Can You Just Be a Little Nice?

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Have you ever talked to one of those arrogant, condescending types? The kind that get your defenses up in world-record time? The type that you just want to ask– Can you just be a little nice? I don’t want to stretch you too much here, but some kindness would go a long way.

I’m sure you know the kind.

I had the opportunity of talking with a guy like that the other day. I had to make a business call. I just wanted to have a pleasant discussion. Instead I ended up with–well, let’s just say it wasn’t pleasant.

People like this make my blood boil. I mean you can just tell me what you have to say in a kind way. You don’t have to make me feel like an idiot.

I have had these conversations with vendors and customers. In fact, the customer ones always make me laugh. So let me make sure I understand–you are upset with me because I am asking you for money that you have owed for months? Okay then. If you are in any customer service or job where you deal with people, I am pretty sure you will be able to relate.

But we can have these conversations with co-workers, other parents on the sidelines of the soccer field or basketball court, friends, family, and, sadly enough, in the hallways and conference rooms of our churches. They are certainly not relegated to the Business World only.

I replayed that conversation over in my mind to determine two things–

What could he have done to help the situation? I ask this so that I keep this in mind when dealing with others.

and

How could I have responded better? I ask this so I can keep my Christian testimony with these particularly infuriating kind of people.

So, first, as I thought about the whole conversation, I realized that he immediately set me on edge with his tone. His tone was arrogant, condescending, and rude. He acted like he knew everything and I knew nothing. He also made me feel quite helpless with his lack of flexibility and unwillingness to compromise. Instead of working together to solve a problem, he made it very clear that he wasn’t interested and was not going to join me in solving anything. And, finally, he wounded with this words. Instead of using words to heal and solve problems, he used them to belittle and build walls.

I am not sure why this guy was so unpleasant. I had never had any contact with him before. He doesn’t own the company I called, so he isn’t vested personally. I came to the conclusion that he’s just unpleasant. And I hung up very thankful that I am not married to a guy like that one. Wow.

But the question is: Do I ever act–even slightly– like this guy? When I am cornered or upset or “sure I’m right”, am I arrogant or condescending? Unwilling to yield or compromise? Keep in mind I am not talking about biblical issues and principles here. Of course, we never yield or compromise truth. But I am talking about the interpersonal stuff of life that has no consequence. The stuff that doesn’t matter in the long run. What kind of attitude do I bring to these issues?

It’s a question to consider.

And then I had to look at how I responded. Did I emanate Jesus Christ and His love for this man? I knew the answer was no. This has been one of the main challenges for me in running a business with my husband for the past 27 years– responding to critical and unkind people. Since we have two admin assistants now, I rarely answer the phone or deal directly with people anymore (for which I am so incredibly grateful!) so I was very pleased to realize that I responded much better than I would have 20 years ago. God’s done a work in me. No question about that. Of course, there are miles and miles to go. And I still could have done better.

I realized that I did not have an eternal perspective as I talked to this guy. Instead I immediately got defensive, which put an unkind edge into my voice. Instead of thinking about the fact that this guy may not know Jesus, I immediately became consumed with my wounded pride and focused on how I was feeling at that moment. Instead of using my words to encourage and heal, I used them to defend myself and fight back. I could’ve done so much better.

You know, this is the nitty gritty stuff of life. This is where our Christianity shines brightly or shows itself to be tarnished and unlovely. How we treat others and how we respond to others is one of the most basic ways we give our testimony each and every day.

 

 

No Personality Transplant Required (for women only)

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I usually try to write for any Christian. But today’s post is just for women. Of course, men can certainly read it, but I don’t think they will really get it. I heard something yesterday in church and felt like I just had to write about it, because I am thinking that it may not just be me that struggles with this particular concern.

We Christian women have been hearing the phrase “gentle and quiet spirit” forever. For years and years, I have felt so incredibly guilty because I am just. not.

Really, it has been one of the most discouraging things ever for me. I naturally tend to take charge (even when I’m not asked) and I can talk too much, if I’m not very careful. I am not gentle. Or quiet. And I struggle with being submissive, too. There. I said it. (You can click here for my post on submission. I won’t write much about that today).

I used to watch Christian women who were “gentle and quiet” — at least in how they portrayed themselves in public– and get a little jealous. Why couldn’t I be more like them? Dignified. Quiet. Even shy.

As I have gotten older, I have gained a much deeper understanding into this. I have seen “godly” women–quiet, shy ones– who years later are not exhibiting much fruit. Their kids have walked away from the Lord. They aren’t really ministering in any area of their lives. Or I have found out that they are pernicious gossips behind the scenes. Of course, there are many quiet, shy women who are truly lovely women of God. And that’s really the whole point. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.

