Monday, May 23, 2016

Choose Your Pharisee: So Many Judges, So Little Success

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matt. 5:20

By: Carol McClain @carol_mcclain

They surround us. They live among us and infect us with our inferiority. In the faculty room, the churches, the government, social groups, advocates...

Not the zombies.

The Pharisees.

If you don't meet our standards, you are worthless.
I remember sitting at lunch in the faculty room. "Glory" was complaining about the lack of ethics of her students. "I'd NEVER dream of cheating," she said.

I cringed, remembering my high school physics regents. Stuck on one question, I peeked at my neighbor. He had put down the answer I had guessed at, so I down that answer.

It turned out, I had gotten the second highest score in the class on that regents, so my answer could have been incorrect. Whether or not I got it right would not have changed the end result. It did, however, color my pride and sense of achievement. I'm ashamed to say, it's not the only time I got "extra-help" on an assignment.

Worse than my immature lack of ethics is the guilt I've carried from my sin--forgetting that all I did had been washed clean by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Never could I say, I would never do something. My righteousness would never exceed that of the Pharisees.

Beware of the Pharisees. Who are they?
  • Judgmental coworkers--even when they're good people (as Glory was) who work hard. If you don't put in their hours, work to their ethical standards, you are found wanting.
  • Church leaders--my first church was extremely legalistic. In order to teach Sunday school,  or minister as a deacon or serve in any form of leadership, you had to "pass a test." This was never anything formal, always vague, and you'll never make the grade.
  • Parents--so many parents are dissatisfied with a B on a report card or a chosen career in retail. If you're not a Harvard trained lawyer, you have failed.
  • Teachers--work of ten hours on an essay, and she'll show you every typo you overlooked. (I never want her to read one of my novels. Even after an infinite number of edits, those pesky errors make it into print.)
  • Bosses--they insist the job comes first, count the minutes you're late, call when you're off, but never find you worthy of promotion.
  • Essentially, anyone who condemns and judges and finds you wanting.
Jesus says our righteousness must exceed the above people. Here's how you do it:
  • Accept the righteousness of Christ by being born again.
We don't need to be perfect. Jesus already is, and that makes our righteousness greater than that of the Pharisees.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

What Is Perfection? I'll Show you: Photo Expose

Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. Luke 12:27

By: Carol McClain @carol_mcclain

One of my favorite spots in the Montreal Botanical Gardens. If you ever want to see perfection, go there--especially from now until early summer.

On an ordinary day, this piece of paradise will awe you. In 2013 they offered a Mosaicculture. The work could stun an archangel.

Who, in her own ability could match the above floral arrangements?

And far better photographs than mine can be found at:

Galax--hand-polished by the Creator

Friends and I love to hike the Smoky Mountains. Unlike the stupendous Adirondacks, they don't offer a non-stop sweeping vista. As we walk, we hardly ever look up. But down? A world, insane to see is there for our viewing.

Pat, Marcia and Annie Margaret taught me to look closely and discover a beauty that rivals the grandeur of botanical gardens. Crawling under leaves to get a shot, I discovered Dutchman's Pipe.

Tucked along the path are the inspiration for Georgia O'Keefe's Jack-in-the-Pulpits.

In the Galax, God, Himself, bowed down and polished each leaf to a high gloss.

And Cinderella's glass slipped never rivaled the Lady Slippers we discovered.

So, too, in our lives, we don't have to be mosaicultures. As wild flowers, we offer the world the perfection of God.
Unexpected, we discovered
over 20 pink Ladies' Slippers

the Dutchman's Pipe, found by looking under the leaves
Cinderella in all her glory was not arrayed like this

More beautiful than a Georgia O'Keefe

Quick Tweets

Even Solomon couldn't rival these. Click to tweet.
Don't strive. You are perfect in Christ. Click to tweet.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Perfection Changes

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 1 Cor. 13:12

Veruska, you look good
By: Carol McClain @carol_mcclain

Aside from God, perfection changes.

Or the idea of perfection.

My mother, who birthed five children, always battled her weight. However, her mother would decry, "Verushka, you're too skinny."

Mom knew it was time to diet when Grandma said to her one day, "Verushka, you look good. Healthy."

We hold super (anorexic) models as a standard of perfection, yet we ooh and ahh over Rubens' heavy ladies.

Thinness is a today's standards. Not yesterday's.

