The Definition of You

morning-after

What you believe changes you.

Even in salvation, belief—albeit “not of ourselves” (Eph. 2:8)—transforms our thinking by the power of Christ.

What do you believe about yourself? What defines you?

Hidden patterns of thinking often hold more sway over us than we know. What internal dialogue do you carry on with yourself? In the quiet of your heart, what do you call yourself? Beloved of God? Or something less?

I have heard plenty of stories. People crippled from making decisions because of what others might say. Men and women believing themselves to be beyond hope and value. Children who think there is no future for them. Girls who believe no one could ever love them or find them beautiful. Christians who live like risky love is optional.

And here’s something you might not know: defining yourself by anything other than God’s truth is unbelief. And unbelief is sin. So what lies are crowding out the way God defines you? This week we will talk about the words that shape our lives.

Words of Others

Words are powerful, especially if you believe them.

As I get older and hear more stories of other people’s lives, I am beginning to realize that my wonderful family, although not perfect, does not represent the norm for family life…or even the norm for Christian family life.

Shocked, I’ve heard tales of the horrible things that professing Christians say to one another…and, even more heartbreaking, the awful things that brothers and sisters in Christ believe about themselves because of those ungodly words.

While upholding personal responsibility for choices, Jesus had strong words for those who cause “these little ones” to stumble. He said it was better for these calloused souls to have a millstone tied to their necks and be drowned. It is such a weighty, serious thing to influence another soul toward sin. Sisters! What a horrible thing to cripple and destroy someone else from living abundant life in Christ!

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the power of reckless words (and, how much more, intentionally-harmful words!) But what if you’ve been on the receiving end of harmful words—and who hasn’t been? Are you doomed to be crippled all your life by them? What if you have heard so many lies about your worth and purpose that they all sound true now?

If you belong to Jesus, here’s something you need to hear: His words are the only ones that ultimately matter. (If you don’t belong to Jesus, hop back a post and read about how you can find hope.)

The only way to combat lies is with God’s truth. Can’t tell if you’re believing a lie? Write down what you believe about yourself, your past, and your future. Make a list. Take each statement and find out what God thinks about it. Here are some examples of lies you might be believing, and the truth that exposes them:

“I always mess up.”

 As humans, we all mess up, whether sinfully or by mistake. But what does the Bible say about this? For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9, HCSB). Is it true that you have no hope for improvement? Not at all! “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). What about when you sin or make a mistake? Does that make God stop loving you? “[Nothing] can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). Nothing, not even ourselves, or our frequent failures. What grace! Repeat the truth to yourself and trust it. It is a sword that can cut those lies into pieces.

“I don’t have a choice. This is just the way I am.”

 If you belong to Jesus, that thought is a total lie. Not only does that line of thinking avoid responsibility, but it also destroys hope. I have good news for you! “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things are long gone. Look! Everything is new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, paraphrase). “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death their human nature with all its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24, GNT). Where is this power coming from? How can you change? For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority(Colossians 2:9-10, HCSB). As children of God, His Spirit fills us with the exact same power that raised Jesus from the dead! If He can change a dead body into an ever-living one, we should never believe that we are incapable of change. He can transform you. Do you believe His words?

“No one can love me. I am not worth anything.”

 Our sins are repulsive to a beautifully-holy God. But humans are His special creation. Without Christ, it is true that we deserve all of God’s just punishment. But humans never lose their value. Unlike any other creation, we are made in God’s image, to be finite reflections of his infinite attributes. Furthermore, if you have embraced the hope of the gospel, your life was purchased at an inestimable cost—the death of the God of glory. You are valuable because of Who made you and Who loves you, not because of anything else. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10, ESV). “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV).

These are just a few of the lies that others can tell us, or that we can even tell ourselves. Are you letting your opinions or the opinions of others define you? Or is the Word of Christ dwelling in you richly (Colossians 3:16)? Release your grip on the things that cripple you and reach out in faith to the only words that really matter.

If you let Jesus define you, and nothing else…

Your joy will be full….

…and the truth will set you free.

 
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be absolutely free.”
 – John 8:36, GW –
Advertisements

For When You Have No Words

the-english-landscape-1334507649HGf

Last week, I sat down at my laptop to write a blog post. I titled a page and began to peck away at the keys before everyone woke up.

The next day, I once again set the laptop on my knees and plugged away at words, this time careening in a different direction.

By the end of that typing session, I had two very different partial-posts and no ideas of what I actually wanted to write.