So let’s go back to what I heard yesterday in church. We watched a video in our ladies’ Sunday School class that really brought this all together in my mind.  At one point, Nancy Leigh DeMoss said something like she believed for a long time that she would need a personality transplant in order to be godly woman. She just knew she didn’t have a quiet and gentle spirit. I had never heard the struggle put that exact way before, but as soon as she said it, I could totally and completely relate. It struck something deep inside me.

In many ways, I have felt like I have left my Savior down, my family down, and my church down just by being me. I have felt like it is impossible to be a godly woman.

But here’s the thing–

Perhaps we haven’t defined the words correctly. I remember that when I wrote the Sermon on the Mount in a Nutshell  post that I was surprised by the actual meaning of those verses in Matthew 5. All my life I had defined certain terms in that passage completely wrong–words like “mourn” and “meek.”. Perhaps the same thing has been true of these words “gentle” and “quiet”.

And logic would dictate that if we start with the wrong definition, we end up with the wrong conclusion.

So let’s define these words, using the specific Greek terms (keep in mind that I am no Greek scholar by any means)–

πραέως (praus): This difficult-to-translate root (pra-) means more than “meek.” Biblical meekness is not weakness but rather refers to exercising God’s strength under His control – i.e. demonstrating power without undue harshness; humble.

[The English term "meek" often lacks this blend – i.e. of gentleness (reserve) and strength.]

ἡσυχίου (hescuchios): (an adjective derived from hēsyxos, “quiet, stillness”) – properly, quiet (still), i.e. steady (settled) due to a divinely-inspired inner calmness; (“calmly quiet”) describes being “appropriately tranquil” by not misusing (or overusing) words that would stir up needless friction (destructive commotion).

As we read these definitions, we begin to understand that being gentle and quiet has absolutely nothing to do with our personality and everything to do with surrendering our will to God’s and living obediently, according to His Word.

You see, this verse is for all of us. As we mature, we should be cloaked in “divinely-inspired inner calmness”– whether we are an introvert or an extrovert. As we grow up in the Lord, we should be demonstrating humility.

And let’s keep in mind that being an extrovert does not mean one is filled with pride, just as being an introvert does not mean one is filled with humility. A quiet person can easily be more prideful than a talkative one. Sometimes we get a little confused on this.

NOW– all that being said– there are some things we need to face.

No matter what personality we have been given by God (Psalm 139:13), it can be used for God’s glory or for our own. Challenges abound for us, no matter what our natural bents are. The key is to recognize the area in which we struggle and, by the help of the Holy Spirit, to work at changing it.

For example, a strong personality may struggle with speaking words at the appropriate time while an introvert may struggle with developing the courage to speak words at all. One woman may struggle with responding with love and compassion, while another may struggle with enabling people in their struggles.

We need to recognize that God has uniquely designed (and blessed) us with the gifts, talents, and quirks that we have. And, along with that, we need to realize that each and every one of us– no matter what our personality is– has struggles and victories and needs and blessings.

No matter what personality we have been given, we have the glorious opportunity of using it to honor and glorify Christ. So let’s make sure that we grab that opportunity and, by God’s great grace and mercy, use it to the best of our ability.

If you have found this post helpful, I would sure appreciate if you would share it. Thank you!

 

A Story From My Own Life

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I thought I would start off by telling a little story from my own life as we prepare for the 2015 Bible Reading Challenge. Over the course of the next few weeks, I thought I would share a few posts that will helps us prepare for the Challenge. I truly hope you will join me in reading through the Bible this coming year!

Now, for a little story–

I feel like I’ve been a believer for my whole life. I professed Christ as a young child and then re-dedicated my life as a thirteen-year old. I never strayed real far from the principles I have been taught and I have been viewed as a real “goody two-shoes” for most of my life. I am not sorry about this. I am thankful that I have been spared so much hurt and pain throughout my life because I have followed the principles laid down in God’s Word.

That being said, however, I want you to know that even though I professed Christ and did all of the outward stuff, I drank milk so much of my life. I filled my mind with romance novels and the words and advice of other men and women in non-fiction books, but I didn’t spend time in God’s Word. Oh, I’d read The Daily Bread or some other light devotional that gave a verse and then a paragraph written by someone else. That was what my devotions consisted of for a very long time. I used the excuse that I was a busy homeschooling mom and didn’t have time to dig into God’s Word. Funny how I did have time for so much other stuff, though.

Fast forward to a year or two ago, when I was riding in a car with a friend. We talked about how we would both like to attend a Bible Study where we actually study the Bible instead of a book. She told me if I’d start it, she’d attend. She was a lot busier in Christian work than I was at the time (and probably still is) and so I took the idea home to my husband and asked him what he thought. He gave his blessing and so I — very hesitantly and tentatively — started talking to a few close friends to see if anyone else was interested in coming. I offered to be the “discussion facilitator”, as I felt very uncomfortable being viewed as “the Bible study leader”. It ended up being about six of us and we chose the book of I Peter, using Kay Arthur’s inductive study guide.