How has our perception of perfection changed?:

Do you see what God sees?
  1. Tattoos. As a child, those covered in tattoos were relegated to circus side-shows. Now everyone has a "sleeve" of multi-colored tattoos. Even among the tattoo aficionado, what constitutes a perfect tat? A skull? A rose? Pooh-Bear?
  2. Fat Lips. Yes, I'm dating myself. As a child, Kewpie-doll lips were the standard. Sweet, bow-shaped lips. Today we stuff them with as much collagen as our pocketbooks afford.
  3. Tans. In the 1800s women used parasols to protect themselves from the sun. A dark skin would indicate they had to work outside. Today, even in the South in summer, women hit the tanning beds in order to have a dark, glowing skin.
  4. Weight. My grandmother immigrated from Belarus. Poverty denied people enough food. Therefore, being chubby became a sign of beauty.
  5. Clothing styles. Is it cool to wear jeans falling off your hips? Low cut blouses? Flouncy bows? Pleated skirts?
  6. Multi-colored hair.
  7.  Acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
  8. Endorsement of abortion.
  9. Being able to wear jeans to church.
  10. Organ and hymns in church.
  11. Church services three times a week.
  12. Female ministers
Everyone's ideal looks different.
Everyone has a different standard of perfection. As I said in prior posts, I could never attain my legalistic church's ideal--and I learned then that I lacked.

You don't need to meet anyone's expectation of perfection, because we all see through a glass darkly. Striving for perfection is a thief of joy.

How have you seen society's or the church's standards change through the years?

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Say No: Handbags Are Heavy

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matt. 11: 28-30

By: Carol McClain @carol_mcclain

Full Handbags

Say no or your bag gets heavy
I've switched out my handbag. To do that, I had to say goodbye to my favorite wallet. Other essentials hit the trash bin. I'm carrying some in my hands because they don't fit. 

I had to. I can't say no, and my husband, Neil, doesn't like to carry things. 

Keys? In my bag.
His wallet? In my bag.
Phones? You've guessed it.

I quickly discovered, the bigger the bag, the bigger the burden. I had two choices--say no to Neil (but he's so sad, so pathetic when he pouts, that it's easier to say no to a crying infant than him) or get a smaller bag.

"Look, honey," I can now say with my sultriest smile, "it won't fit." 

That's our lives. If we don't say no--our baggage gets heavier. I'm sure you've heard the adage, "If you need something done, ask a busy woman." That female is the one who can't say no.

Need: a ride to the market? a Sunday school class taught? clean-up after fellowship meals? babysitting for the grandkids? chaperone for the third grade field trip? boy scout leader? volunteer for roadside cleanup? customer for the Pampered chef party? a visit to an invalid?

Which of the above is your gift? What do you feel led to do? Which resonates with you?

Say yes to that. No to the rest.

Not long ago, my daughter exploded (no, not literally, that would be gross). Some little thing unleashed the A-bomb in her--maybe the need to pick up bread for lunch? She does everything, especially when it comes to her kids. Sometimes everything becomes a bit too much.

I wonder where she learned it?

I've apologized to Sarah many times for teaching her the inability to say no.

Say no. When you do, you'll discover:
  1. God's burden is easy and light. How I used to hate that scripture. My life used to be frazzled with activities--most out of my realm of giftings.
  2. It's easy and fun to volunteer for those few sacrificial things we all need to do--like picking up roadside trash.
  3. We'll have time to use the gifts God's given us. I resigned from choir because I can't sing. Now I have time to get home and write.
  4. Another Hiroshima won't be unleashed. It's never fun being around a balloon that bursts--let alone the atomic bomb.
God always answers prayer. We've heard this adage, too. Sometimes yes, sometimes wait, and sometimes God says no.

If God can say no, why can't you?

What holds you back?

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Say No: There is NO Condemnation

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. Matthew 5: 37

By: Carol McClain @carol_mcclain

Years ago I played by bassoon in Oklahoma. My main take-away was the song, "I Can't Say No".

Unlike Ado Annie, my fear of no isn't sexual--but it permeates every part of my life.

I love to please. Like most women, was born to please. 

I'd guess the same goes for you.

Reasons We Don't Say No
  • fear of rejection
  • fear of wounding others
  • fear we won't be womanly
  • fear of missing God's will
And it's the last item that I think we need to overcome the most. Sometimes, God's will is only accomplished by saying no.

No Can Be God's Will

Before I ever published a book, my good friend Linda Rondeau got me a novella deal. Her agent would represent me. I'd be one of three others in the collection centered around another author's completed novella.

It was my foot in the door to the world of my dreams.

To prepare, I:
  • researched--and had a ball doing so
  • plotted out the work
  • and woke up many a night in panic.
As the novella took shape, the publisher placed more stipulations on it. 

First it had to be historical--no problem. I set it for the Dutch Schutlz trial in Malone--a current passion of mine. 

Next, she wanted a romance--okay, not my favorite genre--maybe my least favorite, but my time period mitigated it, and my heroine intrigued me. 

Finally, an angel had to appear.

Deal breaker

No way could I work an angel in. Not my style, in a work already fast become not my thing.

I couldn't sleep. Couldn't eat. I thought of the Scripture to let my yeah be yeah and my no be no. And I'd already said yes.

But I had to be obedient to God once I heard him tell me to say no.