When writers look for advice, there is one thing we’re always told:

“Write what you know.”

In other words, go out and live life. Write about things you’ve actually done or experienced. You can’t write if you don’t have an existence outside the written word.

But, dear writing community, I have stumbled across another problem.

I have discovered that it is possible to live so much that you run clean out of words.

Thoughts worthy of blog posts can come in fits and starts, ordinarily. Lately, though, I have been so immersed in life that when I sit down to think of a good post topic, I lean my head back on my headboard and go blank. Ideas pop up and I quickly squelch them.

I wonder if there is such a thing as too much writing material.

Just now, I live in a new world everyday. I wake up to complications and emotions that I’m just beginning to learn how to ride out.

Learning how to be an adult, in a house of six adults. Trying to give daily, intensive love to eight other people. Discovering how my family members and I handle stress. Finding out just how unreliable feelings are. Caring for my big, crazy family, sometimes long-distance. Looking for new things to learn. Opening my heart to bigger hurts and bigger loves. Juggling a schedule that isn’t even funny. Hoping to pull off a good job for my supervisor. Trying to find out where social media fits in. Learning that my life balance is something I have to discover by trial and error…lots of error. Squeezing in a book or a podcast in there somewhere. Singing, a lot.

Sometimes life lessons crystallize in slow motion, over a period of days or weeks. These days, so many lessons pour over my head that I’m slow to catch them, much less be able to put them into words.

But, even here there is a lesson.

When life crowds out your words, go back to the basics.

Jesus. Run back to Jesus.

Life can get too confusing. It gets crowded–full of mess and hurt and blessings and busyness. Whether the days whiz by or crawl, they often don’t seem to get any lighter. Breathing can be hard, and living can be weighty. Life is hard to condense into a neat package and tie up in a bow.

But maybe, just maybe, it’s not supposed to be nice and neat. 

I think life is meant to be a paradox. Everything may be wildly incoherent and out of my control…but all wrapped up in the hand of God.

“I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.”

 – paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 2:2, from the Message –

When the apostle Paul went to Corinth, he didn’t try to help people make spiritual sense of their lives with anything other than the Gospel. Jesus was the totality of His message.

You see, the Gospel merges the broken, jagged puzzle pieces of our lives into a coherent whole.

Jesus–the crucified and resurrected Redeemer–truly redeems. He buys back the lives, the days, the purposes of every detail of existence. Because of Jesus, the picture of our lives, though incomplete from our perspective, starts to make sense.

Life doesn’t work without Jesus.

In the book of Acts, Paul quotes the Greek philosopher Epimenides, using Greek poetry to describe the centrality of Christ:

“For in Him we live and move and exist….” – Acts 17:28

The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus, “[by] his own mighty word…holds the universe together” (Hebrews 1:3, CEV).

This truth is the reason why, when I am drained of words, I still have one word:

Jesus.

I don’t have to make sense of my crazy, whirlwind world. Taking one day at a time, I just have to love the next person in front of me, “do the next right thing,” and offer up each moment as something I’m doing to make my Savior glad.

The Gospel says that Jesus is enough.

When I run out of understanding…

Out of energy,

Out of intuition,

Out of words…

He is still there.

In Him, I am not a chaotic mess. In Him, I am centered.

In Him, I am home.

 

Swords and Silver Boxes

woman-holding-silver-gift

“Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words can heal.”

 – Proverbs 12:18, GNT –


This verse made me stop in my tracks this past week.

I have probably literally heard it my whole life. I should know this, right? 🙂

Recently, a friend shared with me the deep pain that several people’s random comments and inappropriate words caused her. It was just this past week, as I considered blogging on the power of words, that I realized the connection to this verse.

The Bible has plenty to say about how we speak. Be kind to one another. Build up. Don’t curse one another. Speak the truth in love.

We know this.

But this particular verse especially stood out to me because people I cared about were being knocked flat because of words that people didn’t even intend to be hurtful. I can’t judge hearts, but I know these fellow Christians most likely did not intend their speech to be so deadly. But it was.

What does the proverb say again?

“Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword….”

The verse doesn’t say “evil words.” It doesn’t say “malicious” or even “premeditated words.”

Thoughtless.

The reality of life is that you and I could walk into the world today and just blurt out something…and it could absolutely destroy someone.

Don’t get me wrong–people have choices about how they respond to wrong words. But God doesn’t expect us to blame our carelessness on the wounded. He places the responsibility of love directly the speaker.

