Relationships

How Would Someone Describe You?

If someone were to come across a description of you a few hundred years from now, what would it say? How do people see you?

Last night I read this description of someone who lived hundreds of years ago. I am sure you never heard of her but this is what the Bishop of London wrote about this lady named Margaret Middleton–

Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London, wrote of Margaret Middleton that ‘the great and distinguishing feature of her character was an active and indefatigable spirit of benevolence, which extended even to the brute creation, and which kept her mind so constantly on the stretch in seeking out opportunities of promoting in every possible way the ease, the comfort, the prosperity, the happiness temporal and eternal, of all within her reach that she seemed to have no time left for anything else and scarce ever appeared to bestow a single thought upon herself …’*

As I read and then re-read that, I was struck with conviction. Particularly by that last line “never appeared to bestow a single thought upon herself”.

How opposite of the culture today, where self has become the only thing that matters to most people. Even we Christians have been sucked into this cult of self. Viewing their happiness as premium, some lack commitment to family, church, and job as they constantly seek to fulfill their own selfish whims and dreams. Others of us have it play out much more subtly. We sulk or yell if we don’t get our way. We might give the silent treatment or walk away. Some of us may manipulate and scheme as we try to make ourselves happy. We fill our minds with ungodly entertainment that our flesh desires–even though we know it goes directly against scripture. We may indulge ourselves by buying stuff, oftentimes even going into debt to do so. Our time is often spent on selfish pursuits that have no eternal value.

Think of the utter contrast this lifestyle is to the description of Margaret Middleton.

So what would someone say about me? Am I more concerned with pleasing God than I am in pleasing myself? Am I concerned with the eternal and not just the temporal? Am I constantly looking for opportunities in which to help and encourage others?

Perhaps these are good questions for us all.

True Christianity is thinking less and less of self as we grow in Christ. How important that we don’t get it confused with that false “Christianity” where self is king and God a mere genie who is to do our bidding.

This is a difficult culture to thrive in for us people who are naturally selfish (like me). We are told that our natural, fleshly inclinations of self-indulgence and pursuits of our own desires are healthy and deserving of our attention. But this is not what the Bible says at all. Shall we take a look? (I’ve underlined the clear teaching that shows us what Christ thinks of selfish living)–

Matthew 16:24Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.

Galatians 5:16-21I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

 

These scripture passages certainly go against the flow of not only the secular culture but also against what’s being taught in most churches. I believe selfishness has become a very accepted sin and that we Christians easily explain it away without giving it much thought at all.

And yet…this is not what scripture teaches. In fact, it teaches the very opposite.

And so we must strive every single day–even every hour–to crucify our flesh and to turn away from our selfish desires and to stop worrying so much about our happiness. In fact, to not intentionally do so means that, by default, we join the throng of humanity as described in the last days–

2 Timothy 3:1-5But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, [b]unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

Instead of turning away from them, we are them.

Oh, may it not be said of us. May we turn away from our selfish desires and pursuit of happiness, knowing that it isn’t in this life that we will receive our reward. May we remember that the eternity that awaits us is far better than anything we could ever dream or imagine. And may we never forget that chasing after our own pursuits and pleasure never leads to true and lasting happiness anyway.

But, most importantly, may we fall more and more in love with the Savior, so that we become less enamored with worldly pursuits and pleasures and more dedicated and determined to do the Father’s will.

So what would someone write about us? How are we viewed? No matter the answer, today is the first day of the rest of our lives.

It is a great day to continue steadfastly, begin again, or to get started for the very first time to live a life of pleasing God with the time He has so graciously given us to live on this earth. It’s a great day to pick up our cross, start denying ourselves, and intentionally turning our attention to how we can help and support those around us.

It’s never too late to live our lives for Jesus and the time to change is now.

 

 

*Pollock, John. A Fistful of Heroes . Christian Focus Publications. Kindle Edition.

**You can find out more about Margaret Middleton here.

 

It Starts With Us

It seems like we live in a world where everyone is offended by something. They are offended by things you did in the past. Things you are doing now. And even who you innately are. They are offended by your words, by your actions, and by your choices.

And, just like a snowball that grows in force and speed as it rolls down a hill, so, too, this world where everyone is offended is growing quickly in epic proportions. (The snowball actually started a long time ago. We are simply watching it hurl towards the bottom of the hill now.)

But, as the church, are we really any different? It seems like we find the same dynamic there. People are offended because they weren’t asked to be on a committee or invited to a get-together. They are offended because the pastor doesn’t talk to them or didn’t say what they thought he should say. They are offended because something they donated years ago has been replaced. They are offended because the lady in the hat sings too loud.

It’s in families, where offended parties avoid each other. Where criticism reigns freely but grace is in short supply. Where differences of opinions about politics and religion and money cause chasms that can’t seem to be crossed.

It seems like anywhere we turn, people are just offended these days.

So how can we change this? Obviously there is little we can do. But there is a little we can do.

We can start with ourselves.

We can intentionally choose to not be offended. To let things roll. To give people grace. To stop being worried about ourselves and how we feel.

That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Offended people are often consumed by themselves and how they feel.

Speaking from my own experience, when I feel offended, this is why. My pride or my feelings have been hurt and I am purely focused on myself.

But Christianity calls for the exact opposite of this.

God calls us to cast self aside and to esteem others better than ourselves.

Philippians 2:2-4 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

God asks us to treat others like we would want to be treated.

Luke 6:31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

God tells us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute and use us.

Matthew 5:44-47 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, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your[p]brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the[q]tax collectors do so?

God loved us so much that He sent His son to die for our sins. We are to respond to this gift with love–both for God and for others.

Mark 12:30-31 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ [l]This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

We get a good description of this love in I Corinthians 13, where we read that it is long-suffering, doesn’t seek its own, and is not provoked (ESV version uses the word “resentful”).

I Corinthians 13:4-7 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not [b]puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, [c]thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

In fact, loving our Christian brothers is so important that we are told that we are a liar if we say we love God but hate a brother. Think about the ramifications of that for a moment.

I John 14:20-21 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, [d]how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

We also find in Matthew that if we don’t forgive those who trespass against us, God won’t forgive us our sins. That is a very indicting statement! This is how critical it is that we forgive others instead of our natural “old man” tendency to hold a grudge. This is an extremely big deal.

Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

As we learn to respond to offenses in a manner worthy of being called a Christian, the wonderful effects of this will ripple out to our children and extended family. It will ripple out to our co-workers and church family. As we choose very intentionally not to be offended about every little thing or even about big things, we set an example that hopefully inspires others to do the same. As we choose to forgive instead of holding grudges, we help to create the warm and loving atmosphere that should be in every Christian home and biblical church.

We get to help instead of hinder.

We help to build our families and churches rather than tear them down.

This isn’t easy. And many are the times that I (personally) have to catch myself. I have to ask myself: Why am I so offended by this or that? When I take a moment to examine, it is always because of selfishness and pride. Oh, how ugly these things are. How much division and dissension they cause in Christian homes and churches.