Around that same time, a different friend told me how she had read through the Bible during that year and it was changing her life. I bemoaned the fact that I had never done that, even though I had been a Christian for such a long time. She told me I should definitely try again and even bought me the special one-year Bible she had used.

And so I was off an a double adventure of getting into God’s Word. One through a Bible Study and the other through another attempt of reading through the entire Bible in a year.

Over the course of this past year, I have learned in a new way the truth of these much beloved verses–

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

and

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Since I have started to study and read the Word of God with serious intent, I have grown in leaps and bounds in understanding and knowing God. I have truly come to finally love the Word of God. I never understood that love for the scriptures will come if I just do it in obedience, even when I don’t feel like it.

Of course, some days are hard and difficult. Sometimes still I can think of a thousand other things I need to do. Some days I read a passage and I tell the Lord, “I just don’t get this…” But, now, when I look back over the year, I can see that God has changed me — really changed me– through study of His Word.

While I have studied, I have never felt under more spiritual attack than this past year. You need to know that. If you get serious about studying the Bible, you will be attacked spiritually. It confirms in my life that our enemy does not want us knowing the Word of God. But we know that God is bigger, stronger, and so much more powerful than our enemy. We can’t back down in fear. The blessings and joy that come from persevering through the temptations and trials are real and tangible.

So… that is my story. I am quite aware that I will have lost most of my readers by now. Posts like this don’t seem to appeal to most of my reading audience. This topic doesn’t seem to garner much interest and perhaps the challenge of reading through the Bible seems like an overwhelming and impossible task.

But I really hope that you won’t let fear stop you! Read through Psalm 119 to get a bit of an understanding just how vital and life-changing God’s Word is to us as believers.

In this confusing cauldron of modern Christianity, I find that so many people have started to gauge their spirituality on mystical experiences and how many visions they see. But I am here to testify that we learn to know and love God through His inspired and inerrant Word. Not only does His Word tell us this, but I have learned it first hand. We need to stop looking for some ethereal experience and dig into the Word of God.

You may have noticed that God’s Word has become a major focus of this blog. This testimony of mine shows you why I have become so passionate about this recently. I long to testify to the power of God’s Word and to encourage others to read it and study it.

If you want to join us in January, then hop on over to this page that will give the details for the challenge. I will send out encouragement and tips to my subscribers throughout the year, so if you are serious about the challenge, I hope that you will take a moment and subscribe to the blog (find the box for this in the upper right of this page).

If you’ve read this far, then I want to thank you for seriously considering this challenge and encourage you to go for it! With God’s help, you can do this! And it will change you.

Have a great day!

Oswald Bunny and a Lesson Learned

Oswald_rabbitWe were exploring Hollywood Studios, Disney’s movie-themed park when everyone decided it was time to ride the Tower of Terror. I thought briefly about going along but then realized that I would enjoy wandering around the park by myself much more than standing in line for a ride I wasn’t even sure I’d like. And so I wished my family well and told them I’d meet up with them in an hour.

I first stopped at a little bookstore set back away from the crowd. I paged through a few books, especially enjoying the first few pages of a biography about Walt Disney. I made a note of the author and then moved on. I then came to the Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream attraction. I enjoyed seeing the journey of this man and his “empire”, from its humble beginnings to its present state. The one thing that really stuck with me was Oswald Bunny.

Oswald Bunny was a character that Walt had created in his early years. Around 1928, through a series of unfortunate and hurtful events, Oswald Bunny was stolen. Not only that, but Walt also lost many of his best employees through the fiasco. Was this the end of his dreams as an animated artist? Of course, we know it was not.

Instead of drowning in his sorrows and giving up, Walt went on that same year to come up with another original idea. As he was riding on a train with his wife, he told her his idea of a mouse he wanted to call Mortimer. She suggested the name “Mickey”, as the name “Mortimer” sounded too pretentious. And thus was born the famous Mickey Mouse. While Oswald the Bunny faded into obscurity, Mickey Mouse became the icon of all that is Disney.

Now why am I sharing this history?

Because the one thing I took from this particular event in Walt Disney’s life is his perseverance through hurt and trials. While I have no idea if Walt was a believer or not, I think we can definitely learn something from him about perseverance.

Perseverance: steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

So, how does this relate to our Christian walk specifically? In 2 Peter 1:5-9, we can see that, if we want to avoid spiritual blindness and stumbling, perseverance is a necessary trait. But perseverance can be quite challenging to develop in our own lives. It is so tempting to give up in the midst of trials or when we can’t see any success in the near future. This has probably gotten so much worse with the event of this age, where if things don’t work instantly, they are quickly abandoned.

