Before social media, my junior high friends and I used to write each other old-fashioned notes using lined paper and pencils—the kind they make from real trees! I still have some of those notes, so I’m going to share two of them with you today: the first from 6th or 7th grade and the second from college.
As you read these notes, look for the fruit (did their words build someone up or tear someone down) as well as the root behind the fruit of their words (what’s obviously in these girls’ hearts).
Will you go with me to talk to Megan? I want to tell her why we won’t tell her why we’re mad (because she’ll tell her mom and then we’ll get in trouble).
Her clothes are ugly.
She flirts (and denies it).
She thinks she is awesome.
She brags about her grades.
She brags about her brothers.
She brags about the ugly cars they have.
She said she has only gotten spanked once.
She thinks she is cool because she has a silver trumpet.
She tells her mom everything.
She copies us.
She thinks she is talented at running, drawing, and school work.
She thinks she is pretty.
She thinks she is cool because her dad is the preacher.
She thinks she is a good babysitter.
She thinks everyone likes her.
She thinks she is a tomboy (pink, teddy bears, mama’s girl, likes dresses).
She thinks she has a perfect life.
Oh yeah, when her mom asked what was wrong she said, “Are you jealous of Megan because of something she has or can do or does?” I stood there thinking, Yeah right!!
I’m kinda scared too because she’ll tell her mom, and then her mom will tell my mom, and I’ll get in trouble!
PS: Write back.
10 Things I Love About Paula
10. She delights in simple pleasures.
9. She gives great advice.
8. Her iron will when it comes to resisting sugar. 😉
7. She loves people.
6. She makes me laugh.
5. Her curiosity about people and life.
4. She’s my sister Resident Assistant.
3. Her beautiful smile.
2. She gives great back rubs.
1. Her boast and confidence is in Christ.
How about it? Did exhibit 1 and 2 build up or tear someone down? What can you tell about the writers’ hearts based only on their words?
And, more importantly . . . are your words more like exhibit 1 or exhibit 2? Maybe you say, I would never write a letter like Kelly wrote. But before you let yourself off the hook too quickly, take this twenty-question quiz from Mary Kassian.
Then, write someone a note (yes, on real paper from actual trees!) with the goal of building them up. Let me know you did so below by Friday, October 3 for a chance to win one of two copies of Mary’s Bible study Conversation Peace in our Freebie Friday giveaway.
“Two Letters; Two Hearts” was originally posted on LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com.
I’m crazy about fruit: plump blueberries, juicy peaches, Honeycrisp apples . . . it’s one of the main perks of living in Michigan—they grow some mean fruit here!
In Matthew 12 we catch Jesus, probably as He’s walking by some fruit trees, using fruit to teach the cream-of-the-crop religious folks an important lesson about their words. Let’s join them now:
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit” (v. 33).
(This isn’t rocket science. What’s the best way to recognize an apple tree? Right . . . by its apples!) Jesus continues,
“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (v. 34).
(Paul David Tripp says it like this: “The heart is the control system. Change doesn’t need to take place first in your words; change needs to take place first in your heart.”) Jesus goes on to explain,
“The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (v. 35).
Let’s break that down from the top.
Jesus is using an analogy of a fruit tree. For our purposes, we’ll call it an apple tree. Jesus is explaining that our words are connected to our hearts the way apples are connected to their tree.
Hockey Puck Apples
Pretend with me that there’s an apple tree growing in your back yard (and thank you, Paul Tripp, for the following illustration!). Every year the tree grows hard, brown, nasty, shriveled up apples you would never dream of eating. This happens year after year after year: the apples turn out as hard as hockey pucks. Finally you’ve had it; you decide to do something about it.
If what continually comes out of your mouth is junk, you desperately need a new heart.
So you head for the garage and collect a ladder, branch cutters, and a nail gun. Then you drive to the local farmer’s market and buy three bushels of Honeycrisp apples. Now you’re ready. You climb the ladder and carefully cut off all those hockey puck apples. Then you nail three bushels of Honeycrisp apples onto the tree.
From a distance, people will think your apple tree looks lovely, right? But not up close! And time will soon reveal the truth. They’ll rot cause they’re not hooked to the life-giving source of the tree, and next year that tree will continue to produce hockey puck apples.
