Family

Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Peace This Holiday Season

Good morning! It is the Monday before Thanksgiving. As I thought about this holiday, I wondered how I could encourage a thankful heart in a new and different way that improves upon all that is out there. I decided I can’t so I am going to go a little different direction. But first, I wanted to take a few moments today to let you know of a few upcoming things here at Growing4Life–

First, the Growing4Life 2018 Christmas story is coming! Starting this Friday, I will share one part for the next five Fridays. The final part and ending will be posted on Friday, December 21. This year’s story is called Mending Fences and is about two sisters and how forgiveness changes everything. I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Second, I have decided on the Growing4Life 2019 Bible Reading Challenge. (Can you believe it’s going to be 2019?? Where does the time go?) For next year’s challenge, we will be doing a chronological Bible read through. I did this 4 years ago for my 2015 Challenge. I have decided to do it again, because I think it it vital for every Christian to read through the Bible at least once. Reading through the Bible gives fundamental understanding and insight into God’s plan and story that one just cannot get in any other way.

Providing the G4L Challenge and an accompanying Facebook group where we can share and discuss what we are reading is my way to help and support my readers in this endeavor for anyone who desires to do this. I hope to get the details out for the new challenge within the next week or two. I do hope that many of you will join me!

I honestly don’t really know how many of you out there actually even read my posts (especially you, my subscribers, as emails just land in boxes and probably mostly go unread) but it continues to be my hope to be an encouragement for believers to walk with God in submission and obedience and to be a light that points people to the Word of God as their authority and guide in a culture that’s growing increasingly darker. I hope that both this year’s Christmas story and the 2019 Bible Reading Challenge will do just this.

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Now, for a few thoughts that may be a little different this Thanksgiving. Holidays can be a bit rough on many of us. Unsaved or deceived family members and friends can challenge or discourage us at gatherings. They can keep us from enjoying ourselves and we let them mess with our peace.

I was struggling with something the other day. Someone had responded unkindly to me and my dad shared with me something my Grandpa used to say. It was something like this–

Don’t let someone else and their problems steal your peace.

Have you ever thought how often we have done this? At least, I have. Someone is mean or angry with me and that affects my mood. Next thing you know I am short with my husband or someone else close to me.

It reminds me of a time a lady called us on Christmas Day because we hadn’t plowed her driveway yet. She was a widow with nowhere to go and she was angry because we hadn’t been there yet. As my heart grew defensive within me and I wanted to start yelling at her, I remembered something: Her husband had just died. She was lonely and hurting and this was her response. So many people get angry in response to deep hurts.

We need to remember that–

People always do what they do for a reason.

As believers, let’s show extra grace. They may be hurting. Or they may be caught up and deceived by a wrong philosophy. Whatever it may be, our response, as believers, is to have lots of grace and mercy, just as God has for us. Let us love even the unlovable because God loves us. For remember, God loved us when we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8).

Another thing to consider is this: If you have your mind set in a certain direction, what will be most likely to change it? Harsh, angry, words of debate and argument or kind, thoughtful words that encourage respectful discussion?

We live in a world that is increasingly divided. Whether it’s politics, personal rights, or false teachers, there are a million opinions out there. But the only opinion that matters is God’s. What does the Bible say? But, even as we try to share what scripture says, may we be respectful, kind, and loving. As God gives us opportunities, let us not grow angry or insistent. Only God can change a heart. That is not our responsibility.

So as we meet together with friends and family that may have differing opinions, let’s love them. Let us have unending grace. And let’s point them to scripture if and when the “hot” topics come up. Let us not allow anyone to make us frustrated or angry. Or to steal our peace. Let’s not give them that power. I do know that this feels almost impossible but the truth is that it is our choice.

And then, at the end of the day, when we have made the right choice, we can walk away in peace, knowing we have done the right thing, no matter what their response.

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I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving! I am so thankful for all of you, but particularly those of you that have taken your precious time to share that you appreciate what I do here at Growing4Life. Blogging about discernment and living a holy life in these difficult days is a rather lonely and discouraging thing and those of you that have encouraged me have been used by God to keep me going. God’s timing on your notes, emails, and Facebook messages has been incredible and I always marvel at this. So thank you. Thank you for reading. Thank you for encouraging. And thank you for being part of the Growing4Life family of believers. Let us continue to stir one another up to love and good deeds as we march forth as soldiers of the Cross!

 

 

 

When It’s Time to Reap

She sat there in her hospital room, old, confused, and alone. A lifetime of bitterness and grudges and pride was being harvested. Her unforgiving heart and her need to be in control had pushed away most of her friends and family, leaving her to walk through this latest health crisis alone. When one of her children reached out to her, she clung to her pride and her bitterness and pushed them firmly away.

It is, by far, one of the saddest, most heart-breaking things I have ever witnessed. And I was reminded of Galatians 6:7–

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.

We reap what we sow. It is a principle of life we cannot escape. If we sow seeds of bitterness and unforgiveness and grudges, those seeds will grow into plants and those plants will produce fruit. Deformed, loathsome fruit.

If we sow seeds of love and grace and mercy, those seeds will produce good and healthy fruit.

But there are other bad seeds to sow, other seeds that produce bad fruit. Galatians 6 goes on to say this in verse 8–

For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.

Any sowing that is done to our flesh will reap corruption. Any sowing that is done to the Spirit yields everlasting life.

BUT, you may be thinking, that old woman is not me. I am sowing good seeds, I have a good relationship with my family and friends. Lest we get too confident in ourselves, I remind you of something that John Stott once said–

“Every time we allow our mind to harbor a grudge, nurse a grievance, entertain an impure fancy, or wallow in self-pity, we are sowing to the flesh. Every time we linger in bad company who’s insidious influence we know we cannot resist, every time we lie in bed when we ought to be up and praying, every time we read pornographic literature, every time we take a risk that strains our self-control, we are sowing, sowing, sowing to the flesh.”