So how do we develop godly perseverance in our own lives? I believe there are a few key ways–

1. Don’t compare yourself to others.

It is so easy to look at someone else’s success and just want to give up. But there will always be someone more successful than you are. We need to keep our eyes focused on the ministry, the spiritual growth, and the duties that God has set before us, instead of focusing on others.

2. Don’t measure your success by how much applause and praise you get from mere mortals.

As I write this, I think of some of the great missionaries who sacrificed all to go to pagan lands a hundred or more years ago. When they arrived in these foreign countries, the natives were not falling all over themselves to hear the gospel. Instead, these missionaries practiced much perseverance, receiving little praise or glory. The fruits of their perseverance are evident today, but they weren’t very evident during their ministry. They persevered, anyway.

By the way, If you haven’t read any missionary biographies, I highly recommend doing so. They are so interesting and so much more useful to our Christian growth than romance novels. Some of the most interesting and life-changing that I’ve read are the stories of Gladys Aylward, Isobel Kuhn, George Muller, Amy Carmichael, and Gracia Burnham.

3. Keep your eyes focused on the Lord.

Sometimes, when we receive no praise and glory and we see the successes of others, it is tempting to start relying on our own human deductions. Thoughts like “This isn’t worth it” or “I will never be able to get over this in my past” or “this ministry will never be successful” crowd our mind and we give up. Instead, we need to continue to trust the Lord, ask Him to guide and confirm that we are in His will, and then continue on. We need to turn away from the thoughts of discouragement that plague us and instead keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

4. Learn from our painful moments.

When we are most hurt or embarrassed or torn apart is when we are most vulnerable to the voice that tells us to give up. But instead of giving up, we need to turn to the Lord for comfort and guidance, asking the Lord specifically what He wants us to learn from this time and then be humble enough to learn it. Sometimes, we do need to give up a favorite project or ministry. The key is being able to discern when that is. And, of course, we are never to give up on growing more like Jesus. So that is never even an option.

5. Be careful how you define success.

In this day and age of social media and quickly rising stars, we have to be careful in how we define success as Christians. If you can help even one person understand salvation, is that not a great success for the Lord? The Bible says that the angels rejoice when even one sinner repents! (Luke 15:10)

Sometimes we rely a little too heavily on the numbers. You can even see so many pastors fall prey to this line of thinking, as they become obsessed over the attendance numbers instead of focused on growing the sheep that are already in their fold. But can we overestimate the value of even one soul coming to know the Lord or growing closer to Him through your ministry? If even one person is changed by your ministry, is that not worth it?

Perseverance is really not a popular concept these days, but may I encourage you (and myself, too!) to keep on keeping on. If you are discouraged– as a ministry worker, as a parent, as a pastor or pastor’s wife, or just simply as a believer– then turn your eyes to Jesus and keep your eyes focused on eternity.

 

 

Entering the Gates

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Our family had the wonderful privilege of visiting Walt Disney World last week. Our family, along with my parents, had gone nine years ago when the kids were just the perfect age and had had a blast. We decided to go one last time all of us together (plus one son-in-law). We did so, realizing that it was probably the last time we would all be there together ever again. I shared a post on my Growing4Life Facebook page last night that I wrote a couple of years ago. The post was a good reminder, coming off of a trip that was so full of reminders of the past. We all enjoyed remembering and reminiscing together. And, as is often the case when I travel, I came away with some fresh inspiration for the blog.

We decided to go to three of the four parks. As we entered the first park, they asked you to tap your ticket (which looked like a credit card with a Disney character on it) on a little machine with mouse ears on it and then to give your fingerprint on a specially designed pad right beside it. When my one daughter asked if she had to give her fingerprint, the lady told her she wouldn’t be allowed in the parks without it. Hmmm. I guess that is how they keep people from switching tickets. What a world we live in now.

I noticed that only people with tickets gained entry into the parks.

Some people had Mickey Mouse backpacks or had their feet covered with Mickey shoes, but they were still not allowed in unless they had their ticket and the proper fingerprint to go with it. Some people were covered in Mickey apparel from head to toe or were dressed as Disney princesses or heroes, but they were still not allowed in without that ticket and fingerprint.

Don’t you think that is just awful? Shouldn’t they have allowed entry into the parks for anyone that claimed to be a Disney fan? After all, wouldn’t that be the kind and loving thing to do?

This made me think of the verses in Matthew 7:21-23. These people are described as huge “God fans”. They have given themselves the label of Christian and go around doing good works in the name of the Lord. And yet, in the end, they have no ticket for heaven.

We can look as good and Christian as we can possibly look, we can be baptized in a good church, and we can do many good works “for Jesus”, but none of it will mean anything when we get to the gates of heaven if we haven’t repented of our sins and accepted God’s gift of salvation through His Son’s death and resurrection. All of those good works and professions and baptisms will mean nothing.