As we face a world that is so offended all the time, may we true Christians stand out like beacons of light in the darkness as we choose to forgive and extend grace. And may this difference draw people to us and give us abundant opportunities to plant seeds for God’s Kingdom.

 

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Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:17-21

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How Studying the Bible Changes You

I was so perplexed and started to grow angry. Was she kidding? No, there was an unpleasant glint in her eye that gave credence to her words.

My daughter had been given permission from the guy at the top of the bridge to have her baby’s car seat in the plane. When we arrived in the plane, the stewardess informed us in no uncertain terms that this would not be possible. She condescendingly told us it was a full flight and she highly doubted there would be room for his seat. But the plane was far from full. So not only was she rude but she lied. We did question why permission was given at the top, which seemed to set her against us. She continued her churlishness with us throughout the flight. This same stewardess was quite rude to the rest of family behind us as they made legitimate requests. It’s hard to believe that someone like that has a job working with people.

A few moments before the flight started, a man came and very kindly explained that, due to Covid, car seats were no longer allowed on the smaller planes. While this didn’t make any sense to us at all, his calm and kind manner as he explained was comforting after the stinging meanness of the stewardess. (They all seemed to be rather confused as to protocol regarding car seats and the rules about them. It was very disorganized. It does seem like we now live in a world where anything and everything can be blamed on Covid. It’s actually very strange.)

As we taxied on the runway and then took off, I could feel myself growing angrier and angrier at this woman. I wanted nothing more than to be rude back to her. But about fifteen or twenty minutes in, as I started to settle down, it dawned on me that she was very likely unsaved and that I had a Christian testimony to keep. While I (to my shame) did not go out of my way to “kill her with kindness”, I did manage to hold my tongue and to mumble a “thank you” a time or two as she brought things by.

I do long for the day that I can overcome my flesh in these situations and actually be extra kind when someone is so incredibly rude to me (or my child.) But Sunday was not that day.

The next morning, I was reading in Matthew and I came across these verses in chapter six–

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

I thought about this lady from the day before and remembered the danger of holding grudges. I thought of how anger and bitterness shatter all relationships–whether it be with a stranger, a customer, a person at church, a friend, or a family member.

Unforgiveness and bitterness destroy everything in their path. It can never be allowed to set up residence in our soul. Even over the small matter of an extra-ordinarily rude stewardess. At that moment, I chose to forgive her. I wished I had been able to do that on the plane so that I could have been a better testimony. I will probably never see her again and that chance is gone.

So, honestly, I am not a big one for flying. Flying with masks is far worse. But the thing that had me the most worried was that all of the women, save one, in our family were on the same plane for four different flights. About two weeks before we had left this hit me and I grew incredibly worried about something happening to all of us at the same time. Enter Matthew, chapter six again. It was from the end of that chapter that I drew much comfort and chose to trust the Lord.

You see, in the Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge we have been reading Matthew 5-8, which contains the Sermon on the Mount. There have been so many times that what I have been reading and studying over this past month have been practically applied to my daily life. I gave just two examples above but there are so many more. The scriptures have exhorted, reminded, encouraged, and rebuked me. They truly are life-changing.

Any good in me, any right response, is the Holy Spirit working through the Word to transform me and make me look more like Christ. It has nothing whatsoever to do with me or my efforts to be a “better person”.

I wish I could get every single person who claims to love Jesus to actually study the Word. It would change the world because it changes the individual.

If you’d like to study the Bible but aren’t sure where to begin, I’d like to invite you to join this year’s Bible Reading Challenge. It’s a great time to join because we will begin the book of Ruth on April 1st. You can find the details here. I would love to have you join me in studying God’s Word.

But any study of God’s Word is life-changing. The key is to get started. Paul tells us in I 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.

If we want to be transformed by the Word, it will require study and meditation. Cursorily reading it isn’t a bad thing but it could be compared to a lollipop in its sustenance regarding our spiritual health.

Life happens. Every day we face various trials and challenges. Big ones and small ones. We face rude stewardesses, customer service reps, and clerks. We find out a company scammed us or cheated us or didn’t receive our payment. We learn that our child or spouse or family member did something very disappointing. We find out that someone passed away, is getting divorced, or has been diagnosed with illness.

God has told us how to respond to these things and so much more in His Word. But if we don’t know it, we are missing out on the greatest strength and guidance God has offered us. Let us not ignore this wonderful gift God has given us for this life.

 

 

How Do We Keep from Losing Our Kids?

I’ll never forget that moment I realized he was gone. Mom thought he was with Dad. Dad thought he was with Mom. And then there was that awful moment when we realized that no one knew where their two-year-old was.

In a panic, most of us started running towards the beach where we had last seen him. Our grandson isn’t a wanderer so we knew he hadn’t gone off on purpose and that definitely helped calm us a bit.

When we got to the edge of the beach, we looked all around and finally spotted him a ways down to the left, standing in a tidal pool. My youngest daughter took after him (I didn’t even know she could run that fast!) and heard him calling for his daddy as she approached. She picked him up, hugged him, and then brought him back to his worried parents. We all breathed big sighs of relief and thanked the Lord. I contemplated the rest of that evening and often over the next few days just how tragic that could have ended and thanked the Lord again and again.

We realized later that his mommy had told him to follow his daddy without his daddy realizing it. And, instead of following him, he had just continued on down the beach finally stopping when he reached the tide pool. I also found out later that there was a couple who was keeping an eye on him from a distance, just as many of us would have done in that situation. Somehow that was very comforting. There are still a lot of good and decent people around.

My dad mentioned to me the other day that there is a spiritual parallel to this story. As I thought about that, I realized that is definitely true. The only difference is that most spiritually lost kids are never searched for. They are left to struggle in the tide pool all alone or even drown in the ocean that is the world. Many times, no one even knows they are missing until it’s far too late.

One of my greatest sorrows in this life has been watching adorable little children grow up into worldly adults who have no care for God. I’ve seen them in the church nursery, in homeschool co-ops, and in Christian schools. I’ve watched them turn away from the beliefs of their parents completely or pretend to follow by going to church and putting on a show of godliness–all while living a worldly, ungodly life when they think no one is watching.

So what happens to these kids? Why do they choose to follow the world instead of God?

I’d like to suggest that it happens one step at a time. And that, as parents, we can never, ever stop looking out for their spiritual well-being. Unlike our grandson who was simply confused, our kids have a spiritual enemy that is actively seeking to lure them away from their Christian family–and from God.

As we reflect on this, there are some important considerations to think on as we raise our children (or support and encourage those who do)–

1. Set the spiritual health of your children as your ultimate priority. As I reflect on those who have lost their children to the world, I almost always see one thing in common–something took first place in their family that wasn’t God. Whether it was sports, academics, the arts, or a number of other things, it became the primary priority in the family. Sometimes it was just a passion for the child to be popular in school. As loving and serving God fell down on the list of priorities, so did the chances that the child would follow hard after God. After all, why would they believe it is important, if they were never taught or shown that it is important?

