Five Lies You Shouldn’t Ever Believe

Many of us listen to lies that we really shouldn’t ever believe.  The following are five examples.

1.  You are not worth very much.  This message may have had its beginning with a harsh father or an overpowering uncle.  Years ago in Kansas City, I heard a father next door scream at his five-year-old.  He then began to tell her how sorry and worthless she was, using vile, degrading language.  Years later, I wonder about the memories that this young adult harbors.  Perhaps it is the bully who communicates to you just how stupid you are and treats you with hostility and contempt.  These are all lies.  The truth is that you are precious in the eyes of God, created in his image.  You are deeply loved by God.

2.  Your past mistakes disqualify you from God ever choosing to work through you.  The evil one would like for you to believe that no one is like you.  No one has made the mistakes you have.  No good person is ever tempted the way you are.  You may think, “What is wrong with me?  Surely no other person is like me.”  Yet, God’s grace is greater than the week you spent in jail, greater than the drug issues you had in the past, greater than the affair you had five years ago.  God’s forgiveness is larger than any failure in your past.  Your past does not have to define you for the rest of your life.  Your past may be littered with rebellion and sin.  Yet, through his powerful forgiveness and grace as he sees your brokenness, God can use you in the future.

What I Heard When I Began to Listen

question-markI will not forget these stories.  

I was a young minister.  I began preaching for a small church in North Alabama. In this community there were many, many churches. I was grateful for the opportunity to serve in this congregation.  I preached each week.  I taught Bible classes.  I  began to meet with people and learn to listen to their stories.

I spent a lot of time listening.  Sometimes it might be a conversation that took place on the parking lot after church. Or, it might a conversation that took place over a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop.  I met with some at lunch, some in my office and others in their homes.  I learned to listen. In fact, I learned that many people longed to have someone really listen to their story.

What I heard:

Many men and women are deeply wounded.  So often those wounds came through their own families of origin. Perhaps they had a domineering father who was heavy handed with his wife and children.  Sometimes a mother refused to draw near to her children emotionally.  With other people, these wounds seemed to focus adults who portrayed a commitment to the Lord (on Sunday’s and Wednesday evenings) while living a very different lifestyle during the week.  One person told me of a father, had several “emotional affairs” with women, which seem to be one of the family secrets.  At the same time, he was heavily involved in the life of their church.  The children (adults now) have been deeply wounded by this behavior.

Many men and women bear lingering guilt from their own sins.  I heard from people who wondered if there was anyone else like them in the congregation.  Sexual sin, drug use, drunkenness, stealing from work, abandoning one’s wife and children, etc.  Many people wondered if they will not be forever tainted by what they have done.  Others attended Sunday morning assemblies and concluded that others just didn’t seem to have any problems.

Many men and women wonder if there really is any hope for someone like themselves.  Many of us might be amazed if we knew the stories of people who are in churches with them each Sunday. I remember the beautiful young woman who told my wife and me that she was called “lard bucket” (as a child) by her father because of her weight issues.  One mother raised her children to deceive their father, telling them to not tell him what she bought at the store.  Some grew up with families that were a mess and they, as children, spent their childhood and emotional reserves trying to keep their home together.

Do You Ever Wish You Could Have a Do-Over?

mulligan2

Do you ever wish you could have a do-over?

As a teenager, I used to play golf frequently at Tenison Golf Course in Dallas.  One of the first times I ever played, I hit a terrible drive off the tee.   Someone said, “Take a mulligan.”  I learned that “mulligan” was just another word for “do-over.”

There is nothing like a do-over.  Grace through Jesus is the ultimate do-over.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

A do-over is what so many of us want.

The parents who are broken hearted over the lifestyle of their teenage son or daughter.

The father whose son witnessed his unholy lifestyle and now, years later, the son is imitating the father.

The business person who in a moment of panic chose to be dishonest on his taxes.

The young man who wishes he had never looked at his first pornographic website.

For many years I have been listening to stories.  One man sat in my office and stared at the floor. He looked awful.  I suspect he had not slept all night.

“I need to tell you something.”

Are You Comfortable With This Person?

Pretense

When someone refers to another as “unpretentious” it is often quite a compliment. Such a statement is not typically made with cool detachment but with great pleasure. After all, unpretentious people are not only people we like but are often people who cause us to feel good when we are with them.

Meanwhile, we may know also know some people who we might describe as “pretentious.” These people perceive themselves to be important and have a way of being with others that may cause them to feel critiqued and evaluated.

I recall a conversation with a woman who had walked into a social setting where she was to meet a new friend. She sensed the eyes of others staring at her. She felt as if others were thinking, “Who is she and who invited her here?”

Meanwhile, her new friend came into the room and warmly greeted her guest. In spite of the rather cool beginning, she actually enjoyed the evening. The nice evening was attributed to her friend whom she describes as being completely unpretentious.

Have you been in situations like this where you were put at ease by another’s lack of self-importance?

When You Fail to Show Respect

respect-dotRespect.

I suppose it may not a word that immediately gets your attention.  Perhaps it doesn’t have much buzz or flair.