We are told so clearly in John 14:6 that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him. No one.

There was no possible way for me to enter a Disney park without that expensive ticket. Once I tapped that ticket on that little machine and placed my finger on that special pad, I could enter the park and enjoy the day. The same is true for heaven– only our ticket for heaven is free! Jesus paid the price with His very life. We can be reconciled to God but only through Jesus Christ. This is written in His Word.

If you are relying on your good works to get you into heaven, I encourage you to read the gospel of John. If you believe that God will accept anyone into heaven, as long as they have a vague belief in Him or a higher power, I encourage you to read the gospel of John. If you believe that a loving God would never send people to hell, then I encourage you to read the gospel of John.

Because, in the end, it doesn’t really even matter what we think. It only matters what God says, which is what we find in His Word. I challenge you to really read and study it with a heart truly desiring to know the Truth and a willingness to obey it. You will not go away unchanged.

 

A Different World

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When I was a child, I can remember my grandmother’s reaction to the TV shows that my grandfather used to watch. She would say with gusto (and in good, old Pennsylvania Dutch fashion), “Such dumb stuff!”

I used to giggle as I watched my grandparents. My grandma would fuss and my grandpa would fuss right back and keep watching anyway.

Interestingly enough, the shows she was upset about then seem utterly mild and innocuous now.

Isn’t it so fascinating how we so easily slide down the moral slope? The things we allow in our homes now make the shows of the 70s look almost moral (even though so many of them weren’t) because we have become so hardened to what is right and wrong. We have become so inoculated to the evil in this culture.

And, honestly, the TV is probably one of the main reasons. When we allow ourselves to watch a show filled with the things that God hates, they become normalized.

I remember a young man arrogantly telling my daughter that she cannot possibly understand the real world, if she doesn’t watch popular shows and movies. After all, they are just showing the real world.

Aaahh. How I beg to differ.

First, you can know the real world quite well by just living in it. You don’t need a screen to tell you about it.

And, second, tv and movies do not generally show the real world anyway. They show an unrealistic world full of violence at will, sex anytime you want it, normalized gay lifestyles, and scoffing of Christians.

Oh, wait.

That is real.

What TV and movies started showing us in the 80s and 90s has become reality. Do you think that is an accident?

What tends to not be real on most of the stuff coming out of Hollywood is the serious lack of consequences of sin. They are almost always missing. There are no damaged emotions, jail time, or insurance claims. There are no consequences to drug use, selfishness, or shooting someone because they were in your way. But this is not the real world.

So let’s take it back to us. I have a question for you– Are you more or less likely to watch the same shows as you did five years ago? 10 years ago? 20 years ago?

I mentioned this in a post a few years ago. You can find it here. If we are growing as a Christian, then our spirits should be more offended as we watch things that are displeasing to our Savior as time goes on, not less.

It reminds me of the time we had on a movie in our home that had been very popular in the 80s. We tend to think that if it is old, it is okay. We found out as we watched that movie that this is not the case. A few minutes into it, we were so inundated by bad language and an overabundance of taking our dear Lord’s name in vain, that my husband turned it off. Why hadn’t we remembered that when we watched it the first time? Or the second time?

I can answer that.

It’s because as we have grown closer to the Lord, He is filling us with hatred for the things He hates and love for the things He loves. And, oh, the blessing that comes from that! You may think we are missing out on all the fun, but, honestly, we don’t miss it because our definition of fun has changed.

If you just don’t care or believe that God doesn’t care about your entertainment choices then I challenge you to get in the Word, find out who God is, commit to obey Him and then watch Him change you from the inside out. Watch your love for filthy entertainment grow to an occasional lapse in judgment. It’s an amazing thing. Hebrews 4:12 is TRUE!

If you have no desire to be changed or think you are going to miss out on too much fun and refuse to even think about this, then you’d better do some soul-searching.

There is no denying that we are in a different world now than we were even ten years ago. Right and wrong has become relative and fuzzy. Anything goes. There is no respite from the evil and sinful things that come into our homes via a screen unless we turn off the TV.

So I challenge you to turn it off. Or at the very least, pay more attention to what you and your family are watching. Don’t cave to the god of this age. Don’t let him steal your children. Stand for the truth. And, in so doing, be a wonderfully, shining light to the lost around you!

 

The Deformed Apple

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As I was doing applesauce the other day I came upon this weird-looking apple. It had the stem to the side, making it look like a little hunchback. It made me smile. Of course, I didn’t hesitate to cut it open and use it because on the inside the apple was just like all the others. It was just on the outside that the apple looked different.

I remember as a little girl how hesitant I was to approach anyone with physical disabilities (that was in the day when we called them “handicapped”). They were different than me and it made me nervous. I would kind of stand back and watch them.

