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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Monday, May 1, 2017

Proof of Christianity: Chronic Repentance

 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Eph. 2:8-9

By: Carol McClain @carol_mcclain

Newly divorced with a young child, I started life over again in Malone, a tiny town in Northern New York. Here I met some lovely people who attended a charismatic church. One woman, Colleen, befriended me as she witnessed to me, and the Holy Spirit began His final work in bringing me to salvation.

One thing Colleen told me was that we'd all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We needed to repent.

In my naive mind, I examined my conscience and struggled to discover my sins. Somewhere, back a week or two prior, I may have cursed. Once, perhaps, I gossiped. After a quick prayer, I resumed my normal life.

One day I realized God is real. Christianity is true. I needed to be saved.

Suddenly the truth of my life opened up to me, and I saw my true spiritual state. When the Bible said to pray continually, I knew why--we had to cover the chronic sin in our lives.

Matt Chandler in Recovering Redemption says, "The proof of Christianity isn't perfection. In fact, one of the key ways you can tell you're saved--as backward as this logic may feel or sound--is when your faith continually leads you toward repentance, and Jesus continually brings about change."

Proof of Christianity

  1. We understand God is gracious--not cruel. He doesn't call us sinners to degrade us. It's the truth in love. As a mother, I'd correct my daughter, not to be mean--although I'd never convince her that kindness led me to correct her. My correction occured to improve her life.
  2. God doesn't give us more than we can bear--even though it doesn't always appear that way. Many people face horrible circumstances--death of loved ones, disease, loss. However, God's grace always gets us through. He always provides a way to carry our burdens.
  3. We don't see our sin until our character is capable of dealing with it. In my life, I'll grow like a toddler. Parents see a child putting on a belly and know their baby is about to grow.  My "belly" is contentment in my character. I look at my life and know I've got it all together. At that point, I know growth is coming, and when it does, I don't believe I'll ever be good.
  4. Every day, we improve. Growth is never observable in the day to day. We don't see a tomato plant grow its blossom. One morning, through, a yellow flower appears on it. That's us. Slowly, our sins fade. We mature and produce the fruit of the spirit. As we look back over our lives, the changes for the good amaze us.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Religion and Potatoes: Six Differences Between Religion and Faith

There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. Mark 7:15

By: Carol McClain @carol_mcclain

Neil, bless his heart, loves potatoes.


No meal is complete without the spuds.

Have I said yuck, yet?

Every night, whether I eat them or not, he gets his potatoes. Why?

Not because he demands them, nor because he's difficult or obstinate or surly. Anyone who knows my husband understands the gentleness of his spirit. He gets them because I know how little he asks of me and how contented he is after a dinner of meat and potatoes.

No law of marriage makes me cook something I don't care for. No brutal demands from my spouse compel me to throw a tater into the microwave. I'm a good wife in this one area. For one reason only do I cook them: I love my husband, and he loves potatoes.

This aptly illustrates the difference between religion and faith.


Religion puts on from the outside. You do it because it's a rule.
Faith emanates from the inside. You do it because you want to.

Religion barters for something. "I'll do x if you give me y."
Faith gives without expecting anything back.

Religion looks for tradition and moral loopholes.
Faith looks at the spirit of the law. It works out of love.

Religion looks at the surface. You do the activity, therefore you're unclean.
Faith looks inside. You are unclean, ergo you did what you did.

Religion creates status, puffs one up--I'm better than you.
Faith knows we're all lost sinners saved only through Christ's redemption

Religion condemns
Faith loves

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Four Hints You Are Religious Rather Than Spiritual

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Is. 64:6

By: Carol McClain @carol_mcclain

For most of my Christian life, I belong to a lively church that eschewed "religiosity." We never would've condoned it.

The only problem was--this house of worship was, unwittingly, quite religious.

For example, worship band would start. The chairs got folded, and we danced. First note...the ritual began. Never did it vary. If someone felt uncomfortable worshiping in this manner and was not an invalid, her salvation was questioned.

In order teach adult Sunday school or join the worship team or become a deacon--anything only a "mature" Christian could minister in,  a long span of time had to pass where you proved your sincerity. Did you participate in all work bees, attend every meeting, pay beyond your tithes, etc.

With pure hearts and good intentions, many churches become as religious as the high churches they condemn. Like religions consisting of rituals and rules to prove your worthiness, this adherence to the outside appearance chains us down.

