Give Daddy Your Fake Pearls

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If you haven’t read the modern parable the title alludes to, it’s here: What Are You Hanging Onto?

Would you ever look at a sobbing child who is being bullied at school and yell at her for crying, telling her that’s why no one likes her? Would you ever say those words to a child you love dearly and have authority over? A child who respects you and looks to you for guidance, protection, and comfort?

I was that sobbing child. The person who uttered those words never remembers saying and doing such hurtful things, but those words were uttered, for they burned deep into my heart and soul. The message drilled into me repeatedly was if you’re not happy, fake it. If you’re not perfect, fake it. You’re not likable let alone lovable unless you’re happy and have it all together. I tried my best to obey this teaching, but I wasn’t even good enough at faking it. Fake is too contrary to the nature God’s given me.

And I wonder why God saw me as a child forsaken and wrapped his invisible arms around the child I once was and comforted her and loved on her and faithfully there for her through it all. He showed me truth and he showed me mercy. It’s taken God years of showing me loving-kindness to bring me as far as I’ve come. The process has often involved letting enemy assaults bring me to the point of tears, to the point of being so overwhelmed, I can’t hold the pain in anymore and I pour it out before God, often while prostrate, on my knees, or in the fetal position.
That’s when something amazing happens. God sees me at my worst, my ugliest, my most broken and vulnerable. He doesn’t despise me. He doesn’t yell at me. He doesn’t kick me where it will hurt most when I’m already in distress. He is there, quietly listening, quietly hurting with me. Still loving me, still seeing everything good that he can make me into and do through me.

When I feel ugly, God calls me beautiful. When I feel inconsistent, God calls me faithful (to him, he doesn’t pretend I don’t struggle in the flesh.) When I feel unlovable, God calls me beloved. When I feel like a failure, God calls me forgiven. Not only that, he gently encourages me to get up and keep going. We’ll keep working on it together.

God does not play favorites with his children. What he does for me, he’ll do for you, too.

If you’ve been taught to fake it, and are better at it than me, if you ever want the real thing, you need to confess this bad habit to God and learn the right way to take our thoughts captive. The way Christians with dysfunctional backgrounds try to do that only serves to release not only bad thoughts, but negative emotions into the wilds of our subconscious. Instead, stare the tiger in the eye, admit you feel/think it, and give it over to God. Ask God to show you what hides in your heart and get it out in the open between you, where he can begin the work of healing you. Give up your fake joy and fake perfection so he can begin giving you real joy and continue the work he’s begun of truly perfecting you.

Which person do you like more? Someone who seems to always be happy and seems to always have it all together, or someone who is honest, humble, and strong enough to show their weaknesses? While humans do prefer confidence to insecurity and hopeful outlooks to negative outlooks, we prefer humble to prideful and honest to dishonest. Further, the closer we come to perfection, the more painfully aware of our imperfections we are, and fake perfect people rarely are perfect at showing God’s grace. So I suspect most of us in truth stand to be more likable by being real. If nothing else, hiding our struggles denies God glory when Christ brings us through those fires and gives us real peace and true joy.

“Haters Gonna Hate” or “Seek First the Kingdom”

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Dear Andrea,

Some fellow Christians I know and love have said critical things about Christians having their own “Christianese” language, their own books and movies,  their own methods for finding a spouse, etc. They accuse fellow believers who try to live according to the Word and defy the ways of our secular culture of living in a bubble and can be so harsh and condemning. It is hurtful and confusing when Christians say such things. What should I do?

Yours,

Gentle Reader

Dear Gentle Reader,

Christians having their own Christian culture isn’t wrong. In fact, the Bible says we are a holy nation, citizens of spiritual Israel, and we should live like it. We are called to forsake the culture of the Children of Darkness and walk as Children of the Light. The Word warns us also that the Children of Darkness sometimes falsely claim to be Christians. You can spot such wolves in sheep’s clothing and their disciples by the fact they call themselves  our brothers but openly hate us, lack the fruits of the Spirit, and walk in darkness, that is, they wallow in indisputable, textbook sins without any twinge of conscience.