Paul Tripp comments, “Most of what we do in the name of Christianity is just apple nailing.” We try to maintain nice(ish) words on the surface but never think we have a big enough problem that would require us to dig down to the root issue.
We Need a Heart Transplant
But Jesus tells us clearly in v. 34 that we have a deeper, underlying problem than simply our words,
“How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Here’s the deal: Our words reflect a deeper problem: a heart problem.
Jeremiah 17:9 says,
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
(By the way, when Jeremiah talks about our hearts, he’s not referring to our blood-pumping organ but to the very core of who we are. Our insides—the part of us no one but God can see: the home of our desires, decisions, thoughts, and feelings.)
We’re told that our hearts are 100% polluted from the day we’re born. All of us need a heart transplant. Because only when we have new hearts will we have new words.
Jesus throws in a second analogy in v. 35:
“The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”
Jesus says our hearts are either like spiritual treasure troves . . . or garbage dumps. Each of us can only “bring forth”—fling out—whatever treasures or junk is piled up in our hearts.
If what continually comes out of your mouth is junk, you desperately need a new heart.
And if you’ve already been given a new heart but still have junk coming out of your mouth, you need to store up good in your heart, like stocking up your pantry before a big snowstorm. How? By memorizing Scripture, by thinking about things that are “pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise” (Phil. 4:8).
So I need to ask . . . what are your words telling you about your heart?
Check back next week for a fun, practical exercise to see if you can spot what kind of heart someone has based only on their words. And stay tuned the following week to hear how to get a heart transplant!
“Treasure Trove or Garbage Dump?” was originally posted on LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com.
Do you talk too much? Do you babble? Do you spend a lot of time on the phone or in chat rooms? Do you monopolize conversations with your opinions? Do you interrupt? (See Eccl. 10:11; Prov. 15:28; 29:20; Jas. 1:19).
Are you reluctant to admit you’re wrong? Do you fail to ask forgiveness? Do you refuse to admit your error when you feel another’s error is greater? (Prov. 29:23; Jas. 5:16).
Do you betray a confidence? Do you repeat matters that you should keep private? If someone has failed or injured you, do you feel compelled to tell someone else about it? (See Prov. 6:19; 17:19; 19:11; 25:9–10).
Do you criticize? Find fault? Focus on the bad instead of the good? Do you see people’s shortcomings more than their strengths? (Ps. 41:5; Rom. 1:30).
Do you complain? Do you bewail the circumstances you find yourself in? Do you let others know that you resent being inconvenienced? (See Phil. 2:14).
Do you make assumptions and assume the worst about other people’s motives and intentions? (See 1 Tim. 6:3–4; Prov. 29:20).
Do you hold grudges? Focus on past wrongs? Accuse others? (Prov. 11:12).
Are you sarcastic? Do you mock others? Do you use negative humor to put others down? (See Prov. 15:1; 16:27).
Are you malicious? Are your words intended to cut and wound? Are your words harsh? (See Prov. 11:12; 15:1; 16:27; 17:4).
Are you insincere in your compliments? Do you flatter others for your own advantage? (See Prov. 26:28; 29:5).
Is your speech filthy? Do you swear or use foul language? Do you use the latest slang or crass expressions? (See Prov. 4:24; 10:31–32; Col. 3:8).
Do you fail to listen? Do you jump to conclusions before you are sure that you have heard and understood? (See Prov. 18:13; 19:20; Jas. 1:19).
How’d you score? If you suddenly realize you have a problem with your words, come back next week as we drill down to the root of those nasty words.
“Quiz Time! Are Your Words Nasty or Nice?” was originally posted on LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com.
How do I get my friends that never talk about God to actually like Him? That’s what one of you asked me recently.
Well, ultimately you can’t make anyone like God. But there are some things you can do along the way that will definitely help . . . or hurt. Here are five ways you can help your friends not like God.
Don’t enjoy God yourself.
You can’t help but talk about what you enjoy. So don’t spend any time with Him, just you and Him. And by all means, don’t enjoy Him! Then you might not be able to contain your excitement—you might spill the latest thing you’ve been admiring about Him—and your friends might actually get excited about God, too.