Oh, we all do it. Every. Single. Day. Maybe not to the extent that will leave us old and alone. But we all sow to the flesh, reaping the consequences of our sinful choices.

God sent His son to forgive our sins and give us eternal life. But salvation does not erase the consequences of sinful choices. We continue to live with those until we die.

Thankfully, living a life that is pleasing to the Lord eliminates so many of those ugly consequences. And that is something we can start to do right now! Today! His commands are not burdensome. They protect us! And what a wonderful protection they are.

We cannot change the consequences that we are experiencing from sinful choices of our past. BUT we can change the future. Here are a few questions we should ask ourselves as we contemplate our future harvest:

What seeds am I sowing that will yield an abundance of good fruit?

What seeds am I sowing that are going to yield the fruit of corruption?

AND…

What can I change to make my harvest so much better?

 

As God has a way of doing so often, He brings just the right book or sermon along at just the right time. That very thing happened this week. If you’d like to think on this topic a bit more, I recommend this sermon by John MacArthur on the principle of sowing and reaping: The Inescapable Law of Sowing and Reaping.

 

 

The Issues Behind the Issues

We have become a people that responds to issues. Whether it’s our own emotional health (anxiety and depression) or our kids well-being (ADHD, anger issues, rebellion), our situations at work and church (relationship problems), or our marriages (struggles and strife) we work hard to find an escape hatch very quickly. We want to be free of the hassle, inconvenience, grief, and pain that these things bring. And so we quickly medicate, change jobs or churches, or leave our spouse.

Before I continue on, let me be clear about something. I am not judging you individually. I know that some people legitimately need medication, that sometimes we must change jobs or churches, and that there are even times that warrant leaving our spouse. So please know that this is not about any individual but rather about a trend I have been noticing.

It is easier to take the escape hatch than to wade through the unpleasant waters to fix the issue. It is easier to just fix something temporarily than to take the time to fix it for the long haul. Tape is easier to apply than digging and drilling and nailing.

So I do get it.

But there are almost always deeper, spiritual issues behind the issues we can see.

A hyperactive child may be crying out for discipline. Refusing to discipline in a biblical way leads to undisciplined, uncontrollable children.

An angry child may be frustrated by the lack of control he feels because mom and dad are always fighting or perhaps because something happened that they just don’t want to tell you. Instead of parenting to the issue, it is critical that we get to the bottom of things.

An anxious woman has an issue with trusting God and submitting to His will for her life.

An angry man may be struggling with his loss of control over his circumstances.

A struggling relationship at church or work is driven by envy or jealousy.

And sometimes there is no big underlying issue but it’s just a certain stage in our lives or our children’s lives that we must walk through.

And on and on and on the list goes.

But as a culture we have been conditioned to simply fix problems without digging deeper. When we do dig deeper it is through the use of a humanistic psychologist and not through God and studying His Word or even by using a biblical counselor. (This is a tricky area because even a lot of “Christian” psychologists and counselors use a lot of human wisdom that is in complete opposition to what God’s Word teaches. See here for more information.)

And there is nothing wrong with getting the right outside help. Sometimes our pastor or a good biblical counselor or even a friend can help us see things we can’t see. But may I suggest that we first pray and ask the Lord to guide and direct us and start digging into His Word to see if there is something we are missing?

I know that as I have struggled with terrible bouts of anxiety and depression these past few years that it has been a sin issue for me. Yes, I have had a tremendous amount of change in my life over the past 5-7 years, some that I saw coming and some that I did not. And, yes, I have hormones that are wreaking havoc in my body. And, yes, owning a business and having a ministry that is not the most popular can be extremely stressful. But at the end of the day, it was a sin issue. I was not trusting God, I was self-centered and self-absorbed, and I was not in submission to God’s Will for my life. Plain and simple.

I thank the Lord that He showed this to me. It was extremely painful (another reason we avoid digging beyond the issue) and it’s not over yet. I still have days of great struggle and pain. I share this to hopefully encourage you because I know that I am not alone in this. Others have shared with me their struggles in this area.

But mostly I share this because I think it is so important that we do a little digging and wading through the gunk before we find that escape hatch. I believe that we must give some effort and prayer before we head to the pharmacy or walk away from a situation. Perhaps this is just the thing that God is using to teach us and/or our children an important lesson. Perhaps by lessening the pain, we are actually missing out on learning something very important. In our urgency to diminish the pain and grief and hassles, we may be missing out on something very glorious.

And so today I want to encourage you to spend some time in prayer and God’s Word and to be patient as you work through issues in your life and the lives of your children before heading for that escape hatch. God is so faithful and He will meet your needs–sometimes in ways you could never even have imagined! But when we are so quick to fix our own problems, we miss out on seeing His provision.

And sometimes…

We can’t fix the issue. And God doesn’t fix the issue. That doesn’t settle very well with our 21st century selves. We believe we should be able to fix everything. But sometimes God allows a situation in our lives that remains unresolved. Just like Paul’s thorn in his flesh, we plead for it to be removed and God says no. But we know from 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, that we can rest in God’s sovereignty even when this is the case. God has a reason and we can trust Him (Romans 8:28-30).

Life is not fun and we are burdened with all kinds of heartaches and frustrations living in this fallen world. But God is faithful and will meet our needs. But we are so often caught up in fixing and solving our own problems that we leave little opportunity for God to work in the way that only He can.

So let’s take some time to figure out the issues behind the issues, praying and asking the Lord for guidance as we study the Word to find out what He has to say on the matter. And let’s do this first rather than as a last resort.