I am absolutely amazed at the grace of God on a family that makes this priority in the face of ridicule and unpopularity. God often will draw these kids to Himself in spite of their parents many sinful habits and abundant mistakes. He is so so faithful to those who desire nothing more than that their children walk with God.

I recognize this especially because we have been receivers of this abundant grace. With all four of our kids walking with the Lord, we fully recognize that we are utterly and completely undeserving of this. We were not awesome parents and there are a thousand (or more!) things we’d change if we could go back and parent all over again. And, yet, God has been so gracious and kind to us.

Keep the right priority and then watch God work in spite of your sin and mistakes. It’s a pretty amazing thing to watch!

2. Recognize that we, the parents, are responsible for our child’s spiritual well-being. If there is a second thing I’ve seen in families that lose their kids it is that there is little communication regarding the stuff of life that really matters. Instead of taking responsibility to teach children about God and discussing many of the hard things of life in light of the scriptures (which truly are a treasure that hold life’s answers), churches and Christians schools are often given that role.

But it’s not the church’s job nor the Christian school’s to guard our child’s spiritual health. This is our job, as parents.

If you’ve never had this modeled in the home where you grew up, then this may be a really hard switch to make. Most families aren’t comfortable when you get into the realm of “hard”. This is why boys find out about sex in the locker rooms and girls learn about it in trashy novels. It is why “Christian” kids fall away from their faith at a rate that is beyond alarming. It is why they have no answers for the Creation debate or any other hot topic that is taking the world by storm. They have no answers because they’ve been given no answers.

Instead they are being entertained and coddled.

Oh, this is such a tragedy. Our job as parents is not to entertain and coddle. Our job is NOT to make sure they never are troubled or ridiculed. We aren’t given the responsibility to make sure they never feel pain or frustration.

Our job is to teach them, from scripture, how to respond to these things. Our job is to nurture and train them in the things of the Lord. Our job is to talk about the hard stuff of life, always using the Bible as our guide. Using the Bible as our guide helps us parents, too, as we seek to understand what is and what is not important as we raise our children.

I like to tell the story of how I got into an argument with one of my girls over something that just really bothered me. I told her no and I was sticking to it. Finally, my husband looked at me and asked me if it really mattered? Was this something that was in scripture or was I standing firm on a preference? It hit me like a lightning bolt, for I surely was standing firm on something that I did not need to stand firm on. I relented and learned a hard lesson that day.

When we run everything through the grid of scripture, we can figure out what is and what is not important and it gives us the answers our kids need as they face the unfriendly, ridiculing world.  Of course, this can only be done by actually knowing and studying the Word first. And this takes work. But there is no more satisfying work in the world.

I might add here: Don’t be afraid of the hard questions. It’s okay to say you don’t know and then go hunt for the answer together!

3. Provide a secure, warm, loving home. As I have given some thought to this in my own life, I wondered why my brother and I were really never even tempted to stray? I remembered an incident in 7th grade during shop class. One of my friends had told me that she “guaranteed” that I would smoke a cigarette by the time I graduated high school. I laughed and firmly told her that would never happen, even more determined that it never would after our conversation. But, to be quite honest, it was never even a temptation. Why not? Why were drugs, drinking, and smoking never a temptation for me? Why was I willing to take the ridicule and derision of my classmates on many occasions? And even, often, of my public school teachers?

I think there is one reason– and it wasn’t that I was some spiritual paragon because I wasn’t! I believe it was because I felt so wonderfully safe and secure in the love of my parents at home. This gives a child strength to face hard things. No matter what happened at school, I knew my parents loved me (even if I messed up) and that they had my back (when I stood for the truth and ended up having consequences because of it).

When a child feels like they are on a family team that is seeking to do what’s right and will stick together no matter what, it takes much of the sting out of not being the most popular kid at school. I know this because I’ve lived this.

4. Stop worrying about popularity and if your child is going to hate you. How well I remember the time our daughter came downstairs in a short skirt. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Her dad took one look at it and told her to go and change. Our daughter was FURIOUS. She stomped back up the stairs, shouting at her father. My husband went to the bottom of the stairs and shouted back: “You are not going to wear me out! I love you and you are not going to wear me out!”

I will forever be grateful for my husband’s commitment to raising godly children and for his response in that moment. We thought for sure we were going to lose that daughter to the world and he wanted her to know that he was never giving up on her. Oh, that more kids would have dads like this.

We have got to stop worrying about if our kids will like us. We have got to put popularity at the bottom of the list or even move it off the list altogether. These things don’t matter in the long run. Remember–we have one goal and one goal only. If we are believers, we want our children to grow up to love and serve God. We must make all of our decisions–what our daughter is allowed to wear, what our kids are allowed to watch, where they go, who they hang out with–in light of this goal.

We should–no, we must–help our kids shrink their love for the world. We must help them see the dangers of the world rather than feed the world to them.

Sure, your teens will feel hatred towards you sometimes but they will forget. And, actually, will most likely thank you someday for your courage and willingness to do the hard thing.

A few years ago, I went over a few journals I had written as a teenager. I was so surprised to read of extreme anger that I had felt towards my father. I didn’t remember this at all. What I did remember was my parents willingness to guide and mold me in spite of the pressure to give in to the world. I remembered their willingness to say NO, our many discussions about hard questions, and their commitment to God. And I feel nothing but immense gratitude.

We have got to stop thinking about now and start thinking about the future.

5. It’s never too late. What if your child is now the teenager or young adult struggling in that “tidal pool”. Is it too late?

It is never too late! I remember a friend who struggled so as she watched her twenty-something son make bad choice after bad choice. But she stood firm and kept praying and eventually God brought that son to Himself.

No matter how old they are, keep pointing your kids to God’s Word in every conversation where you are given an opportunity and then pray, pray, pray. Never give up! God loves your kids more than you do.

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There is much wrong in the parenting of today and I shudder when I think about the ramifications. Many children are never told the word “no”. Parents passionately want to make sure their kids never feel pain or experience frustration. Smartphones are used as babysitters and if they aren’t being used as babysitters, mom and dad sit there scrolling through apps, while their kids play alone. Discipline is avoided or never used at all. Oh, the outlook for the family is not good. The future is indeed grim when we consider the fruit of today’s parenting style: Self-centered, godless kids who care for nothing but their own gain.

But we have an opportunity to make a difference–even if it is in our own family. And this difference will ripple out through the span of time, as your children touch the lives of others and then their children and grandchildren do the same and on down through the generations.

We know that only God can draw a heart towards Him. We cannot control this through a list of do’s and don’ts. But there are things we can do to create a thirst for God that supersedes their thirst for this world. Losing our kids is not inevitable! God has give us instructions and encouragement in His Word, He provides so much grace, and He is incredibly faithful.  

So be strong and courageous. Raising kids is not easy! But there is no sweeter fruit than knowing that your kids are following the Lord. It is worth every hard moment and every bit of ridicule. God will walk with you each step of the way!

