Friendship

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.

 

How Do You Listen to Gossip?

Have you ever had one of those conversations where you are talking about a TV show like it’s really happening? The people, the situations, the happenings? I had one of those the other day and as I walked away from that conversation, I realized that we often have more loyalty for and kindness and grace towards people on TV.

I know it seems silly to even compare the two, since we are obviously personally affected by real people so that makes all the difference in the world, but it does seem sad that we can keep so level-headed and impartial when discussing TV friends and completely lose that when discussing real people.

Of course, we shouldn’t really be discussing real people most of the time. Sure, there are instances where we need to work through a problem with a trusted, godly friend or mentor, but, overall, we should not be talking about people. Ephesians 4:29 says this: Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.

But this is not a post about spreading or speaking gossip. It’s a post about listening to gossip and our subsequent actions after we’ve heard it.

So many of us hear will listen to someone talk about someone and, instead of defending them or kindly asking them to stop, we will just jump right in and join the conversation. Or we will listen without speaking while making assumptions that will change our friendship with the person being spoken about. There is no grace. No kindness. No loyalty.

Or perhaps someone will talk about someone behind their back, telling you terrible things that person said about you. What do you do? Do you do what you should?

This happened to friends of ours. But let me first give some background. We had made a really, really tough decision after much prayer and agony. Because of the nature of the decision, there were many rumors flying around about us and lies told. We know of at least three specific lies that were told about us that made their way to our ears “through the grapevine”.

But only one couple actually loved us enough to call us. The wife called and asked us specifically if we had said such-and-such about them. My heart sank when I realized that someone I had trusted had said such a vicious thing about us. But, even in my dismay, I realized that this couple–instead of believing the worst–loved us enough to confront us and ask us about it.

We lost a lot of friends through those swirls of rumors and accusations, but these two remain our friends to this day. They exemplified what true biblical love and friendship are. They didn’t believe the worst about us, as seems to be the natural thing to do, but they bravely went right to the source. They cared enough to ask.

So what do we do when we hear gossip? Do we automatically believe it? Do we jump on the bandwagon and join the fun? Do we internalize it and allow it to create a cool distance with the person who has absolutely no idea what was said behind their back?

We have to be oh, so careful of this, don’t we? So many of us who wouldn’t ever be caught gossiping just aren’t very good at listening to gossip.

So how should we listen to gossip? Let’s see what scripture says–

First, we should view them as innocent until proven guilty. If there is a personal accusation involved, ask them lovingly and kindly if the words spoken are true. If they aren’t, move on. If they are, forgive and move on. Life is just too short for grudges. It really is. (Of course, this is the “simplified model” of relationships and it doesn’t always work. Especially with those who have no evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.)

Colossians 3:12-14  Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.

Second, we should not let it affect our relationship with them. Does it really matter? Does it affect you personally? If the answer is no (and most times it is) then just continue your relationship with that person. Remember that you don’t know any of the details at all. You don’t know the situations, the circumstances, the agony, the fear, the anxiety that was all part of that person’s journey to whatever choice they made. Unless it is something that is currently hurting you, them, or others around them, just forget you heard it. We all have done things in the past we aren’t proud of, am I right??

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

Third, if what you hear is about a Christian involved in sin (such as that person is involved in an affair or addicted to a substance), prayerfully consider speaking to them about it. Talk with a trusted leader in your church or some other godly person you know to ask for their advice.

Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

Fourth, pray for that person. Instead of letting gossip fill your heart with disgust or anger or frustration, let it fill your heart with love and compassion that will remind you to pray. Oh, how often we accuse, examine, and talk about without ever lifting that person up before the throne of Grace.

James 5:16 Confess your trespasses[e] to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

Fifth, and when appropriate, steer the conversation a different way. You be the one to change the course of the discussion. Instead of joining, be the deflector. Instead of listening, be the one who changes the direction.

Proverbs 16:24 Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.

 

As always, I offer this post not as someone who has this nailed down but, instead, as a lowly servant of Jesus Christ who still struggles with all of this. As I write, I can see so many weaknesses in my own handling of gossip. God’s Word powerfully convicts you and me to grow in our faith and move beyond the status quo Christianity that so easily ensnares us.

I leave you with these beautiful verses from I Corinthians 13. We most often hear these spoken at weddings, as two people pledge their lives to one another. But perhaps we should read them every day. They remind us of not only the spirit with which we should listen to gossip, but also give us a pattern for how we should treat others in every other way, as well.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, 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.

 

 

What Does Your Love for Self Cause You to Do (or Not Do)?

