A Way Out of the Mess

I have been discouraged. Let me be clear and honest. Moments of discouragment often come after what I refer to as mountaintop moments. When you get up to the top, you have to come down, right? Anyone familiar with this terrain, whether naturally or spiritually knows there is a valley down below.

In that valley, Satan waits. He hates mountaintop moments. He beats you up. Tears you down. Exposes all your missteps and character flaws on the way down-because he is hoping you don’t have the strength or desire to climb anymore mountains.

It had been that way for about three weeks. No desire to write. An anxious mood. Weary. On edge. The world, and all its mess weighing heavy. Add all this to Satan’s conistent reminders of my own past messes.

In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. Judges 21:25

That’s the reality. It just is. And we can argue that the book of Judges was written 3,000 years ago, and it isn’t relevant. But folks-His Word is alive, active, present. Read the verse again, and tell me it isn’t just as real and present today.

We wander around daily, not turning to our King. Making poor choices, because we are carnal humans bound by our flesh, and our earthly desires. We do whatever we feel in the moment. “This feels so right,” so we continue it. We do what we think our friends, families, or co-workers would approve of-to be more liked. We “go with the flow,” not having any clear direction, and make all kinds of plans, but we never check in with the King.

All of the messes I have gotten myself into have all been because I stopped calling on God, didn’t listen to Him, and did things my way. I created my own messes, and my King was gracious enough to get me out of them.

I made choices that led me to destruction, and my King saved me from it.

And He reminded me, as I battled through the valley-focusing my attention on Him, and not that dirty liar that this is the exact reason I write. To share the mess, along with the triumphs. To share the mess, and the One who saves from it. To share the truth about the journey through faith that has mountaintop moments and some valleys, but a King who gets us to and through each and every one.

Are you ready to focus your eyes on Him today? Or are you going to keep doing things your way?

My True Freedom

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17, NLT

I have a love and hate relationship with phone storage, especially when it comes to storing pictures. I have tried every automatic back-up service recommended as the greatest, and it never fails-I always end up with the dreaded “running out of storage message.” It makes me long for the days of point, shoot, develop, and scrapbook all your beloved memories.

The latest dreaded message came from my Google photos app. The app I had downloaded because I was tired of Apple asking me to pay for more photo storage. The app that was now also telling me I was running out of storage, because it was threatening to freeze my email accounts if I did not, well you know-pay for more.

Oh, how we become so chained to our phones, and our need to store those precious memories.

I spent several weeks going through about 4 years worth of pictures, and I noticed something I was also chained to. Not the storing of memories. I think those are OK, if they don’t distract us from simply living in the moment of making them. It was all the selfies I used to take. After noticing that in the last year and a half I had maybe taken 10, compared to the hundreds I had taken previously I began to wonder “why?” Why was I so enamored with posting so many pictures of myself. And if not of myself, of my accomplishments? Of every little thing I did to help or serve others?

I posted my first one yesterday, aside from maybe a profile picture, or a picture about my hair…in I don’t even know how long. In my curls, pearls, and classic “rocket pops.” I thought about freedom, and what we may think today this freedom means. Sure, it has a historical context; this is the reason we celebrate, and eat hot dogs, and shoot sparkly rockets into the sky; but really? Is there a deeper freedom we could celebrate today?

I know I can.

See those were not simply a bunch of pictures I was sorting through to delete, they were a testimony to a yoke of slavery by which I was bound. The yoke of approval and validation. I was chained to a desire and a need to be approved, liked, and appreciated by the world.

Through each post I sought confirmation that I was seen. That I was valued. Each time I shared some accomplishment, I recieved confirmation that I was doing well. Praise. Approval. Each time I shared my comings, goings, work, service-I was being validated with each like and comment. My ego got a boost, and I received confirmation that I was doing something right. That I WAS right. That I was worthy. Special. Important.

