment you tell someone else what Jesus has done for you, you have just, in a roundabout way, done the work of an evangelist! Do it and allow the Holy Spirit to inspire someone else to put his/her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, too! There is no advertisement more powerful than word-of-mouth from someone who has, firsthand, tasted and seen that the Lord is good!

Proclaimed—in spite of the fact that I am one of the “unqualified” —with love!

Repentance: Don’t Hide–HEAL

Don’t let the enemy guilt you out of your #destiny. If you have sinned or otherwise failed or fallen short, repent. Yes, I know there’s seemingly nothing profound in that advice, but it’s still true. I didn’t say resign; I said #repent.

#Repentance isn’t just being sorry for something you’ve done (or in some cases, haven’t done), it’s evaluating where you went wrong and making the necessary corrections to keep it from happening again: a change of heart and action. Maybe you’ve done something or allowed something and it’s wrinkled the fender of your reputation and distanced you from God. Maybe you’re just disappointed in yourself and it’s easier to bail than to humbly start all over. The first thing Adam and Eve did after they sinned was to HIDE. And may I even say, the more we are respected and admired, the harder it feels to get back up when we stumble because the accuser wants our shame to be very public.

Yeah, Satan’s goal is to take us out and damage as many people as he can in the process…but friends, when we’ve taken a faceplant, the world needs to SEE us recover, even if a few folks (and particularly some who are supposed to be on our “side”) hurl a few insult-and-accusation stones as we are picking ourselves up. Sometimes we privately recover, but truthfully, sometimes what we resolve to just do in private enables us to wallow a little longer in the mess–and kept hidden, sometimes we fix it, but sometimes we just choose to stay broken. Don’t stay in that place. It’s a rat’s nest.

There may be shame in failure but there’s no shame in turning to God to fix us when we have failed. Last night before I went to sleep, this verse went through my mind and I just meditated on it as I drifted off: “So now, those who are in Christ Jesus are not judged guilty. Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit that brings life made me free from the law that brings sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2 NCV) The KJV says there’s “therefore now no condemnation.”

Because of our trust in the redemptive power of the cross, we can machete our way through the choking, dense growth of sin’s effect on our lives and emerge back onto the right path intact. Paul realized the possibility of preaching to others but himself becoming a castaway–so he held himself accountable. So should we.

It’s just where we are. Sharing the good news is relatively easy. Being the “living epistle read of every man” part, not so much. The best thing to do is to keep ourselves holy, on guard, prayed-up, free from bondages. It’s a lot easier to maintain than to break down and repair. But if you are reading this from the cave where you went to hide after your embarrassing fall, please know there is HOPE for you. Sure, there’ll be a few who would remind you of your inadequacy, but there is a whole host of witnesses crying out just beyond your earshot, “Get up! Try! Finish! Keep going! You’re almost home!” There’s a Father checking out the window, pacing in the roadway, wanting to put a ring on your stinky, stained hand and restore you with full privilege instead of demoting you from sonship to servitude.

I remember once when I was still in school, one of my schoolmates wound up getting badly burned when he threw gasoline on a bonfire. The kid was ashamed/afraid to tell his parents because it was a foolish act of disobedience, messing with fire and flammables; and because he hid the terrible burn under his clothing without getting help, the burn got badly infected and became a serious, dangerous problem much worse than a parent’s chastisement for disobeying. No doubt the scars are still on that leg, decades later. We hide our burns too, sometimes, don’t we?

Peter had to repent when he fell. Yep, one of “the three amigos” whom Jesus kept privy to His most important missions actually betrayed Him in a most contemptible way when things got too dangerous. But Jesus WANTED him back. He even said to him, “when you’re restored, strengthen the others.” See, your recovery is never just about you. Jesus didn’t choose to just gloss it over and strengthen them Himself in Peter’s absence; He in essence told Peter, “YOU do it.” There’s going to be a visible restoration of the part of you that needs healed, friend, and the people who’ve been let down by your absence are also going to be strengthened…by YOU. It is this action that will bring you full circle and it will keep you accountable in the future because of its humbling quality.

As much as it feels to the contrary, you aren’t expendable. God needs you on that front line. Replacing you is not His ultimate will — redeeming you, however, IS! He saw in ages past where a you-shaped piece of the puzzle needed to go, and He created you to fit exactly right there in the big picture. He doesn’t have a bunch of spare you’s just lying around in case you malfunction! Repentance says you are willing to let Him rebuild you to keep doing what He created you to do. And sometimes, we need rebuilt not only because of our sins, but also even from just being battle-weary, worn-out, and hyperextended. Let Him.