 

Special note to grandparents: As grandparents, we have a special role. We are no longer responsible for the spiritual health of our grandkids but we can be a blessing to our kids by embracing our support role. I cannot even begin to tell you the tremendous blessing that our children’s grandparents have been to my husband and myself. Both his parents and mine took their roles seriously and spent hours and hours playing and talking with our kids. They provided a safe place for our kids to have fun and just be kids. They are godly people and so we were assured they would be pointing them in the right direction as conversations took place. They continue to do this with their great-grandchildren, blessing their grandchildren who are now parents themselves. I hope to be just like them.

We grandparents have been given an opportunity to bless and to be blessed. This is much more important and way more satisfying than passionately doing our hobbies or fulfilling our own dreams. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with these things, may we not do them to the neglect of the most special opportunity we’ve been given.

 

Who Me? I’d Never Hold a Grudge…

Recently, I saw someone say something rather unkind to someone. The person being spoken to had every opportunity to get offended or defensive, but they just laughed and let it roll right off their back. The humility in that response was also played out in the next hours and days, never affecting the relationship.

Lord, I want to be like that.

How often do we allow harsh words, trivial disagreements, or gossip to destroy our relationships? How often do we let really big disagreements destroy them?

If we are a Christian, this just should not be.

We all know the scriptures, don’t we? We are to forgive others (Matthew 6:12-15; Luke 17:3; Colossians 3:13, etc) What we sometimes forget is that this isn’t just the big, ghastly things that are obvious.

This is about the sarcastic remark spoken to you by a family member.

This is about the harsh words lashed out after you made a mistake.

This is about the time that friend embarrassed you in front of everyone.

I believe grudge-holding is one of the worst and most accepted sins in the church today. For some reason, Christians seem to brush this sin aside.

Oh, many pretend they are okay but they start distancing themselves. Suddenly, they aren’t calling or texting that friend anymore. They are avoiding a family member. The relationship has changed, no matter what they say about forgiving that person with their mouth.

I think the current events have me thinking about this a bit more. There’s so much division. The opinions held by people are at extreme odds. Disagreements and ugly arguments are a regular part of social media these days. They may even be part of your own family or circle of friends.

And then there is the uncertainty. I mean we always knew way down deep inside that life can change in a second. If you’ve lost someone you love, you know this. But somehow, with everything up in the air and the future a deep, unsettled fog around us, it reminds us of what’s really important.

And our relationships rank pretty high up on the list of what’s important.

So what destroys them? Why do we let a thoughtless word or sarcastic comment get to us? Why do we struggle so to forgive?

I believe it can be summed up in one word: PRIDE.

Pride is deadly. The longer I live, the more deadly I realize it is. It makes us prickly and quick to defend ourselves. It is the root of all grudge-holding and of an unforgiving spirit.

The other evening, my family brought up something rather embarrassing about me in front of someone I didn’t know very well.

My normal reaction would be to defend myself and get a bit blustery about it. But at that moment, God gave me the strength to respond in the right way. I laughed with them and admitted my fault in what they were discussing.

A bit later, my husband commented on how well I had handled that moment.

You see, I don’t usually respond so well. It felt unnatural to do so. But, afterwards, I knew in my heart I had done the right thing.

Not only had I cast my pride aside, but I had set a good example for my family.

I don’t hold myself up as any icon of humility. This is abnormal for me. I am not saying “look at me”. I’m saying this is what happened one time and it was good. Why don’t I do it more often?? Why can’t I get over myself?

Look, we all have our good moments and bad moments, right? Our hope is that our good moments grow and our bad moments diminish. But sometimes we just need to examine our lives. Where are we at? How are we changing for the better? Are we looking more like Christ?

And one area that we often skip in our examinations is this area of relationships. Am I easily offended? Do I hold grudges? Do I get defensive? Can I laugh at myself?

So how do we build stronger relationships?

If being easily offended and pride and holding grudges and not forgiving destroys them then we can assume that the opposite builds them.

1. Let things roll. When someone says something hurtful, we must choose to just let it roll. Right off our backs and far away. We should ask the Lord to help us forget it and move on.

2. Be humble. A big part of humility is thinking of others. It is taking the focus off of ourselves (and our wounded pride) and thinking of others. We should offer lots of grace and cast that ugly pride aside. This is often much easier said than done!

3. Listen carefully to words spoken and then respond with love. Instead of letting ourselves get so defensive and offended, why not actually listen to see if there is a nugget of truth in the words being spoken? Perhaps God is using that person to show us an area in which we need to grow? We should listen instead of lash out. Listen and then respond with love.

4. Learn to laugh at ourselves. Life is just too short to get all uptight and offended about the small stuff. If someone tells an embarrassing story, we may as well just laugh along with them. After all, it was funny! I have so many of these. So does my mom. I’ve learned from her well. She just laughs along and sets the greatest example of not taking herself too seriously. I thank her for teaching me that.

5. Agree to disagree. We aren’t going to agree with everyone. We don’t have to prove we are right. Our job is to point people to the Word and let the Holy Spirit do the convicting and convincing. When we remember this, it makes it so much easier to step back after we’ve made our argument and just walk away.

6. Pray for a humble and forgiving spirit. Ask the Lord to fill you with humility. Ask Him to help you forgive not only big things but the little things, too, that may eat at you. He is so faithful and He will help you!

If you are like me, you are still working on these. And may we be very intentional in our efforts. May this be something at the forefront of our minds so that we don’t allow grudges or a defensive spirit to worm their way into our lives.

Because I think we can all agree: Life is just too short and relationships are far too precious for this.

 

The Domino Effect

Once upon a time there was a young man. He married his high school sweetheart and together they had a few kids. But one day, after several years of marriage, this man chose not to turn his eyes and his heart away when he looked at a woman who was not his wife. Eventually this choice led to a broken-hearted wife and devastated children who would struggle to heal from his rejection for years to come.

He made a choice for his “personal happiness” and, yet, his happiness wasn’t the only thing affected.

Stories like this have happened over and over again throughout history. Replace the pronouns. Sometimes it is wives who do this same thing. For personal happiness and gain, a choice is made that negatively affects the rest of someone’s life. Forever.

You may have been on the receiving end of something like this. And it’s not always an affair. But it is always sin.

Galatians 5:19-21 is a great list to reference for these “domino effect” sins–

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: [d]adultery, [e]fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, [f]murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Each one of these sins–when chosen–does not affect the sinner alone. It affects all those who surround the sinner.

As sin grows, it spills over on to those we love and on to all those that are in our circle.

We can change their day by an angry outburst or we can change their life by choosing adultery.

Thankfully we know through many examples (David, Peter, etc) in the Bible that we can choose repentance and we can be restored after we make sinful choices. But, after all is said and done, the consequences remain.

Better to not have made the sinful choice at all.

I don’t think we often give much thought to how our daily choices are affecting those around us.

The first example I gave was an extreme example, right? Kids from broken homes –especially homes with a parent who disappears or, maybe worse yet, uses them as a pawn in a battle–have some extra challenges to work through in life.

But let’s think further how our even our most mundane choices affect our kids, grandkids, and anyone who is watching us.

What are some of the things that have a domino effect on our families and circle of friends?

What about how we handle affliction and trials? Anger and discontentment often snake their way down family trees. Are we setting a godly example in how we respond when things don’t go our way?