Because, here is the truth. I was also bound by the lies of Satan. A prisoner to the horrible thoughts he screamed at me. And the approval of the world, told me something different.

The devil whispered little lies
He tried to steal my victory
But I stared those demons in the eyes
‘Cause these boots gonna crush the enemy. (Zach Williams, “Freedom”)

Until, I began to focus again on the truth. Not what the world thought. Not what Satan said. The truth in His Word. What God said about me. How He approved me. He valued me. He made me special and important, and most of all loved me. And I was set free from the chains of seeking validation from anything outside of Him. Until compliments became something that were nice to receive every now and then, but not sought; because I KNEW my Father was pleased with me. I no longer needed anyone to “please” me with words, praise, or Facebook likes. I was no longer bound by that yoke. I am a prisoner, set free.

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32, NLT

And you can be, too. Maybe for you, those pictures are not what they were to me. Maybe every post, every like, every comment does not give you the attention and value you seek. Maybe that is not your “yoke.” Maybe you are bound to something else that has stolen your freedom. Today could be the day you celebrate true independence. Today could be the day you are finally a prisoner set free. He is waiting for you to drop the chains, and simply ask for it-your freedom, that is.

I do not own rights to video, lyrics, or music.

Fit to Serve Him

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6

“You have been deemed fit.” Those two words-“deemed fit.” They had me sitting in my chair, fighting back choking sobs. For you to understand why, you would have to understand how many times, and for how many years I had felt “unfit.”

It started long ago, really. Society has placed so many rules on how people should look, act, dress, what jobs a person should have-especially if you look a certain way. Especially if you are a woman. If you do happen to secure a new job, there are expectations others have of you, likely based on who your predecessor was. And if you don’t meet these expectations, then you are not worthy. You even get a job description, and sometimes demands are placed on you and listed under that “other duties as assigned” listing that are not quite right, fair, or just. It seems we are always being measured. Sized up. Determined if we are “deemed fit” for whatever starring role we are at any given moment.

The expectations we have of our leaders who preach the word are just as hard to live up to at times. And I have felt the pressure of feeling unfit, unworthy, and useless underneath these unneccessary weights. The pressures placed on me by manmade expectations. How I wore my hair. Whether short or with color. My piercings. My tattoos. My voice. My dress. The programs I decided to run. If I moved too fast towards a vision, or too slow. Nothing ever seemed good enough. But I moved to please people anyway, until I lost someone important.

Me. I lost me. The me whom God created, because with all the people-pleasing I had no idea who she even was.

When God calls us to ministry, He calls us with the unique talents He has equipped us with, and if we let it, the world can highjack these gifts, and tell us we need to be, do, and use something totally different. And that is what I did.

I spent years doing what others wanted because it was always done before, and it would make others happy. I lost confidence, passion, vision, and stayed silent in an effort-that’s right to please others and keep them happy. And I even questioned if God got it right after all, and contemplated quitting.

But I didn’t quit.

It took almost 8 years, and a year in which I was actually not deemed fit, and had to be mentored for a year. A year in which I dug deep, and searched internally, and asked God to “search me and know my heart” and reveal anything that needed to be corrected (Psalm 139:23). Long, painful processes in which I felt unworthy to get to the culimination of being ordained in the Church of the Nazarene as an Elder this weekend.

I was asked several times this weekend what it felt like to get to this point. To stand up front. To be prayed for. To receive the ordination certificate. Recieive this prize.

“Like your wedding day?” No. Not quite. I also performed a wedding this weekend. And no, I remember mine as well, and I wouldn’t put them in the same category. You plan differently. You choose who is there. The moments, months, days before are (usually) filled with joy.

“Like a graudation?” No. I mean, maybe for me. I was the first to graduate from a 4 year school in my family. Definitely to get a masters. So yes, triumphant. And, going to school with 3 kids and a job was hard. But…still not the same battle this was. I never contemplated quitting.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.  And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing. 2 Timonthy 4:7-8, NLT

I turned to my husband right before we walked to be prayed over and I told him: “I know what it feels like. It feels like the scene in Rocky. When he defeats…Creed?” He quickly corrected me…”The Russian, Drago. This is like Drago. Good versus Evil.”