 

 

A Real Rarity

The other day I was listening to a podcast where two men were discussing the rarity of people who are really willing to listen to an opposing viewpoint anymore. The context was in discussing discernment and how–even with solid biblical evidence–few people will really listen to someone who simply wants to share with them their concerns. Instead, they regularly encounter a defensive, arrogant spirit and often endure personal attacks. Simply from speaking up against a false teacher.

They went on to say how this is very different than in years gone by, where two people could have an intelligent and thoughtful conversation about Bible teachers, authors, pastors, (and I will add: Anything else).

Why is this? Why this crazily defensive and hostile attitude towards someone who disagrees with us? What has been fomenting this strange relationship phenomenon over the last few decades?

But why isn’t really the question I want to deal with today. I am more interested in what this change in how we accept and give confrontation has cost us as Christians–and what we can do about it personally.

You see, when we aren’t willing to listen to and to think on a viewpoint or opinion that is in opposition to ours we set ourselves up for failure. How in the world can we grow in holiness and keep ourselves pure and separated from the world if we think we know everything? Do we honestly believe we know all there is to know about God and His Word? We don’t have to agree with someone but we can always listen and consider what they are saying in light of God’s Word. Instead it is most common–even for Christians– to get angry, to attack and malign, and to hold grudges.

This plays itself out in a myriad of ways–

–When someone comes to us with a concern about a favorite teacher or author. How do we respond?

–When our spouse confronts us about a sin in our lives. How do we respond?

–When our child seems confused about something we said or did and asks us about it. How do we respond?

–When someone at church doesn’t like our decision about a ministry we lead. How do we respond?

–When a parent, sibling, or friend lovingly questions our entertainment choice, our child-rearing, or some other aspect of our lives. How do we respond?

At the heart of this all is arrogance. Plain and simple. “Who are you to tell me…anything?”

So this leads us to two important points that we need to consider today.

First, what kind of “hearer” are we? Are we willing to reflect on the words someone speaks to us? Or do we immediately go on the defensive? Do we allow our relationships to change or be destroyed because we don’t like what someone has said to us? Do we lash out in attack? Do we hold grudges?

This is of the devil, my friends. Even if what someone is saying to us has zero biblical merit, we should choose to listen and consider. And then, if necessary, we must forgive. Satan would like nothing more than to break down the friendships and families of Christians. And this is a very effective way.

We can cut him off at the pass by responding to unpleasant words with humility and love.

Proverbs is full of counsel about the fool. And one of the main things about a fool is that he does not listen to wise counsel–

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise. (Proverbs 12:15)

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, For he will despise the wisdom of your words. (Proverbs 23:9)

And then Proverbs 26:12 shows us that there is more hope for a fool than for someone who is wise in their own eyes!–

Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.

Do we think we know all the answers? Then there is more hope for a fool than for us!

And, second, this new dynamic should make us consider very carefully what is worth a confrontation. How many people do you know that, with a critical spirit, sarcastically attack people about the most inane and insignificant things? If this is us, then we will not be listened to when it really matters. It is extremely important that we confront lovingly on biblical matters and then let the other stuff roll. After all, does it really matter if they chose to go here instead of there? Does it really matter if they did their preferred “this” instead of our preferred “that”? Is it a biblical matter? Does their choice have eternal ramifications? Asking these questions can help us determine if it is worth a confrontation. Instead, we sometimes get this all mixed up and we confront (or make sarcastic remarks) on the trivial and never touch the stuff that has eternal ramifications. This is another subtle trick of Satan’s.

And, third, we should consider our own attitude about confrontation. It takes courage and a lot of love to confront someone in a biblical way. It is so much easier to just sit by and let it go. True love speaks the truth. Self-interest often leads to either ignoring it or saying sarcastic, back-handed remarks that hurt instead of heal.

Just recently, I was part of something like this and that experience has given me a real-life example of how all of this should work –in the right way. I will be purposely vague. I felt compelled to talk with someone about something. I hesitated for a very long time because of the possible ramifications. I have lost friends over things like this. I knew the risk and I basically told God I didn’t want to take it. But I knew that I was not doing the right thing. So I prayed and told God that if He would open up an opportunity, I would take it. Otherwise, I would stay quiet. Of course, the perfect opportunity presented itself a few days later. And, so, I, faltering and lovingly, shared my concern. And, wonderfully, the other person heard me without getting upset. They took what I told them and they acted upon it. This is how this should work between Christians (Proverbs 27:17). I was beyond thankful. And I wondered: Am I as mature and wise as this person when someone confronts me?

This is a question we should all ask: Do I hear? Or am I like the fool?

And the second question: Do I confront lovingly and only on the things that really matter?

Let’s be one of those real rarities: A Christian who is willing to thoughtfully consider what someone has to say to us and to also be one that has enough love and courage to confront when it’s biblically necessary.

 

 

Do You Have a Few Minutes?

Last week, a Growing4Life reader (who is also a dear friend) gave me a biography of J.C. Ryle. She knows that he is one of my favorite authors and had picked this book up for me as a gift. Inside the book she had written a wonderful (and much needed) note of encouragement. I often marvel at God’s perfect timing and am so thankful that He so often uses others to encourage us as we go about doing the work He has called us to do. No matter what our calling is in life, we all can use a pick-me-up once in awhile.

Certain people seem to have the gift of encouragement (like my friend) but it is really something we should all be doing.

It’s crazy how quickly we all fill up our time. Crazier still that this “filling up” hasn’t really led to better lives–just busier ones. And this leaves us precious little time to build into the lives of those around us. We get so caught up in our own worlds and our own problems, that we forget the discouragement, sadness, disillusionment, and grief that is overwhelming others.

Romans 12:15 tells us that we are to–

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

 

But, if we are honest, most of us are too busy rejoicing and weeping over our own situations to pay much attention to the situations of others.