As I got older, the discomfort slowly dissipated, as a new awareness filled me– These are people just like anybody else. They have feelings and ideas and personalities. They are just trapped in bodies that do not look everyone else’s.

This is true of anyone who looks different than us. This is true of grossly overweight people, your neighbors who are from a different country, or the co-worker who is a different race than you.

We tend to want to hang with people who look like us. The problem with this is that our world view becomes extremely narrow when we do this.

One of the best things that happens for me when I travel outside of the United States are the encounters with people who are different than me.

As I listen to our group leader talk through an interpreter to the old lady who is raising her grandchildren in a slapped-together wooden structure with a tree growing in the middle of it, I can see the emotions on her face. I see the creases on her well-worn hands and the pride that lights up her eyes when she looks upon the children scampering through the hut.

And I am familiar with her delight and her sadness and her hesitation. I have felt those same things. Maybe we aren’t so different, after all. She has just been given a different (much harder) life than I was. She was born in a different country. With a different color skin.

I have little videos of these moments in my head from all of the different countries I have visited. These moments have really helped me to step outside of my comfort zone when I return home.

We don’t need to be scared of someone who looks different than us. They are just people. Like you and me.

I am reading through the gospels right now and I am struck at how Jesus ministered to anyone. He was not picky. In fact, a good example of this is when he very purposefully ministered to the woman at the well (John 4). Not only was she a Samaritan — a race of people who were ostracized by the Jews, but she was also a woman, and therefore considered a second-class citizen in those days.

We need to remove the barriers within us that keep us from sharing Christ with those that are different from us. We need to remember that people, just like apples, are the same inside. They feel hurt and joy and frustration the same as us. They are born sinners, just like us. God loves them, just like He loves us.

Step outside your comfort zone today and start up a conversation with someone who is different than you. You’ll be glad you did.

The Pitfalls of Living by Feeling

The following is written by Erwin Lutzer. If you are struggling with loving someone, forgiving someone, or a bad habit you just can’t seem to kick, this is well-worth your time–

Before I suggest how you can cope with your emotions, I want you to consider what happens when you live by the dictates of your own hunches and whims. A life based on desires is an invitation to the sin of disobedience. Often our feelings run counter to what God requires. In fact, most sinful habits are developed by simply following the path of least resistance, by doing whatever we feel like doing. Many of our struggles can be traced to sensuality, and by that I mean being controlled by our physical senses. This spawns defeat, self-absorption, and unbelief. Many people who think they cannot obey God’s commandments simply don’t feel like obeying. Occasionally they have days when they wake up wanting to do what God requires— but not often. Our fallen human nature never feels like obeying God; usually it wants to do its own thing. This attitude comes from Satan as he suggests to us— as he did to Eve— that God has asked us to obey commands that we cannot or need not keep. If we think we can’t obey God until we feel like it, we will never get off the ground in our spiritual lives.

Let’s be specific. In his book on overcoming difficulties in marriage, Jay Adams writes of a particular counseling situation in which all love had been drained from the marriage and the partners had already agreed to a divorce. Neither one had committed a serious sin against the marriage. They just didn’t feel in love anymore. They went to the counselor hoping he would confirm their decision that since there was no feeling left, they should divorce. The couple was shocked to find the counselor saying, “If you don’t love each other, there is only one thing to do: You will have to learn to love one another.” The couple was incredulous. “How can you learn to love someone? You can’t produce feelings out of thin air!” The counselor explained that in the Bible, God commands us to love one another. When the husband was told that he should love his wife as Christ loved the church, he gasped. He could never do that. But the counselor persisted. He explained that the husband should begin on a lesser level. The Bible also commands us to love our neighbor, and since his wife is his closest neighbor, he should love her. But even so, the husband rejected the idea that he could love his wife that way. Then the counselor explained that he was still not off the hook, for God had commanded us to love even our enemies! This couple had made a common error; they had equated love with feelings. In the Bible, love is not a feeling. We can learn to love, even though we begin with little or no emotional impetus. In other words, we can choose to love. And God gives us the grace to do so.

Love is not an emotion; neither is forgiveness. The Bible commands us to put away all bitterness (Eph. 4: 31); we are to forgive others whether they solicit our forgiveness or not (v. 32). Yet many Christians believe that they can’t forgive until they feel like it! They think that if they forgive when they don’t feel like it, they are hypocritical. However, if forgiveness were an emotion, God would be commanding us to do the impossible. We cannot switch our emotions on and off. We cannot develop the right feelings on our own. But God is not mocking us when He tells us to forgive; we can choose to do so, whether we feel like it or not. Never try to skirt God’s commands under the pretense that you don’t feel like obeying Him. A second danger of living by feelings is that you may tend to derive your doctrine from feelings. If you believe God is with you just because “He feels so close,” you will also believe there are days when He forsakes you because “He feels so far away.” The assurance of God’s presence does not come by feelings, but by faith (Heb. 13: 5). Fortunately, you don’t always have to feel God’s presence to be in fellowship with Him and to make spiritual progress.