Yes, and instead of receiving a heavyweight belt. I received a crown of righteousness. Because as the General Superintendent laid his hands on my head and prayed, that is what it felt like. Like I was being crowned.

I had fought a fight, because the enemy wanted my doubts about my calling to overtake my soul. He would have been tickled pink if I had quit. But I didn’t. I kept the faith, and remembered what the Word had taught me, and I remained faithful to Him. To the gifts and talents He had given me, and the mission He had called me to, and the prize awaited me.

Have I arrived? No! But, I am a living, breathing testimony that if God can do this for me-He can do this for so many like me. I am privileged and honored to be called by Him to be his hands and feet.

Will He Be Enough?

It had finally gotten me. The virus that had arrived like the relative that asks to stay for a month or two, and ends up taking up residence for two years instead. And I had been fortunate. Even with home visits, and my time spent in and out of multiple schools, I had scraped by untouched.

And I knew how fortunate I was to not have had the blows so many others did…but this morning? This morning I decided to have a pity party. It had been almost 2 weeks. I had been better. Now? I was feeling bad again. Up all night coughing. I hadn’t even done that the two days I had this stupid virus.

I felt helpless. I felt crummy. For over two years life had been a roller coaster of junk, blows, falls, and endless climbing. Many of these trials also meant I had to look hard. Stare long and hard at myself in the mirror. Realize some of my actions and choices even caused some of the junk. It wasn’t always someone else. It wasn’t even God. It was me.

But now life was looking up. There was light at the end of that long, dark tunnel. I actually liked the girl in the mirror. The girl in the mirror was finally lighter, freer, happy with who she had become, and not seeking approval. She was seeing beyond the brush in the forest, and now seeing fruit hanging from the branches.

And also having a pity party on the way to work because she couldn’t stop coughing. It seemed so silly when I heard these words:

Going through a storm but I won’t go down. I hear Your voice carried in the rhythm of the wind to call me out. You would cross an ocean so I wouldn’t drown. You’ve never been closer than You are right now. You are Jireh, You are enough. Jireh, You are enough. And I will be content in every circumstance. You are Jireh, You are enoughElevation Worship

Maybe it wasn’t so silly. I knew what mere colds did to my body, in particular. Maybe not everyone else’s. I knew at times not to expect good, because disappointment lurked in the shadows. It was how my brain was wired. So when good came, suffering was inevitable.

But there was always something else there: God.

Would I be content? Even if…if every supposed “good thing” were taken, would He still be enough? Or would I throw a pity party because it didn’t turn out like I expected?

I have thrown many a pity party. I have lamented, cried out, and grumbled when things did not go as planned. Had little faith in the One who knows much more than I do. And while suffering still endured, because well, life…there was still joy. I still made it out OK. I still made it through. In every circumstance.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. 1 Peter 1:6-7, NLT

Truly glad. In every storm. Every trial. Every circumstance. Even the silly ones. Knowing He is there when you feel alone, and is comforting you during your pity party. He has provided before, and will do it again.

He is enough.

I do not own rights to music, lyrics or video.

Get Focused on the New

This means that the anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The old life is gone, a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17

The mere fact that I began writing this today, and failed to notice I am repeating a daily verse, is most likely evidence that I have been distracted. Distracted by a number of issues. Tasks. Pressing matters. Some of these tasks have been good things. Even “God” things. Some due to illness. Some of these are courtesy of the tools the devil uses to keep us focused on him instead of God.

Whether good, God, or other-they are distractions, nonetheless. When the old habit of picking up your phone first thing in the morning overpowers picking up your Bible. When the work deadlines become greater, and the finish line to get there takes precedence over your usual study routine. Your old patterns of sleeping an hour later instead of getting up to pray with Him get in. And then some of those other old patterns creep back in-some you gave up when you put on your new Christ nature.