And that is why today I want to offer a little challenge to all of us. Would you join me this week in my Encouraging Others challenge? The truth of the matter is that, as believers, we should do this every day but few of us actually do. Oh, some of you are much, much better at this than others and will find this challenge easy. But some of you aren’t an “encourager” by nature and could find this to be a bit more challenging. I hope you will step out in faith and give it a try, anyway.

This week, let’s take just a few minutes of each day and encourage someone. Think through all of your friends, family, church family, and co-workers. Who do you know that could use a bit of a pick-me-up this week? You can also encourage someone you don’t know all that well (or at all) such as the cashier at the grocery store, the lonely elderly person at the mall, or a hurting neighbor.

We live in a sinful and hurting world which means that there are probably millions of people who could use some encouragement right now. Would you join me in making a small dent in that number this week by taking on this challenge?

Here are some ideas that might help you as you think about who you want to encourage and how you want to encourage–

1. Be aware of those around you. Notice if someone seems extra quiet or appears to be struggling and take some time to talk with them and ask them about themselves. Not in a nosey, busybody way, but in a loving and kind way that shows you genuinely care. If someone just won an award or received some good news, rejoice with them.

2. Ask questions. Instead of talking about yourself the next time you are with a friend or talking with a bank teller or store clerk, ask questions. How is your day? How are the kids? Do you enjoy your job? are good questions for friends. And How are you today? Are you from around here? How long have you been working here? for strangers. And, if the Lord gives you opportunity, even How can I pray for you? I am often surprised at how many strangers will start telling me their life story if I ask a question or two. Most are ready and willing to talk to anyone because there is a real shortage of people who actually listen anymore. (But be sensitive if someone isn’t willing to talk. You will sense it pretty quickly).

3. Be creative. There are so many easy and quick ways to lift someone’s spirits. A hand-written note, an email, a lovely card, a comment on social media, a text, or phone calls are all ways to brighten someone’s day. You can literally do some of these in less than a minute so saying you don’t have time to take on this challenge is not an acceptable excuse! ;) Flowers from your garden or homemade cookies are an easy and inexpensive way to brighten someone’s day. A grocery or restaurant gift card for those in financial difficulty is another idea. Think outside the box.

4. Remember your discouraging times. What was it that cheered you up? What would have given you a much needed boost at your lowest time? When you think of it, do that for someone this week.

5. If you think something good about someone, try to say it to them. For example, if you notice that someone’s children are respectful and well-behaved, say something.  If you like someone’s new haircut or notice they’ve lost weight, mention it. If someone has blessed you by their special music, teaching, or preaching at church, let them know. If a co-worker really stepped up on a project, thank them. Say the good thoughts that you are thinking about others. This is perhaps the easiest way to encourage others.

6. Consider even more. If you feel extra ambitious or have a little extra time on your hands this week, think about taking someone a meal, visiting with a shut-in, or having some church families to your home for coffee and dessert.

7. Be sure to encourage fellow believers. These verses from Paul speak specifically regarding how we are to encourage one another as believers. Let’s remember our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, especially, this week–

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (I Thessalonians 5:11)

8. If you are praying for someone, let them know. Sometimes we will be praying faithfully for someone but they have no idea. This week let’s take some time and let them know. I know I am so greatly encouraged when someone tells me they are praying for me. I am sure you feel the same.

9. Expect to be blessed. It is so amazing how blessing others almost always blesses us more. It doesn’t seem logical, I know, but when we put aside our own selfish desires and agendas and focus on blessing others, we are so blessed, too! It’s one of the most beautiful things about being an encourager.

So are you ready? Do you have a few minutes that you can carve out of your day to be an encourager? Then let’s do it!

 

P.S. If you have other creative ideas on how to encourage someone, please share them in the comment section below. And thanks in advance! :)

The Love and Compassion that Swallows Fear

I heard someone ask Ray Comfort the other day if he stills gets scared when he witnesses to people. If you don’t know who Ray Comfort is, you will find him at Living Waters teaching people how to share the Gospel and doing a lot of that himself. After all these years you would think he’d be super comfortable sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others, but he actually said he is still terrified. And then he said he has learned how to hold that terror and gave a little analogy that I wanted to share here–

If you had a pool filled with floating ice cubes and the coldest water you could imagine, you wouldn’t think about jumping in. But if a three year old fell in that pool, you wouldn’t think about it for a second. You’d just jump in and save him. There is a love and compassion that swallows fear.

That is true love, isn’t it? The kind that swallows fear?

And this isn’t just relevant to witnessing. It’s relevant to being a godly parent, being a godly leader, and encouraging Christians away from false teaching. These all take a love that will swallow that consuming fear that comes when we think about any confrontation.

What kind of fears do we fight?

There are so many but they all have one thing in common–

 

fear that people won’t like me

fear people will think I’m weird

fear that people will think I’m a fanatic

fear that people will think I’m divisive

fear that my comfortable circumstances will change

fear that someone won’t be my friend anymore

fear that people will be mean to me

fear that people will gang up on me

 

Do you see the main thing listed in these fears? Me and I. I am sure there are so many more fears but can you think of one fear you have in regards to telling others the truth about the Bible that isn’t wrapped up in you?

So this is a natural thing, isn’t it? We naturally want to live pleasant, happy, carefree lives. Of course, we don’t want to rock any boats or upset anyone because that means we have to deal with the unpleasant consequences that follow. The easiest thing to do is to just stay quiet. And so we don’t tell unbelievers about Jesus Christ–or if we do, we conveniently leave out the part about them being a sinner and needing to repent. All of that unpleasant stuff that no one wants to hear. And we don’t love our Christian brothers and sisters enough to call out sin or to mention that the author or the preacher they love so much is a false teacher.