Four Hints You May Be Religious And Not Spiritual

  1. Do you put on your faith? Is it on the outside--something you do like going to church on Sunday or Easter? 
  2. Do you barter with God? I'll go to Wednesday night prayer meetings if You...
  3. Do you work for approval? Is your volunteer activity for the sheer need of it or for the approval of men?
  4. Is your faith a series of rules to prove your intent? I won't listen to rock music. I won't drink. I won't stint one penny on my tithes. I will dress in a rigid, prescribed manner rather than simply modestly.
We live by faith, not by our works of righteousness (Eph. 2: 8-9). Religion is a cruel task master--and never allows any of us to be good enough. And should we attain respect--then we feel free to boast.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

No Matter How Small--YOU Change the World

If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.

 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 1 Cor. 12: 17-19
Lin is as glorious as the Smokies at Cades Cover

By: Carol McClain @carol_mcclain

On Saturday, a good friend and an AMAZING author Lin Stepp had a book launch for her newest novel . Being a stellar author myself, I wanted to support her. After all, I've sold my books at book fairs, signings, and festivals. I KNOW the struggle.

To my amazement, the place was packed. She sold more books in one day than I sell in a year (and have I told you I'm amazing? Check out The Poison We Drink rather than taking my word for it.

The old Carol, the one before God began working on my perfectionism and my need to work our my salvation (I know the Scriptures that tell me to work), would have been bummed that she had done so much better than I.

Unable to even find a minute to chat with Lin, hubby and I went off to explore Cades Cove--a world I love, and Neil doesn't get to see.
I am not much more than a teeny dogwood.

The next day at church, another friend Ann--one I'm friendly with, but our paths cross only at First Baptist, went out of her way to approach me.

She told me how much my posts on the Smokies blessed her. They brought back memories of the wonderful times when she and her late husband explored the mountains. She didn't refer to the blog I spend hours on or my books available in the church library--just my humble pictures of hikes with friends.

Once more God showed me not all of us are the eye of the body. In the natural, it's one of the body parts we find most beautiful. Neither are all of us the hair or fingernails--and believe me, my hair and fingernails need work. Still each of us, like the phacelia (see last week's post) or the humble, Southern dogwood, add a beauty and a function to the body  no one else can give. This world would not work the way it should without us.

You change the world.

  1. Only you can fulfill your purpose. What is your talent? Lin is a gifted marketer (and that doesn't detract from her writing skills). Others are accountants and others handymen. All are needed.
  2. God called YOU according to His purposes. Some of us are showy, giant hibiscus. Some are lowly phacelia. Some of us are bees, chased away when the blooms are cut. All of us have a reason to be here.
  3. You are a light on the hill reflecting God's glory. Only you can reach the people God brings into your life. Most of the time we're not aware of the effect we have. This is good. God gets the glory.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Strength in Weakness: Lessons from Phacelias

 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. Heb. 10:25

And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. Lev. 26:8
Silver-leaf Phacelia, White-leaf Phacelia
non-descript single phacelia

By: Carol McClain @carol_mcclain

When someone mentions the Great Smoky Mountains, most people think of sweeping vistas and giant bears.

At this time of year, different sightseers hunt the wilds. Wildflowers abound in spring. This week I fell in love with the lowly phacelia which come in both purple and white.

Bueschelschoen, Blossom, Bloom, Violet
a purple variant
Walking Old Sugarlands, we found a few. In this area, they were white phacelia growing in single clumps. Bending over to examine them, I discovered a beauty I could never have imagined, and of course my camera couldn't capture them either.

Tiny white, cup-shaped flowers were topped with a fringe that reminded me of a ballerina's tulle tutu.

Then we hit the Chimney's Picnic area. Here the fields were white with them, and no longer could any of my friends and I breathe because these flowers stole our breath.

Sweeping vistas of flowers carpeted the ground like snow. As a group, no one could deny the beauty each individual added to the scene.

This is us.

  1. No one can deny the beauty of the individual. No matter how insignificant each of us feels, how hidden in the recesses of life, we are beautiful.
  2. There is strength in numbers. By ourselves we may not seem strong or noticeable. As a group, no one can deny our strength.
  3. It's not good to be alone. It's then that we get trampled or lost in the grand views of life. Together we can change our world.

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