Don’t live what you claim to believe.
Embrace Jesus as your Savior but not your Lord. It doesn’t really matter that you follow and obey Him each day. I mean, He shouldn’t mess up your life or plans or have a say over every area of your life. That would be too . . . radical, don’t you think?
Don’t share the Good News with your friend.
There are a whole heap of reasons for this. It might make the conversation weird. You might stutter and stumble over your words. Surely your friend wouldn’t be interested! And what if it ruined your friendship? You might miss out on a future opportunity to share the Good News with her.
Only share the gospel once, but expect your friend to trust in Christ immediately.
Never mind the fact that God is a patient God or that you and I had to hear the gospel countless times; this is different. Your friend really should just get it! Besides, if you’ve told him or her once, you’ve done your job, right?
Never seek to understand.
Don’t ask your friend questions; don’t seek to understand what he or she has been told about God, or if they even believe He exists at all. Just preach at your friend. Act as if you have all the answers. I mean, you basically do, right? Why bother asking questions like Jesus did? He was God—you’re not. Just try to impress them with all your knowledge.
Of course I’m saying this tongue in cheek, since you and I actually want our friends to like God. In fact, we want them to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength! But sometimes we put obstacles in their way.
Have you ever done any of this? If so, what do you relate to? And more importantly, what can you do today to share the Good News with your friend in a way that will possibly help them almost . . . like God?
“5 Ways to Make Sure Your Friends (Don’t) Like God” was originally posted on LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com.
Yesterday I shared four things I learned from entering a pageant. Not a pageant like you see on TV, mind you; this one was held in a field the first year and a barn the second year. Seriously. I felt comfy entering this particular pageant because its point was less about showcasing some unrealistic standard of beauty and more about building our communication skills. But it still required me to get faaarrr out of my comfort zone.
So without further ado, here are four more things I learned from entering a pageant.
I learned to perform under pressure.
For at least a month before the competition, I walked, talked, and dreamed pageant. The night before the big event, I tossed and turned, imagining every possible outcome. Morning dawned at last, and I ate a healthy breakfast before driving to the mall to have my makeup done.
After getting my hair styled and dressing in my interview suit, I stood (so as not to wrinkle) and tried to convince myself I was calm.
At last it was time to leave for the competition. This was the day I’d been anticipating for over a month, and I couldn’t let this fact terrorize me.
What pressure-packed situation are you facing? Have you learned the secret to being A-Okay regardless of the outcome?
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11–13).
I learned to communicate comfortably.
Not only did we give a speech, do an interview, and answer fishbowl questions, but much to everyone’s surprise, we interacted with the judges rather . . . spontaneously. It happened like this.
The judges’ decision was ultimately under God’s control. He gave me His very best.
We were enjoying a light supper together on the day of the pageant when the tornado siren began to blare. Immediately, the contestants, directors, and judges hurried to the farthest windowless room in the building. We huddled around a crackling radio, wondering if the public portion of the pageant would be cancelled. What an awkward, unexpected situation! I discreetly pulled my business suit around my legs as I perched on the edge of an old, orange sofa.
One of the judges joked, “So . . . you know any good jokes?” We all giggled.
Yikes, I thought, we didn’t talk about this in practice. It could jeopardize my standing with the judges—but, hey—I would joke in any other setting. Much to the amazement of everyone in the room, I piped up, “I do,” and proceeded to relate some corny joke. It broke the ice, and we laughed and chatted until the storm blew over.
I’m curious. How have your words either helped or hurt in a pressurized situation?
The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him (Eccles. 10:12).
I realized as never before how many people were rooting for me.
What must my neighbors have thought as they glanced out their windows a month before the pageant and observed my twelve-year-old brother firing fishbowl questions at me, and then watched me waltz around the cul-de-sac in high heels—practicing my pivots—before returning to my brother to answer another question. The time spent with him is still precious to me.
Then there were my fellow employees from “The Hut” (Pizza Hut). They colored “We love Paula” on poster boards and scrawled my name on their cars with washable paint. In fact, the manager came to my rescue the evening of the pageant. As I walked onto the stage, my face muscles froze. I tried to smile but felt my lips quivering madly and then drooping down. I looked out into the crowd, and my eyes connected with hers.
