Monday, June 26, 2017

House Cleaning and Sin: How We Justify Our Self-Hatred

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. James 5:16

By Carol McClain: @carol_mcclain

We invited friends over to the house at the last minute. I looked over my home and knew I only had time for what I called "lies and deceptions." I had to clean, but a real cleaning wouldn't happen. The fake one would have to do.

I ran a dust rag over the furniture. Vacuumed fast. Shoved dirty pans in the oven. Closed the door to my study. I was set.

Of course, my house wasn't clean, but my image was.

If my friends opened the closed door, if they checked the oven or looked in a cabinet, they'd find how truly awful I was.

Sort of like sin in our lives.

We confess to God but hide our weakness from our peers. If they really knew our neurosis--like sitting up all night knowing the little lump on our calf was not from hitting the end table, but a ravenous cancer--they'd think us mentally deranged, lacking faith. Maybe we're hiding our disinterest in worship or of Bible study in fear they'd think we're not spiritual. Perhaps our bursts of anger would make them question our character.

Hiding sin from trusted peers enslaves us to our image. It justifies our self-hatred or depression or loathing of others as we project our sin onto them.

Repentance must be two-directional:

  1. We must confess to God, first and foremost. Implied in this is the fact we've acknowledged the sin to ourselves. 1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, He will forgive us. Therefore, we know we are clean. Still, guilt cloys. We need to get rid of its stench.
  2. We must confess to others. This doesn't mean we tell any old person even if that person is a devout believer. I made the mistake of confessing a boredom with my Bible reading to a Bible study group. Within days, I received a nasty letter from one member questioning my salvation. It did nothing for my self-esteem. However, we all have, or should work to have, a trusted friend or spouse or family member with whom we can confide. We should belong to a church with a loving pastor.
    1. They can give us insight to the reason for our guilt.
    2. Their continued love reassures us we're treasured just as we are.
    3. We discover our perfect compatriots are as sullied as us.

Confession is good for the soul. (click to tweet)

Repentance must be two-directional. (click to tweet)

Hiding sin justifies our self-hatred. (click to tweet)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Celebrate Your Weirdness: You are wonderful, no matter what you think

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Ps 139:14

By Carol McClain: @carol_mcclain

English: President Barack Obama writes at his ...
Great people  have what had been considered oddities.
President Obama was left-handed.
My brother Art is left-handed. Back when we were in grade school, left-handedness was considered a trait to be corrected. So many lefties were forced to convert to right-handed writing.

When that failed, they still faced tribulation.

My granddaughter, too, uses her left hand. Spirals in notebooks get in the way. Ink smudges over her hand--even when using a ball point pen. Scissors? Not designed for her.

So sad that we couldn't celebrate our diversity then, but we know now, lefties are a creative crew--right-brained, different-thinking. They have solutions no one else does. Gifts God created especially for them.

English: Illustration to The Holy Bile, Judges...
English: Illustration to The Holy Bile, Judges, chapter 3. Eglon assassinated by Ehud. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It reminds of Ehud, a hero from the Book of Judges. As a left-handed warrior, he had to design a special two-edged sword because standard ones wouldn't work for him. Unlike other fighters, he hid the shortened blade on his right side, not his left. When he approached the evil king, Eglon, the monarch kept his eye on Ehud's left side--where a sword should have been.

Because he had to design a special sword, because it was on the opposite hip that everyone else used, Ehud was able to assassinate the fat, wicked Moabite ruler.

Think of your own uniqueness--you're not weird. 

  1. Do you suffer from mental illness? God can use your focus and pain. For those with Asperger's or OCD, you have concentration that could make Bill Gates envious. Perhaps the mental stress of other issues disturb you. You can understand the pain other people face. You can nurture them. Mental illness is the same as chronic physical illness. You're not weird.
  2. Do you see odd shapes in trees and rocks when others see trees and rocks? I hike regularly. Pat is always pointing out boring rocks to me. "Look, a duck!" or "There's a rabbit holding a rifle." I'd look, and, sure enough, in the erosion of the stone, a duck face or gun-toting bunny would have formed. This imaginative mind makes a fanciful world out of the mundane.
  3. Does a physical illness plague you? A woman in our church must go on dialysis three times a week. Those long, tedious days are not spent glued to a TV. She spends hours in prayer.
  4. Are you single in a married world? God can use the time to build your creativity, your ministry to others or develop your talents. You can work to your full potential in ways married people can't.
If we're honest, all of us are weird.

The strength comes in acknowledging it and calling it for what it is: we are fearfully, wonderfully and uniquely made.

Each of us has our own strengths.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

6 Ways to Conquer Depression

All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, "Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Num. 14:2

By Carol McClain: @carol_mcclain

When it comes to conquering depression, many of my friends will laugh and say, "She's hardly the expert on conquering sorrow."


My life often resemble the lives of those recalcitrant Israelites newly freed from Egypt. "Oh that we could've eaten the leeks and melons of Egypt." "God, have you brought us here to die?"