I called Linda and explained how I couldn't do this novella. To my glee, she was delighted. Linda, too, had misgivings but couldn't back out on me.


My nights became restful, and my direction became clear.

Shortly after, I received my first contract from Desert Breeze Publishing. DWF: Divorced White Female came out the following year. A comedic women's fiction, where a ditched woman goes online to fine a man after her husband ditches her, characterized all I was as an author at the time.

No was God's direction. Matthew 5:37 tells us, no is part of God's will. We know in prayer, sometimes His answer is no. If God has no qualms saying no--neither should we.

Next week we'll explore how to follow in God's footsteps and say no.

Do you have problems with no? How do you overcome them? Do you wish to?

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Comparison: The Ruin of Joy

Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. 2 Cor. 10:12

By: Carol McClain @carol_mcclain

I sit in Salem, MA with the Boston Marathon in progress. Among the runners: a man who ran 120 marathons, a survivor of the 2013 Marathon Bombing, and a man with dwarfism who was spotlighted on The Today Show.

Me? I ran a measly four marathons and another is not in my future.

What do I lose with the attitude of my previous sentence? 

I ruin the joy of my successes.

He blessed me with good health and endurance and a gift of speed so that of the four marathons I ran, I took home a silver medal and a bronze. I still run, but am not willing to put in the hours and the pain it takes to compete in another marathon. Walking is good enough.

I ruin the joy of rejoicing in other's accomplishment.

However, more than the glory of the accomplishments I've made, I will lose the joy of rejoicing with those who are gifted beyond me.

The man with dwarfism is a good friend of my daughter's. She's currently tracking him, cheering as, briefly, he ran with the elite runners. (Yes, they lapped him, but still, John will finish in four hours--no small feat.)

Comparison Ruins Lives.
Which mask do you wish to wear?
I ruin inspiration.

The woman with the prosthetic leg inspires me to overcome my own inabilities. The joie de vivre of the runners make me want to do more than pick out my running clothes, but force me to put them on and hit the pavement.

I tell God He failed in my creation.

God fits us in the body as He desires. 1 Cor. 12:17 says we all can't have the same function--if we did, the body wouldn't function. He made me. I'm responsible for being the best I can be.

However, God doesn't expect me to be an elite runner or a master stained glass artist or an award winning author. He just expects me to use these gifts, to love working them and to live my life wholly and holy dedicated to him.

Do you lose your joy in comparisons?

Quick Tweets

Four things you ruin with comparisons. click to tweet

How to live your life wholly and holy dedicated to God. click to tweet

Lacking Joy? How to regain it. click to tweet

Monday, April 11, 2016

Mistakes: Make Them Good

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" Rom. 8:1.

Mistakes. Ever make one?

Usually we don't like to admit it--especially publicly. But I have little pride.

Mistakes are good.

Last week began my crazy week. I taught at a woman's retreat, had approximately 3.5 tons of yard work to complete and then needed to prep for a Missions Retreat this weekend before I left for my daughters.

In that mess, a casual friend held the memorial service for her mother. Where could I fit that visitation into this schedule, especially as I live twenty-minutes from town.

Skip the pizza: serve the person.
I had the perfect solution. On my way home from the retreat, I stopped at a pizza parlor and put in my to-go order. I headed over to the calling hours.

Ordinarily, these gatherings have a long line of mourners, so I figured I'd take my place in line, offer condolences, spend ten-fifteen minutes and then take dinner home to hubby and collapse.

When I arrived, I was the only visitor. Of family, only four people beside my friend attended. My heart broke at the loneliness and isolation she must have felt. 

My friend showed me, with great pride, the few mementos she had of her mom. I watched the video and tried to keep straight the family members she pointed out.
Choose life

But my mind whirred.

I was exhausted. My pizza was cooling down the road. A twenty-minute ride loomed ahead of me. Yet, grief, loneliness and isolation wrapped themselves here in the church sanctuary.

After a half-hour, I allowed the evil trinity of my current life compel me out of the sanctuary. I picked up my dinner and headed home.

I was wrong.

A quick phone call to my husband would have allayed worries about my delay. The pizza had been paid for, and we had an oven to bake it in. I should have stayed.

Lessons of a Recovering Perfectionist
  • No condemnation. I felt bad, and I should have. Life and friendship is more than the busyness of our own selves. I needed to use this time to learn a lesson.
  • Mistakes teach us lessons. Do you think I'll ever let my life dictate my love for others again? Nope. I married a good man. My love for others outweighs my comfort--and people will take a higher priority in my life until I get it right.
  • Perfection comes only though Jesus. I goofed. But when the missions conference rolled around, we had an extra room. My closest friend who organized the trip for our church asked me if this woman whose mother had passed should be invited. With glee I nearly leaped up and down. My answer, "Yes, yes, yes." And we were able to bless my friend. I grew to know her more. 

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How have mistakes made you more Christlike?