What a sight!
She was puffing out her cheeks, pulling on her ears, and making ridiculous faces. Laughter welled up inside me, and my face unfroze. Throughout that night, when my smile began to droop, I searched the crowd for my manager. Who wouldn’t feel like a winner with friends like these? Proverbs 17:17 is right:
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
I learned to be a gracious winner and loser.
This was it. I held my breath as the emcee pulled the second-to-last scrap of paper out of the envelope—the paper that would determine the next year of my life. He paused dramatically, then bellowed my name. I was the runner-up. Mechanically I stepped forward, accepted the flowers, and moved to the front of the stage, smiling all the way.
I didn’t feel like smiling, though. I wanted to allow angry tears to course down my face, to tell the judges how stupid they were, to stomp off the stage in disappointment and disgust. (Hey, I’m just being honest.) But this would not have been appropriate.
There was a girl standing behind me who was on top of the world. For her sake and the sake of my own dignity, I lost graciously. I hugged, congratulated, and took pictures with her. In the process I learned how to be happy for others’ triumphs and how to receive an award without hurting others.
Besides, Proverbs 16:33 says:
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.
This truth applies even to “minor” details like who wins a pageant. The judges’ decision was ultimately under God’s control. He gave me His very best, and for some reason, His best was second place.
How about you? Do you believe God is ultimately in control of whether you earn that title or make it to state? That He’s for you?
Oh how He is, sweet girl. You don’t need to be a “winner” in order to capture His attention or earn His favor. It’s yours, all yours, if you’re in Christ.
Most little girls dream of gliding down a runway in a flowing gown and a glittering crown. Most grown-up girls know they’re not beauty queens and mutter under their breath about “those airheads competing on stage.”
I’m one of those “airheads” who has stood under the floodlights with a pasted-on smile. And though I never sauntered away with a crown perched on my head, the experience was invaluable.
I should tell you that I entered my small county fair pageant in an effort to face my fears. At the time, nothing seemed more terrifying. Oh, it wasn’t like the pageants you see on TV; it was held in a field the first year and a barn the second year. Seriously. I felt comfy entering this particular pageant because its point was less about showcasing some unrealistic standard of beauty and more about building our communication skills. But it still required me to get faaarrr out of my comfort zone.
Here are four lessons I learned from entering a pageant.
I learned to support and love the very girls I was competing against.
For several weeks I practiced, laughed, ate, and dreamed with these girls. The first day I met them, I was faced with a choice: withdraw from them because they were my competition or encourage and love them. I chose the latter and enjoyed friendships and even reciprocal support from them. Makes me think of Proverbs 14:30:
A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.
Are you loving the girls in your life or competing with them?
I learned more about who I was.
As I prepared for the fishbowl questions and interview, I pondered questions I’d never considered before. Who is my role model, and why? What would I do with an extra hour every day? What quality do I desire most in a friend? If I were President for a day, what would I change? This thoughtful reflection was beneficial, as it’s easy to hurry through life without knowing who you are or what you believe.
Wanna take a stab at it? Here are three actual pageant questions:
Where do you see yourself fifteen years from now?
Who is the most influential person in your life?
What constitutes true beauty?
I learned to accept criticism.
Often there’s wisdom to be gained from the criticism of others. Perhaps that’s why the Bible tells us to listen to instruction (even when it’s painful!).
One traumatic afternoon, the contestants and I were learning a dance routine. (I should let you know I didn’t dance as a child; I participated in spelling bees. I can spell “D-A-N-C-E” forward and backward, but maneuvering my body in unnatural positions doesn’t come easy.) One of the pageant directors unsuccessfully tried to stifle her laughter at my pitiful attempts, and her laugh came out like a snort. That night, I considered dropping out of the pageant, but opted to work under a critical eye.
Often there’s wisdom to be gained from the criticism of others. Perhaps that’s why the Bible tells us to listen to instruction (even when it’s painful!). Proverbs 29:1 says it this way:
He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
How do you handle criticism? Do you look for the wisdom in it or “stiffen your neck” out of anger or pride?
I learned to carry myself with more confidence.