I may not crave an onion, but I'll often look at what's gone wrong and throw my life into despair. However, I do NOT wish to be like the Israelite nation who, as a result of their attitude, were forced to wander around for forty years.

I think a week of melancholy is too much.

If depression is more than temporary. If you can't point to a situation that catapults you into despair, see a doctor. Medical issues like thyroid or cholesterol levels can be at the foundations. Good medications exist that help brain dysfunction.

For the normal episodes, try the following.

6 Ways to conquer depression:

  1. Get exercise. Running for me always boosts my mood. If that level of aerobic activity is not possible, try something else. I joke and say I'm the good Antaeus. He got his strength from the ground, so Hercules had to strangle him by holding him off the earth. Put my fingers in the soil, and the dirt on my psyche is cleansed.
  2. Get sociable. The last thing you want to do when depressed is to be with people. That's exactly what you should do. Find a friend; go for lunch. Head to the beach. Hit the meeting you're supposed to go to and linger afterwards for conversation.
  3. Eat properly. In my despondency, give me ice cream and coffee. Or rather, coffee ice cream with a cup of coffee. Bad move. Eating (or for me when depression totally slobber-knocks me, not eating) is one of the worst things you can do. Get lots of fruit and veggies and low fat protein. Change out the banana split for banana and low fat yogurt.
  4. Count your blessings. Situations truly can hurt. We lose jobs. Our spouses leave us. Disease or death hits. The Israelites had just been freed from slavery. They saw the hand of God drown the Egyptians, still they despaired. Sometimes, knowing how ungrateful we are temporarily exacerbates our sorrow. In the end, where we focus is where we go. Keep a journal, count the good in your life.
  5. Get involved mentally. Work for me always eliminated sorrow. How could I dwell in blackness when 100 adolescents awaited my brilliant teaching? If you don't have a good work situation, find a good book or a hobby or a ministry or solve Sudoku or crossword puzzles.
  6.  Seek God.  First and last (He is, after all, the Alpha and Omega),  seek God. Memorize scripture that speaks to your situation. Pray. Find a prayer partner (see #2 above). God promises, "I know the thoughts I have for you, thoughts of good and not evil, to bring you hope and an expected end." (This is a Carol variation of Jeremiah 29: 11--see #5 and 6. Even I can memorize).

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Daily Repentance: Three Signs We're Following Christ

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. ... Rom. 7:14-23

By Carol McClain: @carol_mcclain

May 31st marked my thirty-seventh year as a Christian. Prior to my conversion, a dear friend Colleen witnessed to me regularly. As the Holy Spirit drew on my spirit, I knew I needed to repent. I'd bow my head and search my conscience for something, anything, I did wrong.

At last, I remembered a moment when I got angry. "Forgive me, Lord," I'd pray. Then I'd blissfully live my life.

On Sunday, May 31, 1980, I knew the truth--knew I had to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Then I saw my wickedness. No longer did I have to struggle to find something I need to repent of. I'd ask for forgiveness. I'd work out my salvation according to what God showed me. Then I'd get to a point I knew I was living righteously.

It's at this pinnacle that God always intervenes, and shows me, once again, that I have sinned and need to change.

Daily Repentance Is Proof of Salvation

  1. God is gracious. He doesn't show us our sin until we can handle it.
  2. God doesn't give us more than we can handle. My brother gave up drinking the instant he got saved. Six months later, he realized he should quit smoking pot. We, as Christians, find the need to eliminate marijuana from our lives as obvious. My brother didn't. In repentance and obedience, he quit. The same holds true for us. God gives us one area at a time to improve. Even when we conquer it--say our pride or our anger or our envy--at a later date God will refine our character to further weed out the sin.
  3. Every day we improve. Like a growing child, we don't see our growth. However, when we look back on our lives, our progress will amaze us.
We don't get it perfectly when we "walk the aisle." But God continues to work in us for His good pleasure.

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Marriage, Moving and Salvation--A Parable

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Col. 1:13

By: Carol McClain @carol_mcclain

For twenty years, I parented alone.

No man visited the church I dedicated myself to, and I wasn't going to search among the unsaved for love or a father-figure for my daughter.

In my fifties, I met Neil. We married. We switched churches. Finally, we moved from New York to Tennessee.

Here no one knows me as a single mother. No one is aware of the sins I committed in my Christian walk or the missteps and misbeliefs of my life.

Here I am a mature Christian with abundant gifts. Daily friends and ministers remind me of how blessed they are by my life.

My sins have been covered.

This is a parable of salvation:

  1. Before we accept Christ, we live in sin and shame. Any single person who attends an organization filled with married people, know they are unintentionally ostracized. There was no "sin" in my singleness, but we can look at it as a metaphor. I felt alone and inadequate. With no mate, I knew (erroneously) I was  undesirable. Daily I prayed for God to cover my "shame."
  2. We become the bride of Christ. With my vows to Neil, my singleness had been erased. Just as with my vows to Jesus, all my sin had vanished.
  3. Salvation moves us from one kingdom to another.  No one knows me without my "covering." Here I'm married, and for all intents, had been married all my life. So many people enumerate my great qualities. They're impressed that I've published three books. They believe I do wonders in my mentoring of recovering addicts. They think I'm a Bible scholar. My move, like salvation, has removed my "sins of the past" and transferred me into a "kingdom of  glory."