You are now distracted.

Though, yes, Satan most definitely uses temptation. The sin kind. The obvious one to keep us distracted from seeking time with God, he can also use less obvious tools, as well. Some may even come in the form of “good” things. Things that can be useful in the kingdom, but if we do them in the spirit of our old selves, the selves from which God redeemed us-then these things are no longer “good.”

For us anyway.

They are now distractions. From OUR greater purpose. They may be good for someone else. They may have been good at another time. But for who we are now-not so much.

Writing is this “good” thing for me. Yet, why had it become my distraction?

See…this new thing God had done in me? It had inspired a desire to tell others about this new thing. To write all these thoughts I had about Him as I spent time with Him. And to not keep those to myself. It bred in me a desire to stop being liked by the world, and to embrace the person God liked. Loved, even. Writing sparked joy. It lived inside me, and I loved this person who God had created, and it took a long time to get there. A long time to make sense of who she was, and how He was using her.

But distraction made this “new” thing “old” again. Something to check off a list. How I deemed myself worthy. Someone to be approved and liked by the masses. Decided I had anything of worth to say based on whether anyone read it, viewed it, or liked it.

Distracted.

It is time to remember who God made “new.” It is time to focus on the woman God turned me into when He made me that way. Not distracted by a duty to read His Word, but captured by the pure desire to learn more about Him, to spend time with Him, to listen for Him, and to write about those experiences because it brings me joy. And in doing so, I am no longer distracted. In fact, I in turn irritate Satan.

It is time to focus on this joy so I can be fueled again by His purpose, not by the old desire to be approved by people, but only by the One who has given me a desire to do something with the gifts He has given me. Those things I can only do when I am focused on Him, and less distracted.

So…for a time, I am writing solely for me (well, for Him). Solely in my quiet time, without screens. No laptop. No agenda. No laid-out plan. No checklist. Letting Him lead. Letting Him guide. Sharing as He directs.

Undistracted. Completely focused on Him.

Redeemed from the Past

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17

The past. There are times we look back on the past with nothing but nostalgic feelings of good times. We look through scrapbooks of pictures that show happy faces, memories of places we have been, things we have seen. These memories stir up joy, happiness, and even longing for the times where things seemed easier.

The past. Some are still stuck in it. And not the happier moments. Stuck in the pain of past hurts. Past choices. The person we were before. Some may even be people who won’t allow us to let go of these choices. Friends. Relatives. People with whom we work, and navigate through life daily. Not willing to let go of a person we may no longer be.

You know who else won’t let go of the past? Satan. He knows your triggers. He knows your past sin. And just as some people can’t help but remind us-he can’t either.

There are some mistakes we have made. Some jumps we have taken. Some falls. That we don’t want people to know about. And if they do know about them, we don’t want them to be brought up again. Because they aren’t cool scars. They aren’t the kind that make you feel tough. They are the kind that only remind you of a past you thought you escaped. That everyone had forgotten. 

Until something reminds you again.

And I found myself here in the last two weeks. Triggered by so many things from my past. And it was stupid, little stuff. But it was enough to nag at me, until I started focusing on the scars that the past left behind. My sin scars. Not my grace scars. 

So, first-maybe you are wondering what are grace scars? 

Those grace scars. They are the nail-pierced hands of Jesus. They are the scars that bore the sin we try so hard to hide. Others try so hard to remember, and can’t seem to forget. Those are grace scars. And when the past kept coming back to me, I kept forgetting this grace that was given to me because of those scars that Jesus carries.

Because see, this new scar I now have, I don’t like it. Satan uses it to beat me down and make me believe that I am no longer who God believes me to be.

It is on my right wrist. It’s courtesy of surgery I had to have after I broke my wrist from a fall back in October of 2020. I don’t really like to talk about it much. Falls happen. I have fallen before, never broken a bone. But, 2020…right?