I didn’t realize this when I first entered the pageant, but confidence is what wins a crown. The judges aren’t so narrow-minded that they only want a blond, tanned, curvy beauty. They want a uniquely gifted woman who is comfortable with herself. This was hard for me. Truth was, I wasn’t a confident girl. I was full of insecurities. But I did my best to put on a façade of confidence. I learned how to carry myself and walk—two skills I thought I’d mastered years before! I practiced everywhere: walking through the mall, driving in my car, and waiting tables at Pizza Hut.
Years later I’m still learning how to live with confidence. Except this time it’s not tied to how I carry myself or how I walk. The secret is found in Proverbs 14:26:
In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence.
My source of confidence isn’t in a makeover or new clothes or a confident walk. Just like the source of my beauty isn’t a fancy dress or pageant-worthy hair. It’s in knowing my awesome God and thinking more of Him and His view of me than I think of people’s opinions of me.
What makes you feel confident?
Your everyday life is a lot like a beauty pageant—taking tests for grades, going to school with the “pretty” girls, pushing yourself to train for basketball season. How have you faced some of these same struggles in your life?
(Come back tomorrow for four more lessons I learned from entering a pageant.)
Did you know there’s a story of a runaway slave in the Bible?
Here’s the backstory. Philemon once owned a slave named Onesimus. That is, until Onesimus ran away.
But in God’s sovereignty, Onesimus crossed paths with Paul and came to believe in Paul’s Jesus. Onesimus was then a huge help to Paul, but Paul didn’t feel okay partnering in the gospel with Onesimus without Philemon knowing about it. So Paul wrote Phil a letter.
In it, he asks Philemon to take Onesimus back. But not as a bondservant. He asks Philemon to consider him as "more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother." Now that Onesimus has put his faith in Jesus, they belong to the same family. God is their Father, and they are now brothers.
This would’ve been a crazy news flash for Philemon, almost too much to take in without sitting down. Paul was telling Philemon that his slave, Onesimus, was no longer a second-class citizen. Even though they ran in different circles and seemed to have almost nothing in common, and even though Philemon may have thought he was much better than Onesimus, they were actually equals at the cross. The gospel tore down every barrier that separated them. Jesus welcomed them both into the family of God, so they were now brothers in Christ—family.
Reminds me of Galatians 3:28:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (emphasis added).
We’re not told how the story ends, only that Paul is confident Philemon will obey him and will view Onesimus as more than.
And that’s where you and I come in. I bet you don’t own slaves, but you do know misfits. People we view that way, anyway.
Maybe you view that girl at youth group—the one with the lip ring—as a misfit. Or maybe you view that girl without piercings as a misfit. But have you ever stopped and thought of her as more than a misfit . . . as your sister in Christ?
Maybe you refuse to even make eye contact with that guy who smells like he sleeps in a trash can. But do you realize he’s more than a misfit . . . he’s your brother in Christ?
Maybe you make fun of those quiet sisters with the long skirts and braids. Or maybe you look down on those girls wearing the tight skinny jeans. But do you receive them as your sisters in Christ?
Just because they look or smell or act differently than you, do you really believe God loves you more because you perceive yourself as more "normal" on the outside?
Or are you flat-out stunned that God would pick you up out of the trash heap of sin, clean you inside and out—even your heart—and open wide His arms to you? Cause He did that for you. And for them.
They are so much more than a misfit . . .
FYI: This post was inspired by a sermon Brad Neese preached. I didn’t have the privilege of hearing it, but I heard about it from those who did.
After I wrote Confessions, I began to date an incredibly godly man . . . and then I broke up with him about a month ago. Since then, I’ve experienced a whole lot of shame and guilt for not being more “spiritual,” for not having been satisfied with a godly man. What more could a girl ask for?
The messages I’ve picked up from the Christian world have taunted me. Find a godly man and marry him is the message I’ve heard loud and clear. He won’t be perfect; you’re not perfect; just get married. I’ve nodded my head and begged God to help me value the things He values.
But at the end of the day there was no peace, no joy in moving forward—only heaviness and tears. And so I said goodbye, and then the shame came.
Last week I realized why, at least in part. I’ve grown up knowing that Jeremiah 17:9 is true:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
If I can’t trust my heart, if I can’t know my heart, how can I make good decisions?