Of course marriage and moving don't mirror the glory of salvation. But God, when we accept him as Lord and Savior, moves us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Old things have passed away, all things have become new.

Think of the patriarchs. They all moved. Their marriages reflected the kingdom of God. Salvation doesn't care where you've been or what you've done. It creates a new creation.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Horizontal Repentance: 3 Signs of Worldly Grief

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 2 Cor. 7:10

By: Carol McClain @carol_mcclain

New York State has annual regents exams. Like all tests, they have strict guidelines. If a student asks directions on how to answer, teachers were instructed to say, "Read the question and do your best."

One question asked students to write a letter for a specific purpose. The instructions asked them to only write the body of the letter. However, the kids had been taught through eleven years of schooling that letters had return addresses, business addresses, salutations, and closings. For this test, we'd told them--let's round the number up to the closest guestimate--a billion times to answer this standard question like an essay: intro, body, conclusion.

While proctoring, a young woman raised her hand. I went to see her need.

"Do I use my address? They didn't give me their's" she said.

"Read the instructions." I can be trained to respond appropriately.

"But I don't have all the information..."

And around it went, until my normal teaching habits kicked into automatic responses. "No. Remember? It's just the body. Beginning, middle, end." 

Of course, my department head caught me. Turned me in for cheating. Got me written up.

Never had I been disciplined in my work. I believed my integrity had been assaulted, and I spent months (literally) in tears and sorrow.

A good friend Barry comforted me. One phrase he said knocked into me the realization about my melodrama. "Are you sorry for what you did, or that you got caught?"

Insulted, I couldn't admit to him he was correct. Not admitting it prolonged my grief.

I didn't want to cheat. Never intended to do so. I couldn't admit it then, but the grief of having a formal reprimand drove me out of my mind.

This is horizontal grief. Worldly repentance. 

Not godly.

Signs of Worldly Grief

  1. I'm sorry if... I'm sorry you... Do you cast your apology in terms of the other person disapproving. "I'm sorry if my actions offend you." "I'm sorry you didn't like that." It's not about you being wrong. It's about the other person being offended by your actions.
  2. If you weren't caught, would you be sorry or feel the grief? In my example, I knew instantly that I goofed, and I would have striven to never make the mistake again. In that sense, my grief was godly. However, even though I couldn't admit it, Barry was right. Had I not been caught, my sorrow would not have overcome me.
  3. Did it effect raw emotions only or did it prompt change? Emotions change. If you haven't given your wrongdoings to God, Satan will buffet you with them. If you've confessed and striven to change your life, then it's godly repentance.

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Monday, May 8, 2017

Strawberries and Religious Works: Three Ways Works Deceive Us

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but the (person) who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30

By: Carol McClain @carol_mcclain

I sliced into a strawberry. The red fruit was large and perfectly formed. It lay in a container with other berries identical to it. My mouth watered with the promise of the sweetness of summers past.

Those berries had been small. My daughter, Sarah, and I would crawl along a friend's field and pick. The juice stained our fingers (and our mouths--we never deceived Louise, the owner of the field, that the berries we weighed were the only ones we took). Not able to wait until we washed the fruit, we gobbled the irregularly shaped strawberries with bits of sand still clinging to them.

This morning I dug into my huge berry-laden bowl of cereal. And the promise of the outward appearance deceived me. Strawberries had gone the way of tomatoes and become beautiful, tempting cardboard. 

That's us and our works.

Too often, I'd been deceived by the promise of ministry. I wanted to work for God and the bigger the better.

Little did I know how skewed my perception was.

Sitting on the vine soaking in the sunshine of God's Being, being rained on by His majesty and His perfect ways is what God wants of us.

Priscilla Shirer in Discerning the Voice of God says, "Often we seek to know God's direction more than we seek to know God. We bypass the relationship because we would rather have answers about us" (67).

Your works are deceiving you if:

  1. You want the BIG gifts--pastorate, missionary, teacher because of the glory they bring to you. Too many Christians are impressed by these gifts. I met a woman, typical of many Christians, who, when she learned my husband was a pastor, turned her whole attention to me. Then she discovered he'd retired. She no longer would look my way because a retired pastor held no glory. Too many want the works so they can boast.
  2. You believe God will only accept you if you work.  In April 24th's blog, we explored how works are a natural outflow of love, not a way to earn it.
  3. They interfere with sitting down and knowing God. I can cook, clean, and gift my husband, but if I don't sit in his presence and know who he is, my marriage isn't going to make it. I do the above because I know him and love him. I don't do it to earn his affection or respect.
Works, too often, are about us, not about our relationship.

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