Wolves in sheep’s clothing have blasphemed the Holy Ghost in their hearts and put themselves beyond redemption.  Don’t regard your friends as that sort unless you’ve heard them blaspheme the Holy Spirit with their own lips  and/or have discerned Holy Spirit confirming it as such souls are beyond help and are abusive to the citizens of Heaven. Once God exposes a wolf, maintain minimum safety clearances unless God personally directs you otherwise.

The Bible tells us to remove known wolves from the local church so they don’t poison the whole body, but we must leave them alone otherwise. Our brothers who’ve been taken captive by the enemy may look a lot like them, and we don’t want to mistakenly shoot our own brainwashed POWs.

So assume they’re POWs being brainwashed into attacking their own country and pray for them to have their eyes opened and their hearts convicted that they should be Citizens of Heaven first and allow the Holy Spirit to both reveal to them and assimilate them into the culture of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now, there are three basic problems with Christians and Culture:

1) We remain so separate from the mainstream cultures of the various nations our people have dual citizenship in, we have no contact with outsiders.

This is the problem the enemy gets the above POWs focused on. He distorts it in an attempt to keep them from allowing God to fully assimilate them into the Kingdom of Heaven, a tactic that renders the victim ineffective at best.

2) We’re so assimilated into the mainstream cultures of the nations of our earthly citizenship, those who don’t have dual citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven can’t tell that we do.

All Christians who weren’t raised by parents already fairly assimilated in the Kingdom of Heaven suffer this problem at their rebirth. Even Christians raised in the Kingdom from their physical birth who remain in it have their blind spots where they’re not really in line with Kingdom ways, but think they are. None of us are off the hook here, in terms of the lesser degrees of this extreme. If we’re prone to problem 1), Satan attempts to distract us by tempting us to focus on this one. I’m afraid I have direct personal experience with that.

3) We treat outsiders like they should of course be in the know on Christians’ language, traditions, values, beliefs, and expect them to know and adhere to the rules of a Kingdom they haven’t been born into.

This is another problem Satan wants us to focus on, but he doesn’t mind if we’re guilty of it in our own way, so long as we only take issue with others’ ways of messing up here. His end goal is to get us to accept the deceitful “solutions” he offers us that again at best will neutralize us as a threat to him.

The truth is, when a non-Christian steps into a Christian’s space, they should feel like they’ve crossed over an international border and entered a foreign country, as they sort of have. The Kingdom of Heaven is wherever its citizens abide. However, we should always be kind and respectful to strangers and help them navigate our peculiar, foreign land as best as we know how.  To convince them to become citizens of Heaven and embrace life in our culture, they need to feel welcomed, but they also need to see a clear difference between our way and the way they’ve already got and be shown, through our testimonies of what God has done for us, proof that God’s way works where theirs doesn’t.

Our concepts of love and right and wrong are extremely different from our enemies’ concepts,  though, and some Children of Darkness are hardened past the point of redemption. No matter what we do, “Haters  gonna hate ” if we’re seeking first the Kingdom of God that we’re naturalized citizens of. So let us learn to rejoice and be glad when we suffer for the Kingdom’s sake, for God will reward us  greatly, and restore to us in full everything we lost for Christ’s sake.

Mercy, Peace, and Repentance

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And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:76-79

John the Baptist’s father Zechariah is prophesying over his newborn son about the Baptist’s ministry. That the Baptist was the forerunner of the messiah who prepared the way before him is something any Bible literate person knows. That his ministry and message were noticeably similar to the prophets of old may not be so familiar, but what stood out to me is why. John was called to raise awareness of the need for salvation and the availability of it via the forgiveness of sins. Indeed, the central message of John’s ministry—and Christ’s own first sermons—was to repent, to strive to cease doing evil and replace it with good.

On the lips of believers today, the message of repentance that God spoke through Jesus, John, and the Old Testament prophets of old is condemned as hateful, legalistic, intolerant, and divisive by the world and Christians taken captive by the world. If we don’t consider what John the Baptist actually preached, we can miss here what giving people knowledge of salvation and forgiveness of sins looked like for John. If we do, we’ll also miss the reason God gives here for sending John to preach, “you’re going to burn unless you forsake your evil ways, come to the water of repentance and new life, and get your sins washed away by the blood of the Lamb.”