Thoughtless words.

How many times a day do I carelessly throw out sentences? Many times in the last few weeks, I’ve become angry at the way other people fling thoughtless words at those I love. “That is SO insensitive,” I’ve internally ranted. “How can they not see how wrong that is?”

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love to talk will have to eat their own words.” – Proverbs 18:21, GW

Recently, someone I dearly love and respect excused his quick, thoughtless words as “just his personality.” He stopped and thought something like, “I wonder if I should say that?” And then he verbally announced his mental process and proceeded to speak his mind anyway. He knew better. But, because he identified as a blunt person, he thought that gave him liberty to say what he was thinking in that situation. I wonder, if he knew what his words might have cost, if he would think his liberty was worth that much.

I’m not advocating over-sensitivity or timidity when it comes to conversing with others. But we should certainly strive toward more compassion and less haste, more tactfulness and less impulsiveness. More Christ-likeness and less me-likeness. This verse about thoughtless words compels me to examine my communication and pray for grace to enrich lives rather than reduce them to dust.

Ladies, we especially have power to build or destroy with our words. Proverbs contains several laments of men who would have preferred to camp out on the edge of their roof than be in the same house as a cantankerous girl. Our gender, famous for using countless thousands of words each day, would do especially well to remember the harm that unthinking words can instigate.

Florence Littauer, a dear Christian woman, wrote a book called Silver Boxes. In it, she recounts the story of a little girl who compared giving encouraging words to giving someone a silver-wrapped gift.

What a piercing thought.

Our words can be silver-cased swords, ready to cut to the quick…

Or they can be silver-wrapped boxes, filled with delight.

Practically, what kind of words come as silver-crusted daggers? While I’m sure situations vary greatly, here are a few examples of insensitive ones: physical appearance, mental or physical ability, psychological labels (even as a joke), misunderstood teasing, reminding people of past mistakes or sins, untempered criticism, or any words that belittle or discourage.

Whew. Not a fun list.

If those are the kinds of words to shun, what can we put on instead? I know, in my family, much of the above list is absolutely taboo.  We’re not particularly noble –- my brother and I were just never allowed to use them!

For me, then, my biggest challenge is the handoff between silver swords and silver boxes. Honestly, when I examine myself, I see more sins of omission in the area of words.

While I definitely say wrong things, mostly I don’t say enough right things.

“Pleasing words are a honeycomb, sweet to the taste and invigorating to the bones,” says Proverbs 16:24, NABRE.

What can you say? How about one of these: I’m proud of you. I really respect/appreciate you. Wow, look at what God has done in your life! Hey, how can I pray for you today? I love you. I am really glad you are in my life. What a good Father we have! I know He has this situation under control, even if we don’t understand. 

I told you at the beginning of this post that a friend of mine has been suffering from thoughtless words. What did these words do? They made a Christian girl have to work twice as hard to fight lies, because other people were unwittingly joining the chorus of temptations she already faced. They struck her with pain, because people she loved were using their words like knives. Unknown to those around her, they were actually siding with the devil, helping him tear down a soul. What a horrible thought!

And there I was on the other end of the spectrum. I was the one hearing the effects of these hurtful words and praying for words to pick up the pieces.

I get frustrated, because sometimes it seems to take 10 encouraging words to undo 1 hurtful word. But with this friend and with others, I now more clearly see the battlefield of communication. From time to time, God puts me on the front lines and gives me the gift of speaking truth into a hurting heart. He asks me to give out silver boxes.

If you think words can kill, you’re right.

But wait until God uses your words to bring life to dull eyes. This is real living, my friends. And I don’t dive into this abundant life nearly enough.

It is a battle. If you engage with encouragement, you are going to see some amazing things happen.

God gave us the gift of words. With the forgiveness and love of Jesus as our motivation and the grace of our Lord as our power, let’s make a choice to craft our silver into gift boxes of encouragement, not slicing swords.

Words are pretty powerful stuff. Whose life can you build up today?


“So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already.”

 – 1 Thessalonions 5:11, CEB –

 

Named by Redemption

sadness-man-in-the-shadow-1368461366ES7

“Words, so innocent and powerless…when standing in a dictionary, how potent for good or evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”

– Nathaniel Hawthorne –


Over a Baskin Robbins mint chocolate chip cone, I chatted with some friends about their prison ministry.

With wide eyes, one friend told me of the man they had just visited. He had been on the run from the law for months and finally brought into custody, to the relief of family members fearing for his life.