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The last week or so, I have been really reflecting on how much we all do because we are concerned about our own selfish good. This has come about through a couple of conversations, through a sermon of by Pastor Dean (found here), and through our Sunday School study of Philippians. As I mulled these things over during the past few days, I recognized the two things they all pointed to: A Savior that never did anything–not even one tiny thing–out of selfishness. And, second, the weakness of believers–those that the Savior has saved–that can hardly do anything without at least a tinge of selfishness.

Selfishness gets almost all of us in one way or another, doesn’t it? Sometimes we are obvious in how we go about it–we demand our way, our rights, our desires. We are very noticeably selfish. But, for others of us, we are viewed as the nicest, most unselfish people in the world, even while we are being selfish. We agree with everyone, we don’t confront, we don’t have the hard conversations–all because we hate conflict and we don’t want to rock the boat. We will selfishly do anything to avoid even a hint of controversy.

For others of us self takes on a whole life of its own, as we grasp for praise and glory, growing comfortable in a life of boasting so that we can make sure others see how great we are. Pride grows out of self-absorption and we start to believe we know everything and, along with this, comes the insatiable desire to win every argument and always be “right”.  Even when it doesn’t matter at all.

And then for others, we like our comfort and our relationships and our churches and we just aren’t willing to sacrifice them to stand up for what’s right. Again, love of self rears its ugly head. When it comes right down to it, we’d rather have a friend go to hell and still have them as a friend, than to risk that friendship to share the Gospel.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I am not saying that we should always speak up. There is great wisdom in knowing when not to speak. I tend to be one of those that speaks up too much and I have spent a lifetime working on timing and, most often, not speaking at all and praying instead.

But sometimes we do need to speak up–especially when it concerns the Gospel and other biblical matters. Knowing how to do that gently and with love is important. I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my greatest concerns in the area of discernment is how unloving these “discerners” can be–treating it as if they are on a treasure hunt and it is some great competition. Some even seem to gloat with glee when they discover something. Pride is often rearing its ugly head in these scenarios. (Okay, that was a bit of a rabbit trail, but I just had to say it!)

Our struggles with selfishness show themselves in our homes as parents and spouses (As we fervently avoid battles, insist on being right, are lazy in nurturing and disciplining our kids, and as we lack a servant’s heart–home always tells the true tale); in our churches (as we insist on certain ways to do insignificant things and as we are unwilling to call out sin); and in our work places (as we demand our desires or stay quiet at the water cooler.) This is the nitty gritty of Christian living for all of us. If you will allow me to use a cliche: This is where the rubber meets the road.

The key is this: We always have to ask ourselves–why are we speaking up? Why are we not speaking up? Why are we doing a certain action? Or not doing a certain action? Why are we thinking what we are thinking? And then we must run it all through the grid of the Word, making sure that our own desires aren’t getting in the way of speaking, doing, and thinking what’s right.

Truthfully, I don’t know most of you at all. I don’t know how SELF worms its way into your thinking. I don’t know if you are one who demands your own way or if you are someone who sits back and says nothing to avoid conflict. I don’t know if you are someone who is always pushing your own agenda and opinions on others or if you are someone who timidly won’t say anything so as to not rock any boats.

But what I do know is that all of us–in one way or another–fight a battle with our greatest enemy of SELF. Today would be a good day for all of us to take a good look in our hearts and see how we are doing in that battle. Are we winning? Or losing?

Philippians 2:5-8 encourages us to have the mind of Christ. If we read verses 3 and 4 right before this section, we can understand that an important part of having the mind of Christ is diminishing our view of self.

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.Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Do we really understand exactly what Christ did by coming to earth?? This is probably worthy of its own post, but, I will just say this: As we begin to grasp and gain a deeper understanding of exactly what Christ did so that we could be saved from eternal damnation, our battle with self takes on a new importance and we gain a deeper desire to win that battle! Our enemy of self must be beaten if we are to be like Christ and if we are going to live effectively for Christ. There is no other way. Selfish people are useless in–and even detrimental to– God’s Kingdom.

As my pastor said the other Sunday in this challenging sermon: There is only one throne in our hearts. Who is on yours?

I leave you with these wise words of John Newton, the former slave trader, who was amazingly saved by grace (and who actually went on to write our beloved hymn Amazing Grace)–

Beware of SELF! This is the worst enemy we have to deal with!
 
Self-will,
self-wisdom,
self-righteousness,
self-seeking,
self-dependence,
and self-boasting.
 
It is a large family–and I cannot count up all the branches! They are all nearly related to Satan–and they are all a sworn enemy to our peace.
 
If we lie low–then the Lord will raise us up.
But if we will be something–then His arm will surely pull us down.