Lutzer, Erwin W. (2010-01-01). Getting to No: How to Break a Stubborn Habit (p. 104). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Dealing with Difficult People: Part 2

difficult people

Difficult people. We all have them in our lives. How do we wrestle with impossible, unpleasant situations over which we have no control? How do we work through the anger and the frustration and the hopelessness when someone keeps hurting us–over and over again. I have really been thinking about this a lot lately.

If you are a regular reader, you may remember Part 1. You can read it here. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. What I wrote there truly revolutionized how I view difficult people in my life. It was written a  few months ago and it was never intended to have a Part 2. However, God has led me to think further about this topic that is so painful and affects so many people. This is my first paragraph from Part 1–

Have you ever had to deal with someone you just couldn’t make happy? Or perhaps it is someone who lies constantly, is consistently unkind, or very angry? Or maybe they just absolutely exhaust you by telling you all of their woes? Sometimes, if they are friends, we can gently extricate ourselves from these relationships. But, many times, we can’t. We may go to church together. Or we may work together. More often than not, our difficult relationships are within our own families.

If you can relate to this, then I think you will find this post helpful. I would like to share some specific steps we can take to work through a never-ending and seemingly hopeless situation. Notice I did not say “easy” steps. But we need to remember that oftentimes the hardest steps yield the greatest rewards. And if you can take these steps–one slow step at a time– I promise that the bitterness that is welling inside you will dissipate and you will grow stronger spiritually. I can promise you this because these steps are straight from scripture.

1. Submit to God’s sovereignty in your life. This is the first step we need to take in any difficult and troubled situation. It is how we need to view any frustrating and annoying person we come across. We can never change someone else, so we need to instead turn our eyes to God and recognize that He has allowed this person or situation in our life for a reason. It is probably to help us grow more like Christ. We can shake our fist at God and rail that it isn’t fair or we can submit humbly and ask God what He wants to teach us through this. Both attitudes have consequences. If we choose to be angry, then we will grow hard and bitter. If we choose to submit, we will be filled with the peace that passeth understanding. It is our choice. Of course, Romans 8:28-30 is perfect for this idea of God’s Sovereignty but also check out Philippians 1:6 and Romans 5:1-5.

2. Love and forgive the other person(s). So, I know this one is a whole lot easier to write than it is to do. But I didn’t come up with this one on my own. This comes straight from the pages of scripture. Check out Matthew 5:44-48 and Luke 6:27. And then turn to Matthew 6:14-15 and Ephesians 4:31-32. There are many more. I just picked a couple. It would seem that loving our enemies and forgiving them are a pretty big part of a genuine Christian faith. We don’t have a choice here.

So how do we do this? I am going to share something that has helped me tremendously. When I am at the end of myself and have no love to offer or forgiveness to extend, I ask the Lord to fill me with His love and forgiveness for that person. And He answers that prayer! You see, sometimes we are humanly incapable of giving that love and forgiveness. But God is all-powerful and He has provided the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us. He will help us. Keep in mind that this is not a once and done thing. It is often a prayer that we need to pray for weeks, months, or even years. But don’t stop asking. And He won’t stop answering.

3. Surround yourself with godly people who will build you up. When we are struggling and suffering, it’s important we don’t fall prey to the very human temptation to hang out with those who will help us point a finger of blame, talk unkindly about the other person, and excuse our sinful attitudes. Instead, surround yourself with friends who will encourage you to respond correctly and biblically. Look up Proverbs 27:5-6 and Proverbs 13:20.

Again, not easy. I know when I am really upset, the last thing I want is someone telling me what the Bible says. And, look, I’m not talking about one of those friends who annoyingly always seems to have the answer and is quite arrogant in the way they give it to you. With friends like that who needs enemies?? No, I am talking about a true and wise friend who will listen and empathize, pray with you and for you, and will lovingly challenge your sinful attitudes.

4. Don’t allow Satan to get a foothold in your life because of this situation. This is best done by controlling our thought life! When we feel our thoughts spiraling out of control, we need to consciously choose to think about something else. We need to carefully refuse to let our thoughts take us down to that dark pit where we feel hopeless and full of despair. We need to very purposefully turn away from the angry and bitter thoughts that can so easily consume us. Honestly, this takes work and a lot of prayer but it does get easier! Check out Ephesians 4:26-27 and 2 Timothy 2:22-26.

5. Be thankful. This can be tough. These situations can utterly and completely take over our lives. So grab yourself an empty notebook and start a thankful journal. You will be shocked at how much you have for which to be truly thankful. God has blessed all of us in a myriad of ways. Start writing it down and see how this little exercise in gratitude helps to move your focus from your woes to your blessings. I Thessalonians 5:18 and Ephesians 5:20 are just two of many verses in scripture about gratitude.