Because our fear is bigger than our love.

You’d think–with my blog and all–that I wouldn’t struggle with this, right? I mean, let’s face it, when you do this kind of blogging there isn’t really any question of where I stand. But I still struggle with this. Somehow talking with someone one-on-one seems a lot more frightening than writing a blog post. I would imagine most bloggers and writers feel that way. In fact, you may feel that way even with social media, feeling much freer to share there (although that’s probably worth a blog post in and of itself–social media is not the place for these conversations, as a rule. If we wouldn’t say it to someone in person, we shouldn’t write it on a Facebook wall or tweet it).

Now, I must add one thing and this seems to be the perfect place to add it. “Jumping in that pool” to save someone is always the right thing to do. And because we do not know when someone is going to die, there is an urgency to witnessing that we cannot deny. However, while this isn’t really the topic of this post, I do think we need to remember to be wise. If we broach the subject of salvation or of a false teacher or of their own sin with someone and they grow angry and defensive, then we must know when to back away. We are not bulls in a china closet. We don’t just keep going, ramming Bible verses down their throats. There is a grace and love that must accompany speaking the truth.

But most of us never even get to the point where we are willing to speak the truth. To anyone. About anything. Because of that terrifying fear. But we have the power to overcome that fear. I John 4 tells us that God’s perfect love casts out that fear–

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

I think we must ask this question: At what point does our fear become a sin? At what point does it move from being a natural human response to an actual sin? Anger and envy are natural human responses but we don’t give them the same pass as fear, do we? Why is that?

Of course, this is compounded greatly by the fact that we are literally becoming the great enemy of the western world more and more each day. The agenda to demonize biblical Christians is vigorous and influential and so this intensifies our fears. And there is much to fear these days. The days of freely sharing biblical truth are slipping away into the twilight.

But there is a love and compassion that swallows our fear! And if we are born again, we have access to it. Right now. Today. Why are we allowing ourselves to be controlled by fear when we should be controlled by love?

 

 

The Other Side of the Equation

On Monday I wrote about the “Tactless Art of Making People Feel Small”. In that post I shared how important it is that we treat others as we want to be treated instead of acting like we are better than they are. It was an important post because it’s an easy (and acceptable) sin to commit. I hope you will take the time to read it if you haven’t done so yet.

Ironically…

On Tuesday (the day after that post was written), I was planting flowers for a few of our customers. I actually don’t do a whole lot of on-the-job work for our landscaping company but planning and planting the flowers in the busy month of May is something my husband has asked me to do.

Our second job of the day took us to the house of a customer who has mastered the art of making others feel small. We just know that this is the case with him and I tried to prepare myself for his condescension and abrasive attitude. While we were there he came out of the house and got into this car that was parked in the driveway. I glanced over with a smile and a ready wave, but he completely and absolutely ignored my daughter and me planting flowers in his front yard as he drove away in his {very expensive} car. And, yes, I’m pretty sure he knew we were there. That’s just the kind of guy he is. This is not the first time this kind of thing has happened and I am sure it won’t be the last. Unfortunately.

But my reason for writing is not this customer’s treatment of me. Rather, it is about my very wrong reaction to his treatment of me.

I was actually rather surprised at the intensity of the feelings that stirred up in my heart against him. Who does he think he is? The smallness I felt was almost tangible and my first reaction was indignation and animosity towards him.

The Holy Spirit almost immediately convicted me as I realized that this man doesn’t know the Lord. He is lost in his sins and my sinful anger won’t help Him to know my Savior but, in fact –should he ever find out my bad attitude towards him–would serve to drive him away from Christ. This really had me thinking as I sat there digging holes in the dirt and planting pink supertunias.

You see, there is another side to this equation of making someone feel small and that is: How we respond when someone makes us feel small. Because I think we have all been there. Whether it’s a customer who thinks they are better than us, an arrogant co-worker or boss who is constantly demanding things from us, a friend who directs unkind, sarcastic remarks at us, or any other countless situations that remind us that there are those who think we just aren’t important, all of us have been there at one time or another.

And how do we respond? Actually, don’t answer that. If you are like me, you won’t be very proud of the answer.

So let’s, instead, go to the Bible and see how we should respond–

First, Jesus tells us to love our enemies in Matthew 5:44: But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

While this is talking specifically about those who hate us, I think we can safely say that if we are to love those who hate us, we should do the same for those who would make us feel small. It is easy to build a lot of resentment and bitterness towards someone who does this because it feels so very personal. But, instead, we must forgive and then forgive again. We must let the remarks roll off our backs without building up a mountain of anger inside that festers.

In fact, Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:21-22 that we are to continue to forgive someone, even if they continue to hurt us: Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

This can be hard to do with someone who is making us feel so incredibly unimportant and small.

(And if I may go down a quick bunny trail–I had to wonder why I was so angry about this as I stood in the front yard with my frozen smile on my face as I watched him drive away. And I realized it is that ugly old sin of pride cropping up yet again!! It revealed my own ugly self-importance that will probably plague me my whole life. And it makes me glad, once again, for a wonderful Savior who covers my sin and makes me right before God.)

And, second, I think it’s important we take it a step further as we respond to people like this by remembering that something is going on. While many of us struggle with making people feel small on occasion, there are those who do this to us all the time, which makes it harder to forgive. And yet, we have to understand that if someone is living in a pattern of this type of behavior, we can know that they are either lost and headed to hell in their arrogance and pride or they are saved but struggle with a deep-seated problem of insecurity and the only way to make themselves feel better is to make others feel small. Either way, they should be the recipients of our forgiving loving-kindness that would echo the same forgiveness and loving-kindness that God showed us– But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.(Romans 5:8).