That monster SELF has as many heads as a Hydra, and as many lives as a cat! It is more than twenty-five years since I hoped it was fast nailed to the Cross! But alas, it is alive–and still mixing with and spoiling everything I do!

 

And to that I say a rousing AMEN!!!

 

 

(Note: The Hydra was a serpentine mythological water monster with many heads.
For every head chopped off–the Hydra would re-grow a couple of new heads.)

 

Flip-Flopped Unity

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Sometimes the word “unity” scares us Bible-believing Christians just a bit. We know that we are to have unity with other believers but there is also a form of unity that is both heretical and unbiblical which is growing at a mind-boggling rate and this alarms us–and rightly so.

So what does unity mean from a biblical perspective?

My husband taught on this in Sunday School yesterday and as we discussed the biblical perspective it made me realize just how backwards we are when it comes to this thing called “unity” (but more about that later).

Philippians 2:1-4 gives us good insight into what unity looks like in the church–

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. 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.

From these verses we can see that believers can and should be unified because we are like-minded–having the same purpose of loving and serving Christ. Unity does not mean we all have the same personalities and opinions. And this is where humility comes in. Humility serves as the oil that keeps the engine of the church humming smoothly. When it works, it is amazing.

But so often selfish agendas interfere. And suddenly the gears are clicking and grinding. The oils of humility and selflessness are missing and without it, unity can never work.

And this is where we are so backwards.

We get all uptight about things that are not biblical but affect us personally. And we are completely apathetic about heresy entering the church that {we think} doesn’t affect us personally. Therefore we will be quick to compromise on big, spiritual issues that compromise biblical doctrine but we are not so passionate about unity when it is messing with our own agendas–our agenda for money, for relationships, for paint colors, restaurant choices. Have you ever thought about the ridiculous things we get upset about?

And yet so many of us don’t even care if God’s Word is being compromised. Interesting since this is the one time we should choose not to unify (Romans 16:17-18; 2 Peter 3:17-18; I John 4:1-6; Matthew 7:15-20; Titus 1:9)

Let’s bring this down to a practical level. Think about the last time you were upset or angry. Was it about you? Or was it about God or His Word?

I know what the answer is for me. And I am not proud of it.

You see, true unity is being like-minded in our purpose to live out our Christian faith according to the Word of God with submission and obedience. When this happens, the things of life that don’t matter fall away. Suddenly, the insignificant things of life aren’t worth arguing about.

All of this is greatly helped by taking time to study our Bible. For it is through this that we will find that the things we must divide over and stand for–no matter the cost–show themselves ever more clearly as we, simultaneously, begin to understand that we must allow the unimportant things to fall away.

Unity is important in our homes and our churches, where we work out our faith and learn to be selfless and to back down from our strongly held but insignificant opinions. Unity is important in our work places where we can shine as bright lights of unselfish and thoughtful individuals–a stark contrast to the “stand up for my rights” and “no one is going to push me around” crowd that mostly exists at work.

True strength lies in not pushing our opinions on others and in doing so, we naturally become part of unifying any group around us. And then when we do find the need to stand for a biblical truth, people will be much more likely to listen to us because they have come to respect and like us. Now there are exceptions to this (some people are uninterested and even hostile towards biblical truth no matter who shares it) and it doesn’t always work like this, but it certainly does help.

Unity is a tough thing to work through in our current age. While, on one hand, we are being told to cave on all doctrinal issues, we find that, on the other hand, we are being told to look out for number one. This leads people–including us Christians–to capitulate on all types of important doctrines but to stand for the ridiculous things that won’t matter one bit in eternity.

I propose that we flip-flop this and that we begin defending the doctrines that dare not be compromised and we start capitulating to our own personal agendas. If we all would actually put this into practice, I do believe we would see an incredible change in our churches. Of course, it won’t happen, but it is nice to dream… And, while we can’t change everyone, we can change ourselves. Let this change begin with us.

 

 

What You Can’t See

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Last week was spent at the beach with family. It was a wonderful, relaxing time, but now it is time to get back to reality. After being gone for over a week, I am ready to get back to my own space and routine.

The week was full of beautiful summer-like weather and so one evening a few of us headed to the beach. We had visions of sitting on the quiet, empty beach during the evening hours, watching the baby play in the sand and taking in the view. As you can see in the photo above, the view was fantastic. Isn’t it beautiful?

But there are some things you can’t see on the photo. Actually it was more like five million things: Tiny “no-see-ums”–minuscule sand flies that suck blood from their hosts. Right around dusk, these things came out in mass. They were crawling through the baby’s hair, biting our arms and legs, flying around our heads. It didn’t take us very long to pick up our stuff and leave. As we walked across the sand, we carried the heavy beach chair (why did we pick this one??), and a growing baby. And the sand toys kept falling out of the bucket! Our idyllic evening ended up not being very idyllic at all.