I hope these steps help you. It won’t be instant and it won’t be easy, but if you can follow them, I truly believe God will work in your heart and your life to grow you tremendously through this trial. An added bonus will be the ability to become that friend who can help others when you get to the other side of this trial. You will really be able to understand the challenges faced by someone going through a similar situation and will be able to be used by God in a mighty way– if you choose to submit instead of shaking your fist. If you choose to be thankful instead of bitter. If you choose to grow instead of staying stuck in the mud.

Victory can be yours! This is not a hopeless situation! But, as always, the choice lies with you. No one else can make it for you. No, you can’t change the other person, but you can take steps to work on your own heart. If we choose to submit and obey, blessing will surely follow!

 

 

Would You Be Convicted?

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Have you ever had one of those conversations with a fellow believer about someone else’s salvation?

“Are they a Christian?” we ask.

And then we will say things like “Well, he goes to church” or “She said a prayer when she was a young girl.”

And then it will be followed by a “But he has never really shown any fruit” or “Her life has never really changed at all.

Can I just say: I never want to be that person. I never want people to wonder whether or not I am a true believer. I never want anyone to say they never saw any fruit in my life. I will never be perfect this side of heaven–a sad, but altogether true, fact–but I want to be moving the right direction and I want it to be obvious to all people I meet– and perhaps even more obvious to the people I live with (that know me best)– that I am, first and foremost, a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who told me about an exercise a special speaker had with a group of Christian youth. This speaker had brought up one of their teachers and asked the students to present evidence that would indicate that this teacher was godly. The students, and even some adults,  were able to present lots of fruit that showed that this teacher was following Jesus whole-heartedly.

And so we have to ask ourselves–does the fruit that is evident in my life show people that I am saved? Or does it cause people to wonder if I am saved?

And, look, let’s get beyond the basics that so many of us Christians are so good at– going to church faithfully and owning a Bible or two. Let’s dig deeper.

Using Galatians 5:19-23 as our guide, here are a couple of questions to determine how much fruit is on our life’s tree–

~How often do you get angry–really angry?

~Are you completely honest on your tax return or with your boss at work?

~Do you regularly fill your mind with thoughts of fornication, adultery, violence, and bad language through the TV shows and movies you watch, the music you listen to, and the games you play, even though God expressly forbids these things and calls them sin?

~Do you relish talking about others?

~Are you depressed or sad all the time?

~Is self-control evident in how you deal with finances, eating, and how you spend your time?

~Do you enjoy a good party and see no harm in getting drunk once in awhile?

~Do you think a little witchcraft never hurt anyone and have no problem bringing something that deals with the supernatural into your home– considering it all just good fun?

~Are you faithful to your spouse, not only in the typical sense, but also in what you say about him or her to others?

~Are you so focused on your own ambitions that people know they’d better stay out of your way? Whether it’s as small as picking a restaurant or as big as choosing a career– does your family feel like you always have to win? Do you ever concede your own personal preference just for the sake of others?

~Do you worry about the future so much that it steals joy from the present moment? Do you struggle with anxiety?

These are all really difficult questions, aren’t they? And, quite naturally, our first inclination is to think about someone else who seems to have no fruit instead of taking a long, hard look at ourselves. But let’s stop looking around for just a moment and bring it back to ourselves. This post is not about judging the salvation of somebody else. We can never know that. That is for God alone to judge.

And let’s remember: We will never be perfect. So let’s just clear that up once and for all. So if any of these things are struggles in your life it doesn’t mean that you aren’t saved. We all have struggles with sin. Not one of us is exempt.

This is about looking honestly at ourselves.

Let’s think for just a moment about our own life. What is the overall pattern of our life? If we were to go on trial for Christianity, would we be convicted? Would others be able to present enough evidence to show that we are a true believer in Jesus Christ? Would our own family be willing to give testimony for this?

Remember, it’s not about perfection. It’s about direction.*

What is your direction this morning? Does anything need to change? Recognizing that you are headed the wrong direction is the first step to change. And, as my friend, Trent, testified in his testimony (read it here)–if there no fruit whatsoever, it means there is probably no salvation, either.

And, once again, we go back to the Word of God, don’t we? Studying it, knowing it, and using it as our guide for life. If we are just hearing it and not doing it, we are going to miss out on a lot of blessings (James 1:23-25). And people are going to wonder: Is that person even saved?

Let’s make sure that is never a question that people ask about us! Let’s be so loaded down with good fruit that it is clear to everyone around us that we are living our lives wholly for Jesus!

 

*I think this may be my all-time favorite quote by John MacArthur. I need to give credit where credit is due!

If you have been challenged or helped by this post would you consider sharing it? Thank you!