But this fall was also different. A bit harder. It happened during a time when I was really doubting God’s purpose in anything going on in my life. The people in it. The things going on. Nothing was adding up or making sense. I spent more time screaming angry prayers at Him, and asking Him why, and didn’t like any of His answers. Nor did I like any of the waiting. So…I did things my way, and ultimately got in the way. I tried to play God. I forgot who I was. And, well….I guess God knocked me down, so to speak.

So I don’t like this scar. It’s angry looking. And when I look at the jagged “S,” that now lives there, I don’t hear the voice of God. I hear a different one. The one that reminds me of my past sin scars, and not my grace one. That tells me this jagged “S” is for words like “shameful.” “Sinner.” “Stupid.” “Silly.” “Soiled.” Some I don’t care to even mention, just want to forget. It’s like I’ve been branded with a scarlet letter of anything Satan wants to use to help me doubt my salvation or self-worth.

Of course that is what Satan wants me to believe. But His word says in Micah 7:18-19:

You will not stay angry with your people forever,
    because you delight in showing unfailing love.
 Once again you will have compassion on us.
    You will trample our sins under your feet
    and throw them into the depths of the ocean!

Which means-He gave us Jesus. To pay for those sins. To cover all those scars. So God has forgotten. Those mistakes. All of them, were buried somewhere in the sea. We ask for forgiveness, and repent. He forgets. The only one remembering any of it is Satan, and maybe a couple earthly people.

 And when we profress our belief, we hear new words. 

Words like:

Saved.

Set apart.

Seen.

Secure.

Smart.

Strong.

Redeemed.

To others, your scars may be a reminder of your checkered past, but to God they are the a reason He extends to us His grace and mercy. We have the choice to receive it. Are we going to walk in His grace, as one redeemed, or keep letting others remind us of those things He has forgotten?

Me? I choose grace. I choose mercy. I choose to believe the things God tells me that have nothing to do with my past.

I do not own rights to music, lyrics, or video.

It’s Time to Break-up…

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8

Yesterday, I mentioned a group of 3 girls. That group and their negative comments that had sucked the life out of me. Even in the midst of correction for their poor choices in words, there was an additional lesson in my encouragment to speak kindness to each other: Would you tolerate this negativity in a romantic relationship? If the boy you liked, or you were dating called you “fat, ugly, stupid, or crazy…” and then proceeded to tell you he was “just joking,” would you allow it? Or would you break-up with him?

Of course, their response? Kick him to the curb.

So, question for you: Why do we allow these terms to define us? Why do we allow Satan to creep in and tell us lies? Badger us with his emotional assault, and endless abuse? Isn’t it time to break-up with him, too?

Fear, you don’t own me
There ain’t no room in this story
And I ain’t got time for you
Telling me what I’m not
Like you know me, well guess what?
I know who I am
I know I’m strong
And I am free
Got my own identity
So fear, you will never be welcome here. (The Break-up
Song, Francesca Battistelli).

Fear. Lies. The devil’s tactic to keep you in a state of defeat. But the truth is…you can defeat the enemy. Paul mentions a strategy for battle in Ephesians 6, even mentioning who this enemy is.

We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:12-17, NLT

We have an enemy who feeds us nothing but lies about our worth and our purpose, our calling. And we know exactly how to break up with him. We CAN defeat him. With the belt of truth, and the sword of the Spirit, those things that God says are “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable” about us in His Word. Remebering that God offers protection from the evil one simply because we are His. We just need to call on Him to help us fight the battle.

So we can finally break-up with that no good scroundrel…once and for all!

If you are ready to break-up with the devil, and conquer the lies he throws your way, join me for a 30 day exploration of the lies we believe, and the truth God reveals. The printable Bible reading plan includes daily Scripture, as well as a song you can add to your playlist, or sing along with in the car in praise for the truth God provides to you and about you. Truth that is able to conquer any lie.