But you would never know it from the photo.

Oh, how true this is for any photo you see. It is one of the reasons I don’t really care for photo-driven social media. There is so much you don’t know from a photo. We now make judgments about people based on their photos. Confident selfies, and photos of beautiful homes, happy families, and lots of material “stuff” give us impressions of people. But are they the right impressions?

The photos we see are just like that beach photo. They are lovely but they are not the whole story. Not by a long shot.

Behind a selfie you might find a confident person having a good time. But you may also find insecurity, a longing to be loved, or a desperate need for attention. Behind beautiful photos of homes and families, you don’t see the cereal on the floor, the toddler’s messy hands on the kitchen cabinets, or the muddy footprints brought in after the rain. You don’t see the screaming, the yelling, the crying, the frustration, the irritation, and you can’t see the love, the fun, the joy, the peace. You can’t see anything but a photo. It tells us nothing. Not really.

And, in this day and age, you don’t even know if a photo is telling the truth. With the likes of photo editing software, anyone can make a photo “say” anything. Photos just can’t be trusted as our main source for truth.

So the next time you are tempted to judge someone you know by a photo, think again. It doesn’t tell the whole story about them. It is just a tiny fraction of the whole. If social media causes you to envy and covet and to think about “what if’s”, then perhaps you should consider getting off. Besides it being a sin (I Corinthians 13:4; Galatians 5:26; Ephesians 5:3), life is just too short to constantly be wishing for a different life while yours passes you by.

Last night, as we traveled home from the beach we passed a 55+ community. I looked at my husband and said, “we are almost old enough to live there! How did we get here?”

“We just kept living,” was his astute response.

We just kept living. We all have been blessed with the gift of a certain amount of time. None of us knows exactly how much it will be, but let’s not waste a second of it wishing for someone else’s life.

 

(By the way, we did find a different beach where we spent two incredibly lovely evenings that were all that the photos imply. Sometimes photos do tell the truth. But sometimes they don’t. We really have no way of knowing when they are or when they aren’t, so we may as well just enjoy them at face value and then move on with life.)

 

The Ticking Clock

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I have always been one of those people who is very sensitive to the noise and light around me. I can drive those who love me just a little crazy with this propensity.

For instance, a few weeks ago we were staying in a lovely hotel for a few days during our college visit. Our room had a lovely view of the harbor. Unfortunately for me, in that harbor was a nightclub. Around 11pm, I figured they’d probably be closed by midnight (Yes, I realize now that this thought was a bit naive of me! After all, it was a night club!) But they were still going strong at 1am, and then 2 am, and, yes, even at 3am. Now everyone else was sleeping soundly, seemingly unbothered by this sound. But, me–well, I tossed and turned for most of that night, finally downloading a sleep machine app at 3am and putting the sound of “pouring rain” in my ears to drown out the night club.

I am also one of those people that could never possibly read while there is music with words on or while the TV is blaring in the background. I just can’t do that. I wish I could.

So a month or two ago, we re-did our living room. It had been painted a dark red shortly after we moved in–in style at the time but quite out-dated now. And so we bought some new furniture, re-painted, and replaced the old, dusty curtains. And then as the final step, I found some accents and frames to complete the project. One of those accents was an adorable little clock. Since this is the room where I do a lot of my Bible Study and morning devotions, I specifically wanted a clock so I could keep my phone and iPad out of the room and yet still have some idea of the time.

One evening, I put the room back together and carefully placed my accents. I set the clock on the end table right beside me (see photo above). And then I stood back, looked over the room with its calming neutral colors, and snapped a few photos of my finished product.

The next morning, I came downstairs, ready to have my prayer and devotion time in my new room. As I started to pray, something invaded my peace.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, Lord, thank you for…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, I just want to ask you to be with…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

What to do?

I decided to move the tiny culprit, picking it up and setting it on the piano across the room.

As I started to pray, the clock, while a little less noisome, was still a frustrating distraction.

It was at that time that I realized that I could choose whether or not to be annoyed by that ticking clock. It didn’t have to annoy me. That was my choice.

I decided to take my thoughts captive and to choose to ignore that clock. And guess what? A few minutes later, I didn’t even think about it being there. Now I rarely think about it. When the ticking sound does make its way into my thoughts, I choose to turn my thoughts away. As ridiculous as I know this sounds, this has become a little exercise for me in training me to take my thoughts captive!