God cites his motives for sending out anyone to preach repentance being not judgment, hatred, and division, but the loving, compassionate mercy that brings us the literal sunrise and the “Sunrise” of Jesus, who came to offer the light of life and truth to those dying in the darkness of sin (all of us at one time.) Not only that, this message calls everyone to forsake the sin that truly brings division and warring and let God grow his righteousness in us.

At the same time, those who are in the light cannot live fully at peace with those in the darkness. We can try to respectfully work and live in harmony with those who don’t have God’s grace at work in them and aren’t repentant and allowing God to change their ways, but that will inevitably become like unequally yoked oxen. The strong oxen pulls the weak oxen the way the strong wants to go. If the captive to sin can accept working with us within our boundaries, that’s one thing. More often, though, we will be the ones who forsake seeking to please God and instead seek to please the world, often on excuses of love, peace, duty, or evangelism. True, there will be times when holding true to your convictions will bring strife and division no matter how respectful and kind you are about it, but that’s why the Bible adds “as much as lies within you” to “live at peace with all men.”

Peace with God should be our number one priority. Anything less is idolatry and spiritual adultery. God wants there to be peace on Earth and good will between humans, too, and it breaks his heart when people who live in darkness forsake him and they or the circumstances demand that we choose between their way and God’s way and hence between living at peace with God and living at peace with them. It should break ours, too, but God still requires to be first place in our lives. Remember, Jesus himself warned us that following him would separate us from the world and bring strife and animosity between the adopted children God has freed from our former bondage and those still enslaved to sin and the evil one.

Lord, give us the wisdom, discernment, and grace we need to walk in your ways and repent of evil. Give us the courage to hold fast to the beliefs and convictions you have taught us from your word. Help us to be respectful, kind, and sincerely seek the best interests of all people, including our enemies. Teach us how to deal with unbelievers and other captives to sin peaceably as much as lies within us, but without compromising to please man and returning in any degree to the slavery you’ve saved us out of. We pray also that we would not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but that we would do the work of the Kingdom boldly, in whatever way the Holy Spirit has sincerely called, empowered, and equipped us to labor.

Feeling Like a Stalled Project God Has Shelved? For you. :)

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“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” — Philippians 1:6

Sometimes, when God has began a good work in us,  it seems to take forever, especially with emotional healing and overcoming all sorts of life challenges. We want an instant miracle, not a painful spiritual growth process that can have such a slow pace that it makes rush hour traffic look like its racing on a NASCAR track. We may feel like we’re getting no where and wonder if we’ve misunderstood what God wanted to do in our lives, or if God has given up on us. If what we’re struggling with is a sin, we may hope that he’ll let us into Heaven still prone to sin, or be afraid he’ll toss us into the cosmic trash.

Phil 1:6 answers: Never! God will never give up on us. Sometimes we quit on him, though, and God’s promises often have conditions. Let’s take a look at the context of this verse and what else Paul says here to his original audience, the first century Christians in the city of Philipi.

After his salutation and greetings, he tells them in verses three through five that he joyfully thanks God for them in his prayers because they have been his partners in spreading the gospel from the very beginning of his ministry. In verse seven, Paul adds that it is right for him to have such great love for them that he is sure that God will finish the work he’s begun in the Philipians. Why?

His evidence is that the Philipians have received and experienced the same grace that Paul has–and taken an active part in God’s grace. They’ve stood by him while he was imprisoned for the faith and defended and confirmed the gospel. Confirmed here means to give someone new assurance of the validity of the gospel. It corresponds with defending the gospel and is a non-violent offensive by the Church against the forces of darkness.

The text doesn’t state who the gospel is being defended against. Neither does it state who the gospel is being confirmed to. Paul is likely thinking externally. What would be visible to him is the Philippians’ defending the gospel against its human enemies and confirming it to those questioning it with open hearts. For many of us, though, what is most vital to us staying on Christ’s team until Christ is victorious is defending the gospel against the lies Satan tells us and confirming the truth of the gospel to ourselves.