What about choosing to live in an unhealthy way or being unwise in how we spend money? We set our kids up for failure because they are always watching. And, often, they will choose to live how we chose to live. Think about your life right at this moment. Would you want the children in your life to have your life? I am not talking about the things we can’t control–like diseases or unexpected financial setbacks. I am referring to being wise and godly in the choices we can control.

What about how we fill our minds (tv, movies, books, music)? Are these leading those who are watching us towards God and His Word or are they leading them away from Him?

What about choosing to extol a false teacher? Giving credence to a false or heretical teacher puts our friends and family in grave spiritual danger. Deception often starts by a casual comment, such as “have you read the book…?”

You see, these choices aren’t ever just about us. And these choices have the potential to lead someone toward the broad way or the narrow way. Very few things are neutral. By our example, we lead those who are watching us towards a godly life or towards a carnal life. We encourage them to walk in the Spirit or to walk in the flesh.

So you think no one is watching you at home when you privately watch that terrible tv show?

Well, that might be true. Maybe only God knows that.

BUT…

You think that show isn’t affecting you?

All that goes into our brains–whether we will admit it or not–affects us. And this, in turn, affects others.

Our philosophies; our sensitivity to worldliness; our choice to follow human wisdom or God’s wisdom; our love for God–these are all affected by what we fill our minds with. And this mind-filling will, quite naturally, spill out on to others in our conversations and our discussions.

No sin is private.

Unless you are living on an island far far away with no one else on it, there is a domino effect.

We may feel this more acutely as a parent. (Oh, the weight of being a godly example when you are a parent!) But this doesn’t disappear as we move into our grandparent years. And it still exists, even if we never have kids or are a single adult living alone.

People watch us.

Choices may be made to abandon Christianity or to embrace it by someone watching how we live.

 

Interestingly enough….

This domino effect also works the other way around.

When we live lives that please God and we obey His commands, we find that this also affect others. As they watch us, they are emboldened to live for Christ or they are drawn to His Word. We can encourage them to live for Him by our choice to live for Him! We can encourage them to be courageous and stand for Truth by our choice to live courageously and stand for Truth!

We can have a good influence on others or we can have a negative influence.

But we will have an influence.

What kind of influence will you have? When you have left this earth what will have been your domino effect?

May we give this serious consideration before it’s too late.

 

 

What is Your M.O.?

Frustration filled the voice of the caller. She had just had a meeting with someone and they were inflexible, unkind, and unhelpful. The real rub was that the person she had just talked to was supposedly a Christian–the kind that actually holds to what the Bible teaches.

This can often be the M.O. ( *modus operandi) of Bible-believing Christians. I am not sure how or why this is but, too often, the terms “unloving” and “harsh” apply all too well to those who call themselves believers.

On the other hand, love and kindness are often what we encounter when we meet up with Christians that care very little about doctrine. Despite their disinterest in most of the Bible, for some reason they have grabbed hold of the passages about love in the scriptures and they take them seriously.

Why is this? Why is it so hard to be passionate about truth and love?

There are probably a few reasons that make sense. A commitment to truth can yield arrogance in a prideful heart. Because of that commitment to truth, they consider themselves better than those who are not committed to truth. Another reason may be that they believe to be separated from the world means not talking to, not conversing with, having nothing to do with the world and so they respond coldly to anyone seeming to be from the world. And, of course, for most it may simply be cultural. They know no different and they have never even thought of being different. They are like their parents and their grandparents and their aunts and uncles. This is the way of the church they grew up in. The legalistic, judgemental church where you must wear the right thing, say the right thing, and do the right thing in order to be a “good Christian”.

In an age where the majority of those who call themselves Christians are ignoring all biblical commands in favor of living a worldly life, there are still a handful of us clinging to biblical truth.

But how is God going to use us if, as we cling to truth, we forget about love?

Loving others should be part of who we are. In fact, in I John 4, we read this–

 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, [d]how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

Loving others is not simply a command. It is a test for whether or not we are a true believer!

Love is not an option but it is, rather, a natural outpouring of God’s work in our lives. If it is missing, we have serious cause for concern.

Now, of course, let me say here, there is a worldly definition for love that does not apply when we are having this discussion, right? The kind that agrees with sin, that applauds the sinner in their sin, that affirms and approves, no matter what the choice. That isn’t love. That is foolishness.

But when it comes to real love and kindness–what would people say about you?

Personally, I have come to realize that when I get in a discussion regarding something I feel passionate about, I can become rather intense as I discuss. I don’t mean to be harsh or unkind but I have finally recognized that this is how some people perceive me. I have gone back to apologize more than once and try to stay very conscious of this tendency, but I am still learning how to balance my passion for truth with heartfelt love.

It is important to consider what is our M.O. as we walk through our lives. When our family and friends think of us, do the words love and kindness come to mind?

I have written many posts about loving the truth because it is so important and because it is so terribly lacking in today’s church. But we also need to recognize the importance of love.

Let’s consider three reasons that we should–and even must–love others–

First, it is commanded and proves that we are a true believer. This could not be clearer, as demonstrated by the verses above.

Second, no one wants to listen to us talk about anything–much less God and truth–without love. If someone speaks to you in a harsh, unkind, or sarcastic way, do you even care what they are saying? They have already discredited themselves and their words considerably.

And, third, life is so much sweeter when we love. Have you thought about that? If we are all caught up in manmade rules and policing others, we lose so much joy. When we can understand that God takes each person on their own journey of spiritual growth and that we are not responsible for them, it yields so much more peace and joy in our lives. Whether it is our child, our spouse, or a friend, we must release them to God and just keep loving them and challenging them with biblical truth as we are given the opportunity. But there is no need to pound truth over their heads or to spend our lives frustrated and irritable. And there is certainly no cause for thinking that we are somehow better than they are. There, but for the grace of God, go I!

 

Oh, how important and necessary is this balance of truth and love. One without the other is like the day without the night. Both must be present in order to function best as a believer. The fact that both are present is not only an assurance of our salvation but is a demonstration to the world that we belong to Christ.

So go out and show some kindness! Love the people God has placed in your life today!

 

* modus operandia particular way or method of doing something, especially one that is characteristic or well-established.

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 5)

This is Part 5 in a series that is exploring just how the world’s ways and philosophies sneak into our lives unawares. So often when people think of worldliness, it is with a very narrow definition. Perhaps they believe worldliness is equal to worldly entertainment and so they discern in this area, while letting the world affect their thinking in so many other areas. Perhaps they believe worldliness to equal materialism and so they are sure to live simply and generously, while worldly music and movies dominate their entertainment. You see, worldliness is not just one thing but it is a whole way of thinking that is anti-God.