You can also subscribe to the entire playlist on Spotify.

Don’t Believe the Lies

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

I have been vocal in past posts about my thoughts on, and my desire for boundaries when it comes to social media. In my last social media fast, I came to the realizaton that some of my thoughts may have even been extreme. Maybe even unhealthy. My use of social media is personal, and not everyone will go on the same journey, and it is through this perspective that I have developed some different views, and healthier personal usage.

One thing, however, has not changed-my views on that comment section.

We all wanna know we matter
We all wanna know we’re loved
More the same than we are different
Desperate just to be enough

But it’s like we’ve all forgotten
How much we’re all connected
When I read the comment section. -Sidewalk Prophets

This song, “The Comment Section,” is about the hurtful comments posted in the comment section by individuals behind a screen, and the descriptions throughout it are pretty accurate. What is even more discouraging, is that at times this type of commentary flows into our personal, and face-to-face conversations.

Case in point: I lead a monthly girls group. 3 girls. Supposedly friends working through a self-esteem exercise; but in this past week’s group, spending most of the time poking fun at each other, and spewing hurtful comments about each other’s features, bodies, and minds. “Fat, ugly, dumb.” After more than an hour of this, the life had been sucked out of me. The hurtful back and forth banter disguised as “joking,” wrecked my spirit, and I carried it with me into the weekend. Why is this language among each other acceptable? Why do we poke fun to have fun? Why do we desire to hurt each other? Over time, whether read or heard-these comments leave scars no one can see. Doubts that carry on long after words have been spoken.

With each comment and verbal slur of judgment, we begin to believe all the lies said about us. That interaction in group was only a part of the onslaught of lies Satan threw at me throughout that week. All due to triggers that were reminders of my past. A reminder of an older name that had me believing divorced women truly were not fit to pastor. An email that was a reminder of all the past events that made me feel unworthy and unqualified. The consistent “uglies, fats” and everything else I heard on that day was the last straw.

I refuse to let Satan continue to throw lies at me. I refuse to let the own comment section I allow to scroll in my head define me.

I struggled with what topic to focus on this month. With whether to even do a monthly reading plan. With May holding space for Mother’s Day, themes of parenting or being a mother seemed to fit; however, not everyone fits this description. Yet, this very moment in life-motherhood; it can fill us with so many inadequcies. We have so many doubts about our abilities, and we tend to compare ourselves with so many others. Thinking they have it all right, and we have it all wrong.

But, it’s all lies. We tend to believe so many lies.

This month, we will be defeating those lies. The lies we believe about ourselves (and even others) because of the world’s vision that we all comform to one ideal. The lies that tell us we need to be a certain way, parent a certain way, or anything else a certain way to be approved. Through Scripture and song, we will discover the truth the world often shuts out, if you only read the comment section.

Because here is the truth: God has made us good, pleasing, and perfect, among so many other things. It is time we believe this, instead of all the lies the devil may feed us.

Be sure to visit tomorrow for a copy of the newest 30 day Bible reading plan, with a link to the playlist of each song, so you can also listen to truth all month long!

Love and Marriage…

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:14

Love and marriage, love and marriage…that’s the theme song to one of my husband’s sitcom guilty pleasures, and it doesn’t have much to do with this post, except that today’s verse from Colossians 3:14 is a reminder from Paul to “clothe yourselves with love.” It’s also our anniversary. The 16th. And in many of those 16 years, he has been known to wear many a shirt in reference to many movies and sitcoms. Al Bundy references are just one.

16 years of wedded bliss. I sincerely hope no one believes that statement. I sincerely hope anyone embarking on marriage, or any long-term relationship doesn’t assume that any marriage is filled with only bliss.

It may seem that marriage and this verse above would be appropriate at first glance. Perhaps as a stand alone verse. Yes, certainly…because love is the language of those who follow Christ. But this isn’t all Paul is instructing us to do. This verse can’t stand alone. 