If we need to wait for someone to treat us kindly before we treat them kindly, we are doing it all wrong. God can fill us with His love for someone like this, if we only just ask Him.

And, finally, we have to remember to put ourselves on the back seat and consider our ultimate objective–to save those who are lost and to draw believers to the Word of God and to walk closer with Him. What reaction will best further this goal? Instead of worrying about our foolish pride, we must toss it aside as the rubbish it is and turn our eyes towards eternal matters. What does it matter if someone thought they were better than us if they end up in hell?? It is sobering to think how often we let self  keep us from our ultimate objective.

Anyway, these are all the things I have been thinking about since that incident on Tuesday. I am sure that some of you do not struggle in the same way with that ugly root of pride, but for those of you that do, I hope that this post has encouraged you. God’s Word has the answers, it is just a matter of obeying it. Therein lies the real challenge.

 

The Tactless Art of Making People Feel Small

There is a way to instantly get on someone’s bad side. This builds walls between parents and children and creates barriers between friends. It can ruin ministries and destroy relationships.

I have seen it take place between adult children and their elderly parents. And between teenagers and their bewildered parents. I have seen it take place between teacher and student, pastor and congregation member, husband and wife, and clerk and customer.

It isn’t talked about a whole lot as a sin, but it is a very real (and accepted) sin for which we need to be on guard at all times.

So what is it, you may ask?

It is the art of making people feel small. The great art of condescension, which is defined as an attitude of patronizing superiority; disdain.

Have you ever been around someone who has done this to you?

How did this make you feel?

I can tell you how it makes me feel. It makes me feel unimportant and ridiculous. It makes me feel that I have no more value than a bug to be squashed on the sidewalk.

I know I have done this to others myself and I mourn over this. Do you feel the same way? Some of us are more prone to this than others.

I am especially heart-broken when I see this happen between adult children and their elderly parents. The rolling eyes, the patronizing attitude as I watch an adult child treat their parent with such disdain just fills me with sadness. Shouldn’t someone who raised us be worthy of our respect?

Now, first let me state that I have not been in the place of taking care of elderly parents yet. All four of our parents are still very independent so please know that I am not casting a pointing finger of judgement at any of you. I know there are real challenges in being a caregiver for someone who resists your care.

Rather, what I hope to do with this post is to gently encourage you to consider your communication with and attitude towards your elderly parents. And your children. Your co-workers and fellow believers and family members and friends. And clerks and bank tellers and landscapers and the people who pick up your trash.

Because there is little more to crush the spirit of another than to act like you know everything and they know nothing. Anger and frustration quickly build when someone gives the impression that they are way more important than the other person. There are few things that will as quickly create barriers between people than for one person to make another one feel stupid.

I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum on this. I used to be condescending on a regular basis with my husband. It shames me to say it, but it’s true. I am thankful that he brought this to my attention and that God has worked in my heart but I am still so imperfect in this area (as well as so many others!) And, as lowly landscapers, we often feel condescension from those who would never choose a laborious job such as working with their hands and digging in the dirt. Quite thankfully, we have so many wonderful customers that make up for those that would treat us like dirt–no pun intended!! ;)

And, as is the case with all sin, the ugly root of this sin is pride. And, once again, we see clear evidence that–

Pride destroys and humility repairs

Pride builds walls and humility tears them down

Pride leads to dissension and humility leads to harmony

 

Another thing we need to keep in mind in regards to condescension is that it can be done with a big smile and sweet words. Have you ever run into one of those people that appear so sweet and kind but underneath it is hardened pride that keeps you from having any productive conversations with them? They are condescending but it is in the nicest way. In some ways this is the art of making people feel small at its finest. It can be done while still maintaining a godly and wholesome reputation.

So how do we keep ourselves from falling prey to this sin? What can we do to make sure we don’t patronize others? These are two things that I have found helpful, so I am passing them along–

1. Remember how Jesus treated others.

Jesus was never patronizing with people. We read of so many accounts he had with others–Zaccheus, the Samaritan Woman, Nicodemus, and others and condescension is never conveyed by even the slightest word or deed. Even when Jesus was angry with the Pharisees for their false teaching, He demonstrated that anger in clearly communicated words and not through snide and sarcastic condescension. Jesus’s sinless example is the one we want to follow as we reflect on how we should treat others.

2. Treat others as you would want to be treated.

Mark 12:31 says this: And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Love your neighbor as yourself. How would you want someone to tell you a hard truth? How would you want your adult child to treat you if you were the elderly parent losing your ability to do things independently and your dignity right along with it? Imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes and really take to heart how you would want to be treated if you were them.

 

Remembering these two things will bring a big change in this area of condescension. Keeping these in mind will fill us with a special grace and thoughtfulness that will naturally yield an attitude of loving-kindness and gentleness towards others rather than an air of superiority and disdain.

So let’s discard the tactless art of making people feel small and develop the art of making people feel special! Let’s eliminate the destructive root of pride that yields a superior, patronizing disdain for others and, instead, develop godly humility that tears down barriers and builds relationships.

This is God’s will for all of us, so we know His Holy Spirit will guide and direct us as we seek to make changes. We know that this is a prayer that God will answer if we are seriously seeking to do what’s right. God will be with us all as we seek to build rather than to tear down and as we strive to make others feel important and loved rather than stupid and worthless.

 

 

 

An Unpleasant and Unpopular Truth

Narrow is the way

God, through the writing of Paul, gives us such a clear picture of what an unregenerate soul looks like. This is especially clear in the third chapter of Titus, but we find it in many other passages, as well.

I find it curious that–while this is so clear in scripture–so few pastors and teachers are willing to teach that this kind of life would indicate that someone is in danger of hellfire. It would appear that, if someone professes with their mouth that they are saved and yet has no fruit to back up that profession, we have adopted a “hands-off” approach, yielding to the politically-correct dogma that would teach that to challenge their profession of faith would be to demean, belittle, or even hate them.