The natural bent for all of us is to go towards the world. This is for a number of reasons. First, it is always easier to row downstream than upstream. When we become a believer we are rowing upstream and against the natural, sinful inclinations that we are born with. It is exhausting and takes a lot of effort. Second, we like to be like the world, insomuch that we don’t stick out and get made fun of. In other words, we want to be part of the crowd, even if it’s at the very edge. Otherwise, we look strange or eccentric or like some kind of fanatic. This is very important to most of us and this desire keeps many of us at the edges of the world hanging around the fence. And, third, and probably the biggest reason, is that the modern day false religion going by the name of Christianity says we can have salvation and keep the world, too. We can be like the world and still be saved, as long as we said “the prayer”. If one believes this, there is no reason to turn away from the world because they can have both things at the same time. Of course, this type of person can not possibly be in the Word because we can see over and over that this is not the case. But so many who would call themselves believers live in the world without nary a conviction because of the wave of easy-believism that has infected the ranks of true Christians in the last 50 or so years.

Today I want to take a look at how worldliness has seeped into our relationships. As I have been reflecting on this the past week, I became aware that there is far more world in the relationships of us believers than I first realized.

This will be hard to keep to a normal blog post length, but I am going to do my very best to be concise and to the point! Here we go–

8. RELATIONSHIPS. Relationships can be challenging under the best of circumstances. Even in a relationship where both are growing believers, there can be some hard moments. But, often, the holier we are the less challenges we will face. Each type of relationship has its own special challenges. But we can also find encouragement and guidance from scripture for each of these, as well, as we try to swim upstream in our relationships in a downstream world.

I want to take a look at a few of the most common relationships we all have and explore how the world’s thinking may be permeating them and then take a look at what the Bible teaches–

A. In Marriage

The World: In practice, the world promotes the woman as the head of the home, while the husband meekly follows her. While many men are involved with their kids (which is a good thing!) it is often in the capacity as servant to their wife’s desires. What she says he just does with very little leadership coming from him. I see this even in many Christian homes where the husband will just obey the wife, whatever she asks. This is completely opposite of what God designed for marriage.

The world would also tell us that our happiness is primary, so we are free to leave a marriage when it isn’t working for us. There are no parameters on this except for our own feelings of happiness.

A very loud minority of the world is demanding that marriage can be between any two consenting people, including those of the same sex. Even many who have called themselves Christians are abandoning God’s Holy Word and agreeing with this definition of marriage so that the minority is quickly becoming a majority with the onslaught of this philosophy literally coming at us from all angles.

What the Bible Says:

–On ROLES

God says that the man is to be the leader. Not only does he get to make the decisions but he also has to take responsibility for those decisions. I have always been glad that I am not a man! It is a real weight to bear if one is serious about their family’s well-being. Husbands are to love their wives and wives are to submit to their husbands. When it is done God’s way it is a beautiful thing. A wife well-loved finds it much easier to submit. God’s way always works best (Ephesians 5:22-24).

–On HAPPINESS

The only option to leave a marriage is if there is sexual immorality (Matthew 19:9). Our lack of happiness is never given as an acceptable reason to leave a marriage. I think there are many of you that could probably testify that some of your greatest spiritual growth has taken place through a really bad marriage. While we always must counsel young people to be oh, so careful in who they marry and while some marriages cannot be saved due to an unsaved or unwilling spouse, it is possible to grow and thrive spiritually in a bad marriage. And sometimes God will use this to bring an unbelieving spouse around. God speaks specifically to women regarding this in I Peter 3:1–Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives,

How important that we never give up hope, even in the midst of a bad marriage.

–On the DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE

Could there be anything more unpopular than speaking the words “I believe marriage is between one man and one woman”? And, yet, that is exactly what we find in scripture (Genesis 2:24). And, in fact, anything other than this is an abominable corruption of God’s design (Romans 1:26-27).

Marriage has been seriously attacked by the enemy. And he is winning in many places. How important that we do not allow him to win in our own homes! With time in the Word, prayer, and serious dedication to living a holy life, God will help us to navigate our marriage relationships.

Okay, I’ll be briefer with the last five. Promise!

B. Adult Children with Parents

I remember watching the interchange with someone with their elderly parent one day and was amazed and rather saddened at the lack of respect that was shown. While I am not yet dealing with elderly parents, I can only imagine that this would be a real challenge and frustration to adult children. And yet, as believers, we must respect our parents even when –or perhaps especially when–they grow old and frail. They have little dignity left and one way we can bless them is to continue to respect them and their desires.

The world says that there is no value in anything old. New is always better. This has filtered its way into how we feel about people. Youth is what matter in this culture while the elderly are often cast aside.

As adult children with parents, we can start to be affected by this worldly attitude and become disrespectful if we aren’t very careful. Of course, sometimes the disinterest and disrespect is a result of a parent who was always demanding or unkind getting their due, but, as believers, this is not an option for us–no matter what kind of relationship we have with our parents (Proverbs 20:29 and I Corinthians 13)

May we treat our parents with love and respect throughout all of their days.

C. With Friends

The world says friends are there to hang out, have fun, and party with. But God’s Word says something very differently. Who we hang around with is a very clear indication of our spiritual health. It is best to find friends who can help us grow and encourage us in our spiritual walk. A true friend will tell us the truth. If they see us going a wrong direction they will gently let us know and we will be thankful! (Proverbs 13:20; 27:5-6, and 27:17) Friendship between two believers is a truly wonderful thing!

D. With Co-Workers

The world says climb the ladder and step over whoever you want. The world says gossip and malign and tear down. But God says to consider others and to do nothing out of a selfish motive. God tells us to edify (build up) with our words. We should be a blessing and not a burden in the workplace. We should be the kind of person that people want to talk to instead of talk about. We should be the kind of person that gently steers the conversation a different way when the gossip is started in the break room (Philippians 2:3-4 and Proverbs 16:28).

When we are surrounded by unbelievers, it is so easy to become like them. Getting started in the Word each day and even memorizing some verses will help us remember that we are to be a light in a dark place.

E. In Broken Relationships/With Our Enemies

I touched on this a bit last time, but it bears repeating. The world will tell us that anyone that offends us or disagrees with us is our enemy and that we should treat them with ridicule, antagonism, and anger–maybe never even talk to them again. But, of course, we know that, as believers we are to respond completely opposite. We are to lovingly confront when we are upset and we are to forgive without measure. We are to extend grace to those who offend us and to those whom we disagree with. And when that same grace is not extended to us, we are to keep on loving that person anyway and “killing them with kindness” despite their ill treatment of us. This is far easier said than done and all of this–the grace, the forgiveness, the love–can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit. There is no other way (Matthew 5:43-48; Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:31-32).

F. With Those in Authority

Whether it’s church leadership or a police officer or the boss at work, the general current consensus from the world is that “no one is going to tell me what to do!” You hear some form of this almost every day if you are out in the world. The lack of respect towards anyone in authority is astounding. But I guess not so much when you consider that the entertainment industry really breeds disrespect and rebellion. Think of what has been going on in pop culture since the 1960’s and it is pretty easy to see how we got here.

But the really sad thing is how this attitude has permeated the lives of Christians. No one is going to tell them what to do–even someone who holds a place of authority in their life.

When it all comes right down to it, the root of this is pride, plain and simple. There is a lack of humility and teachability in a person who is disrespectful and this breeds disrespect for the leaders that God has placed in his or her life.