And while Paul is writing to the church in Colosse, a church that had become saturated with many false beliefs and thoughts about Christ, warning them to remember who was their true connection to the Father and to His love, these principles don’t just apply to the people we encounter in the church pews. They are paramount to any relationship. Especially the intimacy within a marriage. The love from Christ we receive is to be displayed to others, and definitely towards our spouse.

Is it easy? No. 

And it encompasses so much more than lovey-dovey words and phrases, or romantic overtures. 

In the verses proceeding number 14, Paul mentions the following: 

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. (v. 12-13).

Now…how does this apply to our spouses? To the day to day grind of living with another being day in and day out? Especially those who have a propensity to quote Al Bundy?

First, tenderheart mercy. We display tenderhearted mercy when we choose to not lament and bring up the fact that our spouse did not load the dishwasher again. Or that they threw the socks on the floor, right next to the hamper. We don’t scream, kick, and shove when they snore too loud. We offer them mercy, even though we want to offer them a peace of our mind. We do the dishes, we lean over to pick up the socks, and we reach for the ear plugs, as we gently tap them to roll over. And then we gently remind them we love them.

Next, kindness. Let’s talk about this making fun of each other stuff. You know, if you like to joke…cool. However, have you ever watched the look on your spouse’s face, or listened to the hurt in their voice when you know or felt when it went too far? Saying cruel things about someone’s appearance, intellect, mental health, character, or ability; and then following it up with, “I was only joking,” is still cruel and unkind. The Bible is clear about the ways in which we are to speak to others, in such a way that the words we use should “encourage and build up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Over time these “jokes” hurt more than provide humor. Speak words of kindness, and encouragment. If you wouldn’t want the words spoken to you, or to the children you may have together-don’t say them to your spouse. Speak words you would want to hear.

What about humility? This one be can hard to understand for some, so I am going to simplify it. You are not better than your spouse, and your spouse is not better than you. One supports the other. One helps the other. Selfishness has no place in marriage. Are we, as humans, are prone to it? Of course, we crave our independence. We don’t want to be dependent on another person, or feel we are constantly having too much asked of us, but we were created-man and woman to help each other, encourage each other, and support each other. This requires at times we put our needs to the side to serve our spouse-in sickness and in health…and all that jazz.

Gentleness. Now, let’s go back to tenderhearted mercy for this one. Think back to those dishes, socks, and that snoring. We did the dishes. We picked up the socks. And well, at this point…there is really nothing we can do about the snoring, but get better ear plugs. We really can’t let the chores go. At some point, accountability is OK to address. However, with kind words, and with gentleness. Our natural bend is to stuff all the months of dishwashing and sock grabbing up, and then blow-up with harsh, and mean words. We say a lot of things we do not mean (or maybe we do mean them), and then we have to double down with an apology later. We can address the lack of help with chores, with a gentle conversation about our need for help. Speaking the truth with love is a biblical response that can go a long way in saving two people a ton of hurt in many conversations over a number of years. Trust the one who has slammed many a cabinet and dish in the sink just to get my point across in the past. The slamming rarely does it. The gentleness usually will.

Last, yet certainly not least-forgiveness. Yes, I know. It is hard. It is a long road that is bumpy and filled with potholes. Forgiveness in the institution of mariage is something no one wants to talk about because it sounds a lot like failure. The question someone wants to ask when you talk about forgiveness is: What did you do to need that? Perhaps the question should be: What didn’t we do? There will be SO many things that will occur within this intimate of a relationship that will require little and large acts of forgiveness. Some of the forgiveness journeys will be easy, and some will be much harder. Some will require small acts of patience; and others will requre large acts of compassion and large doses of mercy. Yet, we must remember there are times we have needed the same. Even slights we forgave and forgot. Things we thought we would never forget.