Lord, we grow weary, we become impatient. Sometimes we’re tempted to give up and quit and learn to live with the brokenness or emptiness in our lives. It seemed like you’d gotten started healing us, but there have been stumbling blocks and obstacles. We’re starting to wonder if you ever really wanted to fill in this empty, broken area of our lives, or to set us free from a sin or bad habit that has hindered us emotionally, spiritually, physically, and/or mentally. Thank you for this confirmation that you have started a good work in us. Thank you for your reminder that you may not do it as we imagined, but you will continue to work on us and will complete us at latest upon your return for your bride. While we wait in our present weakness, Lord, fill us with your spirit’s power, teach us how to refute the enemy’s lies and rely upon you for strength. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Envy Those Who Rejoice, Rebuke Those Who Mourn (not)

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“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” — Romans 12:15

Most of us immediately will recognize and acknowledge that the Bible says envying those who rejoice is sinful rather than godly behavior, but most of us honestly believe they’re doing what the Bible tells them to do when they rebuke those who mourn for mourning. We think they’ve cried long enough, that it’s time for them to pull up their bootstraps, stop “dwelling” on that, and move on.

I’ve even heard well-educated pastors who ought to know better say that we should rebuke brothers and sisters who mourn longer than we think is proper. The problem with that is it is quite arrogant of us to presume to know how long a mourner should weep when we aren’t going through what the mourner is–even if we’ve been through our own sorrows. We have no way of knowing what is in their heart, whether they’re wallowing in misery or pouring it out to God.

That’s why the Bible doesn’t tell us to take it upon ourselves judge whether someone has mourned long enough. It says to mourn with them and weep with them for however long they’re mourning. Even if you’re rejoicing in your own life, don’t demand the mourner stop mourning and rejoice with you. That’s not your job. What you’re called to do is to mourn with them.

That said, “rejoice with those who rejoice” also doesn’t have a clause after it saying, “unless you are in mourning.” When we’re in mourning, and a blessing comes to Sister Pollyanna as it always does, and she’s rejoicing and excited about it again, we may be sure  that Paul’s thorn in his side was a Pollyanna. We can react with anger and jealousy and resentment and punish our fellow believer for being blessed when we’re hurting.

That is not only wrong, it is our own wrong attitude that is hurting us not our Sister Pollyanna. Mourning does not make it any less a sin for us to be envious, jealous, and bitter toward those who have what we lack. It is not Sister Pollyanna’s job to walk on eggshells around us to avoid setting us off. We’re the ones using our sorrow and pain as an excuse to wallow in a sin that ranks up there right beside adultery, murder, and idolatry. We’re the ones responsible for our own attitude and our own behavior, not Sister Pollyanna.

She probably isn’t really a Pollyanna at all. She may have suffered long and hard herself and has finally gotten victories that she should rejoice in and thank the Lord for. We have a scriptural duty to rejoice with her, though we will need to first acknowledge our stinky inclinations to God and ask him to give us the strength to obey this command and genuinely praise God with her.

She should also acknowledge to God any times she’s lacked compassion and ask him to give her the strength and wisdom to know when to put an arm around us and when to weep with us and let us know she understands we’re going through a hard time right now and that she’s praying for us.

Keep in mind, these are not exclusive states, I promise. It may feel impossible right now to both rejoice and mourn, but God can give you the grace, compassion, and love to both cry and pour out to God your own heartbreak and to genuinely celebrate and praise God for the blessings of others.  God has brought me to a place where I can be genuinely happy for friends who get pregnant and rejoice with them even while I’m mourning the children we couldn’t conceive. When a mother loses her baby after conception, I am able to cry with her rather than wallow in a perverse, irrational envy that she got to know her child at all. It takes time and prayer to get there, but you will.

Lord, wherever we are today, give us  the wisdom, strength, humility and compassion we need to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep. Show us any wrong attitudes in our hearts toward either those who weep or those who rejoice. Enable us to feel safe confessing our faults to you and seeking from you the grace and power we need to walk in your ways whether it a season of joy or sorrow. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.