But we are told in God’s Word that rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft! (I Samuel 15:23) That’s certainly a sobering thought, now, isn’t it?? And we are also told to show proper respect to everyone and to honor those in leadership (I Peter 2:17; Romans 13:1-7; I Thessalonians 5:12-13).

__________________________________________________

I feel like each one of these would have been worth a whole post but I can’t write about this topic forever, right? I hope that this post has been helpful in getting you to think how worldliness may be affecting how you view certain relationships. Just one more way the world has seeped into our hearts and lives–sometimes without us even realizing it!

 

**If this series on worldliness is a blessing to you would you consider letting me know? It is so hard to know if what I am writing is helpful–especially when it comes to a series…

 

 

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 4)

If you are a regular reader, then you will know that this is the fourth installment of a series I am currently writing on worldliness. You will find the rest of the series at this page.

Thinking through this subject of worldliness is not a very popular thing to do. Those who call themselves Christians, as a general rule, are very comfortable in looking exactly like their worldly counterparts. In so doing, they blend in instead of looking different, they aren’t mocked and persecuted, and they get to do all of the fun things the world gets to do and still have fire insurance against hell. Who wouldn’t want that kind of Christianity? Oh, these folks might give a little more money away and display a bit more kindness, but when it comes to how most who call themselves Christians dress, entertain themselves, where they go, how they spend their money, how they react and respond–well, most tend to be little clones of the rest of the world and nary give it a thought.

Even for Christians who do desire to keep worldliness on our “radar”, it so easily and subtly slips in that we can get caught up in a worldly attitude or action before we even realize it. It is for those who truly desire to decrease worldliness in their lives that I write this series. Most out there who take on the name of Christian would never bother to read a series like this and this is why this blog will never be on any “top ten” list. Which is totally fine with me because I don’t aim to please man with what I write, anyway. Fame is definitely not my end game and it is God who I want to please. The “Christian” culture of today (I use quotes because it is not Christianity but some false religion going by that name) requires no sacrifice, no self-denial, no persecution. Of course, no true Christian could write to please this current culture without serious compromise. This is probably worth a post of its own but I’d better move on to the topic at hand before I digress too far off-course! I do hope that this series is a blessing to those who truly desire to live for Christ, even in this area of worldliness. Today’s topic especially hit home for me. This is topic #7 in the series–

7. RESPONDING TO CRITICISM. Ooohhh, this is a convicting topic. The world has seeped into this area of Christians’ lives so easily and so thoroughly. Most of us are probably completely unaware. I know this because of my own struggle to respond like Christ and also because of the way I hear Christians talking about others who have had the audacity to criticize them.

The World: If someone dares criticize you, the world tells you to defend yourself. And to get angry and perhaps even hold a grudge. The world encourages antagonism, avoidance, hatred,  rejection, and scorn towards anyone who dares to speak any word that you might perceive as criticism against you. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if it’s not true criticism but are words born out of love and concern–if the person hearing the words even feels criticized, the world tells us that the person speaking those words is the enemy!

What the Bible Says: We are given a completely different response to criticism in the pages of scripture–

We are to forgive.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15

There is no exception clause to this and so we can assume that this also means we must forgive someone who speaks words we don’t want to hear. But it goes even a step further–

We are to examine and test ourselves.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. 2 Corinthians 13:5

If we truly desire to grow in Christ, then we must be willing to hear what others have to say and give it some consideration. Does what the person say have merit? Is this an area in which I need to change? If it is then we should do something about it. And if we carefully evaluate it and we believe all is well, then we can–and must–let it roll out of our minds without a trace of bitterness.

I fear I must mention this here: Most of us have people in our lives who criticize us constantly. Nothing we do is right. A lot of times the criticism is about things that have no moral component or biblical issue. This can be very difficult. Many of you have critical parents or in-laws, adult kids, friends, co-workers, bosses. How do we deal with this as believers? I can tell you two things I have learned–First, consider their words and then let it roll. If it is something that won’t help your relationship or to do your job better, or it isn’t a biblical issue, then just let it roll. Second, remember how this continually critical person makes you feel and be sure you don’t do the same thing!

We are to be kind and long-suffering in all circumstances.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; I Corinthians 13:4

Even if we feel deeply hurt and offended by words spoken to us, it does not give us the right to lash out in anger. Again, there is no exception clause given in I Corinthians 13. As Christians, we are to be long-suffering and kind–no matter what the circumstances.

Pride is the reason we so easily fail in this area of responding to criticism. So few of us have the humility it takes to respond immediately to any kind of criticism in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. This week, my pastor said something that really brings this down to the nitty-gritty. When someone criticizes you, what is your immediate response?

Self-Defense or Self-Assessment?

Ouch.

I know how often I lash out in self-defense. How dare they think that about me? How could they make this assumption or that accusation? Pride rears its ugly head and off we go, almost before we realize what we are doing.

For most of us Christians, we do a turnabout face fairly quickly as we recognize the sinfulness of this response. But it is SO hard to get that first response right. Can I get an Amen?

This is especially true when the criticism or accusation is false. When someone outright lies about you or accuses you of something you did not do, our self-righteousness rears its ugly head and we feel quite justified in speaking our defense. Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with speaking the truth in response. I am referring here to the attitude with which we tend to do so. We may be angry at the person or allow it to determine our mood. We may have feelings of hatred or even revenge. We may struggle to forgive that person. We may hold a grudge or feel bitter towards them. What does the Bible say about this?

Well, pretty much the same thing we’ve already covered–

Forgive, examine yourself, and be kind and long-suffering.

And then there are three more things that would be particularly applicable in the case of unfounded criticism–

Turn the Other Cheek.

But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. Matthew 5:39

Let the Lord Deal With It.

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19

Love Your Enemies.

But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, Luke 6:27

We are to turn the other cheek, let the Lord take care of any repayment, and love our enemies. We are not to get into a shouting match or any type of battle with someone who treats us unfairly or unkindly. We are to turn the other cheek. We are to avoid fighting. We are to leave revenge with our King and never take it into our own hands. God knows every detail of what has transpired and we can trust Him to deal with it in His time and in His way. We are to love. Our duty is to forgive and to love. Can you imagine? Only a true believer can love their enemy for it is truly impossible to do this without Christ. In our obedient choice to love our enemies, we will set ourselves drastically apart from how the rest of the world responds.

So let’s go into the world today and respond to criticism–whether it’s constructive or unfounded– in a way that is befitting those who represent Christ!

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 3)

I have a little garden behind our house. I drive my husband a little crazy with it because it is a cottage-style garden that derives its loveliness from its disorganization. What I mean is: The plants aren’t neat and tidy and trimmed–as he prefers.

Over the winter, he started talking about ripping the garden out. At first, I was very against this but as I started thinking about it, I began to realize that this would mean one less thing for me to keep after and I started to warm up to the idea. Although we never had an “official” conversation about it, I assumed it was going away. And so when spring came, I ignored that garden. But so did my husband. It grew wildly and crazily without barely a glance at it. It was starting to spill over on the pathway and I did think I should do something about that, but with the crazy busy spring/early summer we had, I just kept putting it off. We didn’t use that pathway that much, anyway.