But could anything be further from the truth? Wouldn’t the most loving thing to do in a situation like this be to show them the truth from God’s Word? Let’s take a look at how the Word describes unbelievers and believers. (When describing unbelievers it refers to ingrained patterns of behavior where there is no conviction, no confession, and no repentance and where there is no effort to remove oneself from temptation or the sinning behavior. Keep in mind that no person–believers included–can ever be sinless. The key is the battle. True believers hate sin and continue to fight it, always working, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow in their sanctification and holiness.)

Okay, let’s take a look at some of these passages–

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. (Titus 3:3)

The unregenerate are foolish, disobedient, easily led astray, and slaves to various passions and pleasures. They pass their days in malice and envy. They are hated by others and they hate one another.

This is how the Word describes us before we are saved. As unpleasant as it is to contemplate, we have to admit that if someone lives like this–day in and day out–without any conviction or desire to change, we have to recognize that they are probably not saved, no matter what they say with their mouth. True belief is always revealed by actions.

Let’s think of this in terms of a marriage. If a husband says he loves his wife but then he cheats on her and abuses her and fills their home with the things she hates, then we have to conclude that he is only saying the words but doesn’t really mean them. His actions have not backed up his words.

Let’s go back to Titus 3. After describing the unredeemed, Paul then goes on to pen these verses–

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

This is the difference that Jesus makes! Isn’t this a beautiful thought? We are redeemed and changed through God’s transforming power!

When we minimize the transformation of a saved soul through the blood of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit we diminish the miraculous and radical thing that salvation really is. When we don’t expect someone to grow or we nonchalantly classify someone as “definitely saved” when they give no evidence of it, we belittle the work that Jesus Christ did on the cross.

Let’s look at a few more verses that would indicate the differences between believers and unbelievers. I can think of no better place to go for this than Galatians 5:16-24–

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy,[d] drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do[e] such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Here we find a long and comprehensive list of the sins of the flesh. This whole list–like it or not–describes the unregenerate. How do I know this for sure? It is in verse 22 with that little word “but” where we can see that the fruits of the Spirit are in total opposition to the works of the flesh. Verse 24 clarifies further: And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. This is what believers do–we have crucified, we continue to daily crucify–the flesh. Any person who isn’t willingly doing this or isn’t even slightly interested in doing this is giving evidence that they very well may not be saved.

Look–I don’t take joy out of saying this. I wish it were different. But this is what the Word of God says. I know that this is an extremely unpopular message in today’s church. I do get that. In fact, just yesterday I saw a post by a very popular “Christian” blogger who declared on Twitter that she could never serve a God who would send most everyone to hell. The comment thread that followed made anyone who did believe in what the Bible teaches about hell look ridiculously archaic and incredibly stupid.

But should unpopularity keep us from speaking the truth as we find it in the Bible?

Galatians 5 would indicate that after we are saved and the Holy Spirit indwells us, our lives should increasingly show the fruits of the Spirit which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Now none of us exhibit these fruits perfectly. And none of us live our new life in Christ without fighting some of these sins of the flesh. Some of us have victory in one of these areas, while others remain a lifelong challenge for us. But remember–the key is in the battle. This is the sin nature and we know that we will fight this battle against sin until the day we die (Romans 7:18-25). While this can be a discouraging thought, we also have these marvelous promises–

Romans 6:6Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

2 Corinthians 5:17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Philippians 1:6Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus Christ:

The battle with sin may be always with us but we never have to serve sin again. We have a new Master who walks with us, works in us for His glory, and we are new creatures living for God.

One who is regenerated gives evidence of this in their life. The one who is not saved lives for himself/herself.

How many people claim the name of Christ today and yet live wholly and fully for themselves? How many say they walked the aisle or said a prayer and yet haven’t given any evidence of a transformed life in Christ? The numbers that fall into this category are staggering. And yet, somehow, the church has sanctioned this and would criticize not the hypocrite but those who would reveal this tragic truth that is clearly taught in scripture (Matthew 7:15-20).

I would like to just add one final thing as I close and this is a really important aspect of this conversation: None of us knows what is going on in the heart of any person. Only God knows. I would never–and you should never–tell someone they aren’t saved. There is no possible way for us to know this and that is God’s job. But what we can do is lovingly point them to what God’s Word says about their lifestyle, behavior, or actions. We can pray for opportunities to talk with them about their lack of fruit or disinterest in living a holy life. We can open our eyes to the possibility that they might not be saved and begin diligently praying for them instead of living in the comfortable place of naive assumptions.

Because the stakes are high. So high.

We know of this danger because Jesus Christ makes it clear for us in these verses–

Matthew 7:14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Matthew 7:21-23 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

There are few sadder verses in scripture than these. Let’s take them to heart, dear reader. Not only for ourselves but for those we love. We never want to leave unsaid what could have–and should have– been said. Life is so fragile. I have become more aware of that than ever these last few weeks. When our loved ones are snatched away by that great thief, Death, we don’t want to be left with uncertainty when we ask that final question: Where are they now?

 

 

How Do I Respond to My Enemies?

So often Christians find themselves at odd with other Christians. There will be two true believers who just do not agree. Whether it’s a disagreement over something as simple as a remodeling project at church or it’s a deeper issue of how a certain scripture passage should be interpreted, we will always find someone that we will disagree with about something.

What keeps two people who disagree with each other from being enemies? What brings true Christian unity?