Yet the importance of showing another respect is huge.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

  • A young husband is condescending to his wife, making her feel as if she is less intelligent than he is.
  • A teenager has a confrontation with his dad.  He tells his dad to “shut up” and walks away.  Thirty minutes earlier the boy was in a Wednesday evening Bible class.
  • A young woman is disrespectful to her mother-in-law, speaking to her in way that is demeaning and hurtful.
  • A man disrespects his wife, flirting with women at the office.  One woman at the office remarks, “You mean he’s married?”
  • A minister degrades the elders to others in the congregation and then kisses up to them in an elders meeting.  Disrespect.
  • An older man in the church abruptly approaches a young minister and says something insulting and crude in front of a visitor.

I am not suggesting that people needed to be “nicer.”

When Perfection Becomes an Obstacle

David Seamands, a longtime Christian counselor, told of a young woman whose mom always demanded perfection. She was never good enough for mom’s praise. When she was 6 or 7 she had a piano recital. She had worked hard and practiced and practiced. On the day of the recital she performed her piece flawlessly. Her teacher leaned over and whispered, “You were perfect!” The young girl then sat down by her mother who said nothing. Ten minutes later her mom finally said, “Your slip was showing.”   perfection.jpg


I wonder if some of us do not have a similar view of God. You do your best and then expect him, like this girl’s mother to say, “Your slip was showing.” No matter what you do, or how well you do it, it is not enough. Such a view of God, is not only inaccurate, but can be actually be paralyzing.


I remember sitting in my first graduate Bible class at Abilene Christian University, a number of years ago. It was “Introduction to the New Testament.” The class was full of students who seemed to know more than I knew. The professor would refer to various scholars and other students would nod their heads knowingly. Sometimes a student would raise his hand and interject thoughts from a book he had read recently.


I sat there feeling as if I was at the back of the line, behind most of the other students. It seemed they knew so much more.


Eventually, I finished school, and we moved back to Alabama where I began preaching for a small church full of patient people. I was new, and I wanted to do well. Yet, even though I had just begun my work there, I felt hopelessly behind. I wrestled with these kinds of questions:

  • How can I read all of these books?
  • How can I know everything that is in the Bible?
  • How do I know when I have sufficiently prepared a sermon or Bible class?
  • What if I steer someone in the wrong direction? Is this really the best answer to give them?
  • What am I supposed to do?
  • Am I doing this (ministry) right?
  • Am I praying the way I should?
  • Am I depending on God the way I should?
  • What if I don’t do ministry very well?
  • What if I fail?


Then, someone would call our church office. They wanted to ask a question about the Bible.

“I just thought I would call you. I figured you would probably know the answer to this question.”

“Right.”


I wanted to do my work right but for the longest I was so focused on perfection and not making a mistake that it became paralyzing. It was hard for me to finish anything without worrying about whether or not it was good enough.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Years later, I am thankful to be free from that kind of bondage! I am glad to be free to give the time and effort that I have and to trust God to be at work in whatever I have to offer. I am glad to be free to trust God instead of my own performance. I am glad to seek excellence but to be satisfied with what I have to offer, trusting that God will bless.


Question:

Can you describe a time when you found seeking this kind of perfection to be an obstacle or even paralyzing?


What the Joy and Pain of Child Rearing Finally Taught Me

If you want some insight into the heart of God, have a child.Family.jpg


There is nothing like receiving the sweet love of a child, no matter the age. Yet, the reverse is also true. There is sometimes no pain like what you can receive at the hand of a child.


For several years, when I came home from work late in the afternoon, my children would come running to the door to greet me. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” I loved that moment! Then one day I came home and no one greeted me at the door. I stepped inside our house and could hear the loud volume of the television. Both girls sat glued to whatever was on television. I said, “I’m home!” They said, “Shhhh Daddy, we’re watching TV.” Being my mature self, I pouted, walked into the kitchen and asked Charlotte, “What’s wrong with them?”

They were growing up.

Our daughters are now grown. They love Charlotte and me. I am confident of this. Let me warn you, if you plan to rear children, get ready for incredible love. Yet, also realize that you have just opened yourself up to be hurt at times. It is very difficult to rear a child to adulthood without experiencing some pain.


  • Maybe your child rolls his eyes as you talk.
  • Maybe she raises her voice and talks back to you.
  • Maybe you are realizing that your adult son is caught up in a particular sin.


Someone might say to your child, “Just make sure your parents don’t find out what you are doing.” That seems to be the age-old answer to human failure. Hide behind the tree while the father walks through the garden (Genesis 3).

Having children can help you get a better grasp on understanding God as your father. Who is God? He is the father who is disappointed when I sin and yet he runs to greet me when I come home. Sometimes I have brought God joy as I reflected his character. Yet, at other times, I have disappointed him. In spite of it all, he runs to greet me. He has not given up on me.

Today, know that God still loves to hear his children say, “Father, I’m home.”


Question:

What has being a parent taught you about God?