He had a tattoo across his forehead–the name that he had printed on his own skin, embedded into his existence:

HATED

And he lived believing it.

Hating himself, hating the law, hating everyone and everything around him.

And I wondered….what would it be like to scrawl on my forehead all my own shame? What would it be like to stare into my bleary, just-awake eyes every day and see my worst fear and my constant torment written indelibly on my face?

Hated. 

Not loved. Not accepted. Not tolerated. But hated.

What happens to a person to make them brand themselves with hate? By what twisted penance or cocky flagrancy does a man emblazon his greatest pain across his skull?

Names. Labels. Appellations.

We inscribe them on our hearts. We chant them to ourselves over and over, like a cursed mantra. We foist them on others and forge them for ourselves, invisible chains.

Dumb. Unloved. Retarded. Ugly. Unvalued.

What kind of names do we give ourselves? When we look in the mirror, what do we call our own faces? When we step out the door, how do we address our own friends?

We label everything, slap on and spit out names that may sting longer than we know.

Our words are killing us slowly–a poisonous death that we scarcely notice. And surely the tongue has the power of death (Proverbs 18:21).

The young man across the table from me in Sunday School had a rose blooming full and red on his left forearm, and words scripted in green across the other arm.

Sinner.

I wondered if it was a recent way of evangelizing his biker friends or something he had acknowledged about himself long before coming to faith.

What makes a man write the secret sins of his heart upon his body for all to see? Does it make the pain ebb? Does it make the guilt cease?

Words of condemnation are the echoes of our broken hearts and dark-twisted souls. We mutter them to ourselves to keep us somehow feeling through the numbness. We fling them at others to somehow make ourselves seem less fragile.

In our darkness, all we can do is pronounce the death settling upon us all.

But what if a word could bring life?

What if a man was also God, and what if he was God’s own speech wrapped up in sinew, with a mouth instead of letters, and a life instead of pages? What if God’s own Word came down and spoke life to us?

Into the labels of “Hated” and “Sinner,” He steps and looks around.

And He doesn’t contradict them, because we are. Hated, yes, by others. And, worse our sinning hearts disgust the God of holiness (Psalm 11:5). Hated.

Sinner. He confirms it. He goes out of His way to make sure we get the fact that we are dirty, incapable of working our own way to God.

Hated. Sinner.

God Himself does not deny our plight.

How can words bring life to this? How can our mess of hate and sin be solved by words, when all we know to do is remind ourselves of despair?

“I have come.”

He has come? To us? But…whatever for? We, the Hated? We, the Sinner?

“That you might have life.”

Life for the desolate, the dirty, the despised? Life, indeed….for me?

“And have it more abundantly.”

Abundance? When I have inscribed my sin on my skin until I can see nothing but my own decay, smell nothing but my own foul stench in God’s nose, feel nothing but the jagged rasp of my throat when I try to speak my cursed mantra again?

How can He–this Word-man–make it all whole again? How can he draw the indelible sin-stain from my forehead?

How can these names be erased?

Piecing together the things He has said, I can almost imagine the scene: He stoops before me–me, the Hated–writing my sins in the sand.

“I will take the hate. I will be despised and rejected instead of you (Isaiah 53). I will take the anger of God Almighty at your rebellion. I will bear the brunt of His wrath. I will take your shame….

“And do you know why?

“Because I have loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Because this is how much God loves this world–He sent me to die for your redemption (John 3:16).”

I, the Sinner, am so like the woman caught in sin and dragged to Jesus, a scarlet blush stamped like condemnation on each of her red cheeks. But when the living Word-man speaks, I start to feel the names I’ve been called slip loose from my shoulders.

And when the Word dies, the Word truly does give life.

When my heart knelt at His cross, and visited His empty tomb, the names that weighed me down rolled away.

Hated…no! No more. I am loved, with that Love everlasting, that Word that will not fail. I am loved.

The ink-stain of hate is washed in holy blood and I have a new name stamped on my head–Daughter of the Most High.

Sinner? Ah, no longer am I under the curse of that name. Its power is drained. My arms no longer ache with the weight of that name printed on them. That too has been washed.

And what instead is written on my arms?

Redeemed. Redeemed.

And oh…

Oh, oh, how I love to proclaim it.


 “My name is graven on His hands, my name is written on His heart.

I know that while in heaven He stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.”

– Charitie Lees Smith, from “Before the Throne of God Above” –