Please keep in mind that this post is referring to unity between true believers and not to the “fake” unity that warmly embraces all perversions of the Gospel and even religions that don’t adhere to the Gospel at all to be unified under the broad term of “Christianity”. We know that this kind of unity is not biblical, according to Galatians 1:9–

As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

But there is something that is called true, Christian unity. This unity can only exist between brothers and sisters in Christ. This kind of unity keeps us moving toward the same goals and embracing the same purpose. This unity builds bridges instead of walls. It will fill Christians with loving concern for one another instead of filling them with grudges, resentment, and jealousy.

This sounds so wonderful, doesn’t it? But it is often hard to find. Why is this?

Why does someone decide they do not like someone?

Sometimes we don’t care for someone based on a shallow, silly thing. And then there are also better reasons, based on things like biblical error or a prideful, arrogant spirit that is consistently divisive.

But we have to ask ourselves: Are any of these reasons good enough? If you were to stand before God today and tell Him your reason for not liking a certain person, would He say, “Way to go, my child. I agree with you completely.” ??

Of course we know the answer, don’t we? Because we know that God is love. We shouldn’t view anyone as an enemy, much less a brother or sister in Christ.

Romans 12:8 puts it like this–

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

We should, to the best of our ability, work at being at peace with everyone, believer and non-believer. This verse naturally brings two thoughts to my mind.

First, what if someone won’t be at unity with me?

Of course, since we know that the world will hate us (John 15:19), we know that it isn’t always possible to be at peace with those in the world. But sometimes it is a fellow Christian who refuses to forgive us. Or perhaps they just don’t like us but won’t tell us why. What then? These kinds of situations are heart-breaking and lead to feelings of helplessness as we try to navigate the back-biting, the whispering, and the cold shoulders.

I have a friend who taught me an important lesson about this very thing. Our daughters were playing soccer together and something happened to her little girl that could have started some real drama on the team. And this was her advice to her daughter, “kill them with kindness”. I heard her say that so often when her daughter would feel slighted or frustrated about something. And then, following her example, I started to say this to my kids. Yes, this is what we are called to do.

In fact, Jesus takes it even further in Matthew 5:43-44, telling us to love them, bless them, do good to them, and to pray for them!–

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

This is a tall order, is it not? But there it is. Commanded by Jesus in the Holy Bible. Instead of gossiping, instead of returning the coldness, instead of resentment or anger, we love, we bless, we do good things, and we pray for them.

But we do this because it is right, not because it will necessarily change anything. Let’s go back to the beginning of Romans 12:18–

“if it is possible, as much as it depends on you”

We know from these words that Paul realized it isn’t always possible. It is part of living life as a sinner, alongside sinners, in a fallen world. Sometimes we just have to follow Jesus’s words and find contentment even when there is no resolution and no forgiveness. A hard thing, indeed. But, you know what? This is just another thing that God uses to grow us and to teach us that we must find our peace and joy in Him alone.

Second, we won’t be best friends with everyone.

Even among truly unified Christian brothers and sisters, there will be those who are “kindred spirits” and those who are not. And that’s okay. But so often special friendships between Christians are viewed with resentment or jealousy. As believers we should realize that we will be better friends with some than others. It is how God designed us. Remember David and Jonathan? If you read I Samuel 18, you will realize that their friendship was very special. Once in a while, God will bring these special Christian friends into our world. They are true treasures and, instead of feeling jealous, we should be glad for others if they have found a special friend.

If we are still longing for this type of friendship, then pray and ask God to bring you a friend. I remember as a young mom feeling the need for this type of friend and so, unbeknownst to me, my mom started praying. And within a year or so of her prayers, God led me to Deb. We realized we were kindred spirits as we sat in a group of women and chatted and, shortly after, became best friends. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer if you need a friend!

And then there are those fellow Christians in our lives who could never be a kindred spirit. In fact, some of them drive us a little crazy. We may feel guilty if we don’t appreciate a Christian brother or sister like we know we should. What then?

God made us all different and certain personalities may grate on us. We may find them hard to get along with or their mannerisms alone might irritate us. They may be boastful or arrogant.

But if we take a look at Philippians 2:1-2, we have to acknowledge that God doesn’t give us any caveat for difficult people–

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

We are to be like-minded with all Christians–as much as it depends on us. We obviously can’t control the other person.

So how do we do this? How can we be like-minded? These verses show us–we have the same love, the same accord, the same mind as our fellow Christians. This can only be done if we are diligently studying the scriptures together, submitting our desires and wills to God, joyfully obeying the commands we find there, while increasing our knowledge of God. When people are not getting along, it often goes back to this. Biblical illiteracy once again rears its ugly head in church matters.

And, along with knowing God’s Word, we find the oil that keeps things working together smoothly in Colossians 3:14–

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

I Corinthians 13:4-6 gives us a description of this love that will break down barriers and bind Christians together in perfect unity–

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

And I Peter 4:8 is further confirmation of this idea that love will bring unity–

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

Even when we don’t particularly appreciate a fellow Christian, we can love them. We are commanded to love them. And we should thank the Lord for them, for they are helping us to grow in patience and self-control!

Enemies are just part of life. If we are going to take any stand at all on the things that matter, we will have enemies. We cannot control how they treat us, but we can control how we treat them. And let’s intentionally work at not having needless enemies. We must back away from the stuff that doesn’t matter. Will it matter in a hundred years what color carpet is used in the church? Is a slight difference in how someone interprets the book of Revelation really a cause for division? Let’s wisely and, oh so carefully, choose our battles. Most hills we choose to stand on are just not worth dying on. We don’t always have to be right. We don’t always have to have our way. So often it just doesn’t matter.

And most of all, when we find ourselves in the midst of a heated disagreement with a fellow Christian or facing a full-blown enemy, then let’s love them. Love them, bless them, do good to them, and pray for them. If you don’t remember anything else from this post, I hope you will remember these words of Jesus.

 

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