Being Judgmental Doesn’t Have to Take So Long

It was October 1995. I had been in Bethesda, Maryland, at a seminar for almost a week. Finally, it was time to go home. Late that afternoon, I flew out of Baltimore and changed planes in Chicago.

After landing in Chicago, I boarded a connecting flight to Austin. As I sat in my seat waiting for the departure, person after person passed by, apparently planning to sit in the back. Numerous people walked by and I began to wonder if maybe I would actually fly out of Chicago with no one in the middle seat.

Then I saw him.

Southwest.jpg

He wore a business suit, stylishly long hair, and a dark tan. I saw him coming and decided that he was probably full of himself. No doubt he was the kind of guy who would be judgmental of everyone else who didn’t make as much money or wasn’t dressed as nicely. (How is that for being judgmental?) Sure enough, he stopped at my row and asked if he could have the middle seat. I moved so he could sit down.

I didn’t tell him I had already decided that I didn’t like him.

We soon began talking. He appeared to be very affluent, urbane, and articulate. At one point he asked me what I did for a living. He seemed genuinely intrigued that I was a minister. He said he liked the worship service at his church. The service was very succinct and tight. He said he always learned something and always got something out of it. He went on to say that he especially liked his Sunday school. The adult classes were primarily led by four of their ministers. These were very good classes and they dealt with topics like how God works in one’s life or how a Christian should handle his/her money. Recently, two ministers had a class on Christian themes in recent movies.

He said, “I enjoy going to these classes. On Sunday morning I usually go to two classes. You can go to a class with 100 people and keep going back and meeting various people. It is relevant and I come away having learned something.” He went on to say that it was very different from the kind of Bible class where you open your Bible and read verse by verse.

On Wednesday nights the people who regularly attend the church are sort of expected to be there. Usually there will be some kind of message by their pastor. Several comments will be made about the church and there will be a meal at a nominal price.

He then went on to tell me that someone led a very interesting class on the 12 steps. He said his church takes the approach that people out there are battered and bruised in some way. One does not have to be poor or from the other side of the tracks to have experienced this.


He looked me in the eye and said, “All of us have experienced being bruised or battered in some way.”


I should not have put him in a category before even meeting him. Because I had “sized him up” early, my attitude toward him and my view of him were seriously slanted. The man I assumed to be arrogant was more humble than me. In fact, his humility exposed my own arrogance and judgmental spirit.

That evening, while traveling from Chicago to Austin, I learned something about humility (or perhaps my lack of it) from a man who appeared to have it all together but whose life displayed far more of a transparent, humble spirit than my own. It doesn’t take very long to be judgmental. Hopefully, I will remember that snap judgments may cause me to miss someone whose life is being transformed by God.


Question:

Do you recall a time when you thought you had figured out someone, only to later realize that you had misjudged that person?

You Don’t Have to Be Your History

During the last month, I read Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor, a wonderful biography by Brad Gooch,. Flannery.jpeg

In the book, Gooch tells the story of O’Connor’s friendship with Betty Hester. For nine years, they corresponded by letter. In these letters they discussed matters of theology, philosophy, and the content of the various books they were reading.

At one point in their friendship, Hester revealed to O’Connor the details of what she called her “history of horror.” She had a very painful childhood. Her father abandoned the family when she was very young. When she was thirteen years old, she witnessed the suicide of her mother. Neighbors, believing that her mother was playing a joke, refused to call the police. Later, she joined the army, only to then be dishonorably discharged for her sexual behavior.

O’Connor’s response to Hester is classic:

“Where you are wrong is in saying that you are a history of horror. The meaning of the Redemption is precisely that we do not have to be our history.” (p. 282)

Wow.

Now I like that.

Far too many people underestimate the power of God’s redemption to change their stories. Consequently they believe their history has doomed them and forever tarnished them.

You can often see it in our eyes. They have experienced failure and consequently seem to think they will forever be among the ranks of those who are losers. I have heard these statements in 32 years of ministry with churches:

  • “Look at me! I am so messed up! Obese. Addicted. Self-medicated. I am an anxious mess.”
  • “You can’t tell me there is hope. I’ve messed up every relationship I’ve ever been in. If you don’t want your life messed up, stay away from me!”
  • “God is punishing me for the abortion I had while in high school. I know he is!”
  • “How will I ever be able to look my parents in the eye after what I’ve done?”
  • “I would die if my children or wife knew my secret. I’m so ashamed.”
  • “There is so much mess and dysfunction in my family. Will my marriage be this way? Will I mess up my children?”

Yet, O’Connor is right: “The meaning of the Redemption is precisely that we do not have to be our history.”

As Christ-followers, who are experiencing the Redemption of God, our identity does not come from our history. Nor does our identity come from our behavior, whether it has been good or shoddy. Nor does our identity determined by how many problems we have in our past. We don’t have to be our history.


Redemption means that my most shameful moment does not define me.


What defines me and what shapes my identity is Jesus. There is nothing in my past that he is unable to overcome. There is no failure that he is not willing to forgive.


Question:

Why are we often tempted to believe that our history defines us?