Lay aside what’s holding you back. Phooey on what anyone might say or think, don’t you wallow in condemnation one more day. Your destiny is right where you left it, and Jesus can recalibrate the driving directions from WHEREVER this moment finds you…to make sure you arrive safely. Come home.

Snakeproofing Your Path…or at Least Your Feet

garden.jpgThis morning I drifted back off to sleep and dreamed that I was in this pretty, rustic frame house overlooking a beautiful view…one of those gardens that has stone walkways and big leafy plants. The temperature was perfect. It had balconies and decks on every imaginable angle and level. I thought…finally somewhere to go where I can clear my mind and just relax! I remember feeling thankful that the Lord had blessed me with this time away. I took off down a set of the steps leading to the garden and just as my foot started to hit the landing, I saw the biggest copperhead I’ve ever seen stretched out facing me, with its head lifted up and what looked almost like a smirk on its face.

I took off back up those steps and started warning people not to go down into the garden, and I watched in despair as I could see animals and people already wandering around the various paths down there…imagining that there were no doubt more where he came from; and I just turned away so I wouldn’t see. They couldn’t make out what I was saying as I shouted down. I finally went back inside and slammed my door shut. And then I woke up.

As I lay there in the bed, I recalled the smug look on that big snake’s face. There have been so many times when I was so close to stepping into a new place, only to be met by this spirit of fear…and just as he intended, I would be driven by that snake right back into my comfort zone. It’s strange, as I dreamed this, I didn’t sense the garden to be necessarily a dangerous place. I didn’t blame the garden for the snake, or perceive it an evil trap. It was just a place where I could go and rest my mind and body. Why would he be waiting there, daring me, taunting me? And then the Lord immediately brought this Scripture to my remembrance: “Behold! I have given you authority and power to trample upon serpents and scorpions, and [physical and mental strength and ability] over all the power that the enemy [possesses]; and nothing shall in any way harm you.” (Luke 10:19 AMP). And I then thought of “having your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” (Eph 6:15)

I can’t say whether the dream had a special meaning, but I can tell you this: we don’t have to shrink back from opportunities God gives us for fear of the enemy. Oh, that old serpent is liable to be peeking out along just about any path we’re walking on; but we don’t have to spend our lives running back up the steps into perceived safe places just to avoid him. If we belong to Jesus, we can put on that footgear of peace and go wherever He leads us. Who would’ve thought that peace is in our feet, not our head! I can almost envision a big tall pair of “snake proof” boots with a heavy heel for just such occasions. We are wearing God’s peace, we are protected, and we are given authority to clear the path for others by crushing what causes danger under our feet. We are given this charge not just for our own benefit…but for an entire humanity God wants to reconcile to Himself.

Knowing now that we can do this without fear, let’s get out of our enclosed “safe place” and interact with others. They need us and can’t hear us just shouting down at them. We have to get on a level where they can understand the Gospel, and be ready to defend them from the devil if needed. And, we can do it all while remaining in a state of rest and peace! No fear!