Finally, on Saturday, in preparation for a gathering we were having at our house, I decided to give that garden a little care. And what I found was a little overwhelming. The weeds had not only kept some of my favorite perennials from showing their faces at all, but they had also taken over and were growing so high, so as to overtake the perennials that had fought for life. The few flowers that did bravely poke their heads through to the sun were rather anemic-looking.

There was a particular type of weed that had really taken over. It was one that I had planted as a perennial many years ago, naively not realizing that it was invasive. Oh, how sorry I am that I planted that plant. It has made that garden a major challenge since that time.

So why am I sharing this on a post about worldliness? Because, my dear readers, that invasive weed is just like the world. It looks very beautiful, at first, and we naively have no idea of the deadly damage it can-and will–do. But, sooner or later, if we don’t keep after that weed, it will take over our garden so subtly and so comprehensively that not one piece of spiritual fruit will remain untouched by the effects of that weed.

Worldly thinking is such a danger to the believer. We can not–we must not–forget this as we strive to live obedient lives for God. Worldliness is deadly to the spiritual health of every believer.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. Romans 13:14

Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ is the polar opposite of fulfilling the desires of our flesh. We are in a constant battle to think like the Lord instead of like the world. The world says fulfill your flesh and follow your lusts. But the Lord says to yield to Him, obey His commands, and to practice godly wisdom. In all avenues of life we should carefully examine if and how worldliness has entered into our thinking.

In today’s Part 3 of this series, I want to take a look at how worldly thinking has invaded this area of Problem-Solving. (You will find the posts on Items 1-3 here and on Items 4 & 5 here.)

6. PROBLEM-SOLVING. There are thousands of books published each year that claim to contain methods and miracle cures to help us fix any bad habit or issue we may face. There is an abundant amount of therapists and counselors and coaches for almost every possible problem that is stealing our happiness. There are more websites, ministries, and organizations to help people with their problems than ever before. And yet, there seems to be just as many problems as before. Are the worldly methods effective in solving problems? I am sure they are at times. However, according to scripture, we know that how Christians approach their trials and problems and even their bad habits should be vastly different than how the world does.

The World: The world says the ultimate goal is to fix the problem so that you can be happy. Do anything to make yourself happy, even if it means divorcing your spouse, leaving your children, or dishonoring your parents. Look out for Number One. The world promotes the ungodly, self-centered philosophies that flow from psychology. It says we have the strength to fix things on our own and that anything is possible if we just believe in ourselves. We don’t need God or any other strength or help outside of ourselves.

What the Bible Says:

1. We are to crucify our flesh, not satisfy it–

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Galatians 5:24-25

This verse immediately takes the focus off of ourselves and gives us a different perspective, doesn’t it? Our desires and our passions are pretty irrelevant in the scheme of things. We have died to ourselves and we live for Christ. All trials, problems, and situations that we face should be viewed through this lens of the “Big Picture”. Perhaps our suffering and struggle may inspire someone else to turn toward the Lord. Perhaps it will change us profoundly and give us a stronger walk. Perhaps it will show the validity of our faith to a doubting co-worker or family member. There is a bigger picture.

2. It says that trials and problems make us stronger–

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:2-4

This means that God is sovereignly allowing trials and problems in our lives to make us stronger and to build our characters. This means that the goal isn’t about our temporal happiness but about looking more like Jesus, step-by-step. Our goal shouldn’t be relief from our problems but instead we should desire to learn and grow from any that comes our way.

3. The world’s thinking on any subject will look foolish when compared to God’s–

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. I Corinthians 1:20-21

When the world is all for something, it is usually a sign that we should avoid it. So many of today’s methods and claims and popular programs are full of new age philosophies and worldly wisdom. We should always be oh, so carefully discerning in this area of life (even with those that claim to be Christian, as so many have been fatally compromised.)

4. Problems will rarely be solved instantly–

But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

In this age of instant-everything, scripture says that our strength will be renewed when we choose to quietly wait and rest in the Lord’s care and sovereign will. While the world says “fix it as fast as you can in any way you can so as to avoid pain and sorrow and inconvenience and unpleasantness”, scripture teaches us that waiting is sometimes best.

5. We aren’t alone. We have a strength bigger than ourselves to support and aid us–

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

It is wonderful to have the support of others, but the Bible tells us that, as believers, we can find refuge and strength from God. Have you ever thought about how amazing that is? I’ve often wondered how people can get through such terrible trials without this.

6. We must recognize that some of our problems and bad habits are just plain sinful–

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts thereof Romans 6:12

Some (not all, by any means) of our problems and issues and struggles come because we are choosing to sin. This word is not looked upon too kindly in the world or even in many churches these days. But it is always best to evaluate and examine our own behavior in the light of this concept. Is there any sin that is a part of this struggle I am currently facing? Am I responding in a biblical, loving manner? Am I behaving like a follower of Christ should? Is there an idol that has a grip on my life that is causing this issue? This is an important question as we go through the process of solving any problem.

From the above verses and so many more, we can safely conclude that our happiness and relief from a problem should never be our ultimate goal. While, of course, we desire to be relieved from our burden or trial, we shouldn’t be willing to sin or to go against God’s Word in order to fix it or to make it better.

We need to understand that so many of the methods that are used in counseling and psychology go directly against the Word of God. The truth of the matter is that the science of human psychology is deeply, deeply flawed. On so many levels. And so we need to be so careful not only who we listen to but on what we actually apply in our lives.

I think the other thing that needs to be mentioned in this post is our attitude towards even biblical counseling. I have noticed an interesting trend that is rather disturbing. If someone is in biblical counseling but it isn’t solving their problem or there is a demand for personal change, they tend to quit. When the going gets hard, we can tend to just quit.

If we are going to undertake true biblical counseling then we should expect it to be a difficult and rocky path. We are going to have to carefully examine our lives for sin. No more blaming others for our problems. What have we done to exacerbate and worsen the situation at hand? What changes can we make to better things? This is the attitude with which we should approach any counseling.

And what about when it can’t get better? What if we are struggling with a spouse or a child or a co-worker who has no interest in making the relationship work? What then? Do we give up? Or do we allow this difficult situation to grow us and perfect us, as James tells us in the verse above?

Biblical counseling can be helpful when approached with a humble, willing spirit. But even that requires great discernment as there are so many promoting themselves as “biblical counselors” who have absorbed so many of the world’s philosophies. Especially the philosophy of self-esteem–one of the most invasive and destructive worldly philosophies to ever make its way inside the church. It is in complete opposition to what the scriptures teach.

It is so tempting to allow worldliness to seep in when we are seeking to be rescued from a difficult or painful problem. But we must be so very, very careful to never allow our thinking to get skewed just because we are in pain, frustrated, or feeling imprisoned by our circumstances. This is when we are often at our most vulnerable to the wiles of Satan and can so easily fall to temptation. How important that we continue to seek God’s way even in the midst of the problems and trials and bad habits.

 

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