However, because of the capacity that God has given us to love, we were given the ability to endure through those pains we thought we could not get through. Annoying movie-quotes. Long nights in hospitals. Stupid arguments over goodness knows what.

Bound together in perfect harmony through Christ.

For 16 years and beyond.

Do What You Ought

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. James 4:17

We read a lot about sin when we read our Bibles. We may not even have to be church-going folks to know a lot about sin. Case in point: I didn’t grow up in a church. We went a handful of times. The Christmas candle-lighting church-going kind. I think those regular attenders would have called us “the Christmas and Easter crowd.” Yes, people like us got names. I did, however, know about God. I knew about sin. It was probably one of the most talked about things growing up. All the things we couldn’t and shouldn’t do. Adam and Eve, and that original sin that came through them. I knew of personal sin, the sins we chose, our willful acts against God. I knew that a life of sin sent you to hell.

I now attend church regularly. I pastor in a church. Because, well…it is just like God to take someone from the “Christmas and Sunday crowd,” and use them to minister to others. I also am still tempted by Satan to sin. I may at times know what to do, and be tempted to not do it.

And just like myself, you are not immune.

I know what you may be thinking: I don’t sin. I read my Bible. I attend Bible study. I go to church every Sunday and I serve. So that isn’t me.

But you do struggle with the “what I know to do, but what I do anyways.” We all do. Even the Bible reading, Bible studying, Sunday going, preacher type. Because we are human. And we all have a propensity and a bend towards sin.

Look at Paul. Paul for goodness sake. He speaks to what we all encounter in our daily walk in holy living:

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. Romans 7:15-20, MSG

We sometimes decide to act in one way, but lack the self-control to simply do it. We don’t want to do that thing we said we were trying not to do, but we slip and do it again.

So yes…you have sinned. Maybe unintentionally. But you have done one thing when you should have done something else. Need some examples? Here’s some relatable ones for you in case you are stuck on robbery, murder or adultery. 

How about pure lack of self-control when it comes to maybe your speech? The Bible is clear about unwholesome talk, and it doesn’t just mean a few choice curse words. It means ill words about a believer, or anyone that God would desire that we speak of in love. We sin each time we choose to use words to tear down, instead of words to encourage or build up. We sin each time we go to our neighbor to speak ill words about a person, instead of words that are positive, edifying, and meant to glorify. We sin each time we gossip and repeat stories that we didn’t hear directly from the person about whom we are speaking. The Bible tells we ought not speak these hurtful things, and what we should do instead.

How about how we deal with our conflicts? The word is clear we should not sin in our anger (Ephesians 4:26), however, in conflict is anger our go to response? If it is, how is our behavior? Riddled with sharp words, and flailing arms. Or perhaps we never even have a conversation with the person at all, maybe we have it with everyone but. Conflict that is handled without sin at the center is handled like Jesus indicated in Matthew 18:15-20. Yet, we often do the opposite of what we know we ought.

Even yesterday…on Easter, my gracious. I had to pray through most of the service that God would rid me of the focus on anything else besides Him. Because I was just distracted. And maybe others didn’t see it, but I did…the screen turning off, the movement of people. My mind wandered to the number of things all around me that were overwhelming, and likely a tactic to take focus away from the purpose-Jesus’ victory over death.

And those simple, worldly things keep us focused on the world. Which is where Satan wants us.

And I know when I am distracted and the focus is taken off Him, other things set in. Anxiety breeds thoughts that lead directly where the devil wants me. In my own head. In my pride. On my self. Exactly where self-control flees, and sin can creep in. And if I don’t have a handle on it, I can forget what I ought, and do what I know I shouldn’t.

We all can get here. No matter how many Bible verses you read. Bible study or Sunday morning serves you attend. The devil is ready for you to shift focus, so he can grab your self-control and move you right into some sin.

Stand on guard. Keep your focus on Him, and what you ought to do. And if you shift, turn off course; no matter how small the curve-repent. And do what you ought again. And again. And again.