Skilled Laborers for Delicate Harvests

grapevineAnd this has a real advantage: I am not bound to obey anyone just because he pays my salary; yet I have freely and happily become a servant of any and all so that I can win them to Christ. When I am with the Jews I seem as one of them so that they will listen to the Gospel and I can win them to Christ. When I am with Gentiles who follow Jewish customs and ceremonies I don’t argue, even though I don’t agree, because I want to help them. When with the heathen I agree with them as much as I can, except of course that I must always do what is right as a Christian. And so, by agreeing, I can win their confidence and help them too. When I am with those whose consciences bother them easily, I don’t act as though I know it all and don’t say they are foolish; the result is that they are willing to let me help them. Yes, whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him.  I do this to get the Gospel to them and also for the blessing I myself receive when I see them come to Christ.  (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NLT)
Instead of just sitting in Heaven and disapproving of our fallen condition, our Lord did something remarkable: He came here to walk with us, experience our suffering, and show us how to rise above our sinfulness. He paid the complete price for us to be able to reconcile with the Father, even in our brokenness and flawed Adamic nature! Just as God sent a representative into the human race to save all, He continues to do this on a different level today: He uses US to walk among and impact others with whom we share similar struggles or questions. That’s why we aren’t to just go around vexed and speaking with disdain about our fellow man’s wretched conditions. We are to pray that God assigns the right persons to each group of people who are walking in a particular pocket of darkness.
The Word tells us that where sin abounds, grace does much more abound (Romans 5:20). There is no segment of our society so wicked, so blind, or so hopeless that God cannot send a messenger capable of reaching them!  Perhaps you’re not as socially-versatile a person as the Apostle Paul; after all, his wide circle of influence came because he had a mighty wide background before coming to Christ.  If you are limited in those whom you can reach, or if frustration causes you to be ineffective in your witness, this message is for you–and it’s a message of GREAT HOPE.
Don’t make it your business to just stand back and curse others for their sinful behavior. Speak the truth, yes. Never compromise. But don’t use your words as weapons to just rip to shreds people who desperately need Jesus. It may not be YOUR voice that reaches them with convicting impact. If your voice isn’t capable of bearing that fruit, use it for prayer instead of for pounding! God’s already told us to pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send laborers. God intends to give all men and women a way of escape from the clutches of sin, if they’ll take it. He has already created and called special laborers to these seemingly impossible segments of the field of souls.
The ear who’s closed to most other voices? It will open when the right messenger delivers that same uncompromised truth. God will anoint that messenger with the ability to be heard . That harvest will feel connected to, loved by, and understood by the person sent to engage them. They will take seriously from him the same message that they may have scorned out of the lips of others.
God didn’t call us to be the voice of disapproval…He called us to be the light of the world! Disapproval? Oh yes, that’s totally what the lost expect of us…and we have sure given them a whopping dose of it. But…have we sprung the message on them that God loves them and that so do we? Have we demonstrated to them that Jesus died for all, and that no one is beyond His reach?  Zacchaeus could climb out of the scorn of the crowd and watch Jesus from a safe distance in that sycamore tree…but WOW…when Jesus saw him and announced (in front of the others who despised this money-grubbing little tax collector) He was going home with him!  He could handle rejection all day long, and had.  Jesus’ approval, however, totally disarmed him!
It’s OK if you have no gifting to reach every single personality type, societal group, or area of sin bondage. If you feel no compassion for, or patience, or common ground with a particular group of people who embrace something you feel strongly against, then do this: step back enough to where you can see objectively and begin to just pray for them. Don’t shun them, just don’t try to engage in a verbal dispute over the lifestyles they’re living. Show the love of God and only speak what will actually bear fruit. At that same time, begin to pray IN EARNEST for someone to come into their paths who has that gifting, and keep praying until God sends His chosen laborer into that particular harvest field.
Let me explain. Having dealt with loved ones who were in deep bondage to addiction from the early days of my childhood, I am not the best person to engage someone wrestling with a drug or alcohol problem. When I encounter a person who’s high or drunk, I still get that feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach from old memories I’d just as soon not resurrect. So, instead of being gifted at reaching that person on a genuine level ground, I am too preoccupied with fighting my own bad memories to really be the most effective witness–one whose message will be received. Probably the person himself/herself even feels the vibes coming from me of someone who’d like to just escape this situation as soon as possible! Someone else can step into that role, however, and completely dominate the spirit of addiction. A peace can settle in and a common ground be established where the addicted person feels understood and loved, rather than dreaded. In that setting, God has great leeway to build a bridge to rescue the perishing! In my element, there are others I can more effectively reach…and as I remain faithful in doing what I CAN, God will increase my areas of influence.
Sometimes God will even send someone into that harvest area who isn’t so close to the problem. If the really-bound person is your family member, your frustration about the situation may be too strong to allow you objectivity. That person may be completely unreceptive to your pleas. Trust God to send the perfect influence into that person’s path. It’s ok if the right messenger isn’t YOU! Your obligation is to continue in love and intercession…and God can sometimes do His most effective rescue blitzes through a third-party intervention.  There’ll be time for reconciliation between you and your loved one later, once Christ reigns in his or her life, too.  Let go and let God.
Instead of me just spewing disapproval of the lifestyles of those in bondage (and causing them to completely shutdown from any chance to receive what I have to say about the love of God), I need to intercede for ones I don’t positively impact, and let God put the perfect spokesperson into their paths. He will. And He will hold me accountable to touch others…those with whom I have a particular rapport! There’s a special group of people for whom God will grace me with reachability; and I am to work in that area of the field with my whole heart. So are you.
In short, that old saying does ring true: Don’t curse the darkness, but instead light a candle. If your testimony of hope and the love of God can’t come across as just that (instead of a closed fist), then you might not be called to that person in the area of “getting down to the nitty gritty.” What you might not be able to with interaction on a horizontal level, you can do on a vertical level! Be careful not to wound the lost sheep…they still need rescued!