I do realize that this is a very roundabout way to get to my point, which is–

We choose what bothers us. 

So often we are tempted to blame others for our angry reactions or annoyances or irritations. When we are driving, we blame the guy who cut us off for making us angry. When we are at home, we blame our spouse for irritating us because they didn’t put something away.

But we get to choose how we respond. No one does it for us.

As I sat there listening to that clock, the verse that just kept coming to me over and over was this one–

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

You see, we can’t control anything or anyone but we can control ourselves.

I am dismayed at how often I still allow others to control me. Oh, sure, I can change where I set a clock or even remove it from the room altogether. But I can’t change people. And I can’t change circumstances. Do I take my thoughts captive or do I let them spiral me downward into a state of fear, anxiety, or frustration?

Unfortunately, I already know the answer. I live with my sinful self every single day.

But I continue to work on this! I believe this is one of the ways that the Word changes us. We know that ungodly reactions and concentrating on the wrong things leads to a defeated life. And so we must choose to take our thoughts captive and act and react in a godly way, knowing that the Holy Spirit is there to comfort, strengthen, and guide us.

The clock was painfully prominent when I focused on it. But it faded to the background when I chose to put my focus back on the Lord.

So, too, does this same thing happen in life. Our trials and struggles are so prominent when we focus on them. Hurtful and difficult people are ever-present in our minds. Until we remove our focus from them and turn it to the Lord and His Word.

And making this choice to change focus changes our whole outlook. And trials and difficult people become a way to live out and prove our faith, rather than being a threat to our faith.

 

 

Why Are You So Offended?

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The other day I was shopping for groceries right around lunchtime. Spotting the beautiful salad bar in the store, I decided to buy a salad for lunch. Choosing one of the containers that has three different sections, I filled it up and then carefully set it in my cart. There it lay, with salad ingredients in one half and some beautiful fruit in the corner. Perfectly separated.

I managed to get it to the check out counter without mixing the items all together and there I lifted it out of the cart, holding it in such a way that the salad would not get mixed with the fruit, and rested it behind the rest of my items on the conveyor belt.

But all that care ended up being in naught as I watched the store clerk lift up the salad and recklessly turn it to and fro looking for a bar to scan. Finally, she sighed and asked the clerk beside her how to check out a salad.

Upon receiving the necessary information, she checked out my now thoroughly mixed salad and put it in a bag.

Now, in my earlier life I may have grown a bit frustrated over this all. Yes, it’s just a salad but she had undone everything I had so carefully tried to avoid in just a few seconds. Literally. She had carelessly lifted it up and mixed it all together, with no thought given to how I might feel about that.

But here’s the thing– she had no idea whatsoever that she was frustrating me. None at all. Her only thought was that here was something she didn’t know how to check out and she knew she had to figure out how to check it out and she had to do that quickly.

So often we get so offended with people who have no idea they are even offending us. They are just living their life from their perspective without a care for anybody else’s and their agenda collides with ours. In this case, my agenda was to keep the container flat so that my food wouldn’t get all mixed together. The clerk’s agenda was to find a price for that salad. When these agendas clashed, I knew a moment of irritation.

So why in the world am I talking about something so unimportant? Because– let’s face it– a salad that gets all mixed together is about the most minuscule thing in life you can imagine.  I share this because I think there is a much deeper lesson to be learned.

Well, two lessons, actually.

First, we get offended about the wrong things. I mean who cares about a salad? Or the car that cut in front of us on the highway? Why do we care so much about the co-worker who got the credit we deserved or when our spouse shares something that they would like us to change? We care because we care so very much about ourselves.

In contrast, think about the last time you got offended when you heard God’s name taken in vain or heard someone take a Bible passage out of context or make some heretical statement. Did this offend you? Did it fill you with the same irritation that it would have if they had taken your words out of context or used your name as a swear word?

My guess is no. And this is a great test about who we love most, isn’t it? Just when I think I am making some headway, God will show me that I still love me most. It’s a discouraging, disheartening thought. Until I remember how far I’ve come. I am still struggling, but I love God now in a much deeper and fuller way than I even dreamed possible when I was a teenager. Filling my mind with His Word is how this came about. There is no shortcut full of special experiences and feelings (but that’s a really, really long bunny trail and a post for another day).

So are we getting offended about the right things? This is a question we must ask ourselves.

The second lesson to be learned from the salad incident is that, whether we are personally offended or offended for the sake of God and His Word, how we react says a lot about us. Do we grow angry and defensive? Do we speak unkind words or give someone the silent treatment? This says we love ourselves so much more than we love God.

But if we overlook small, inconsequential offenses we show a desire to be like Christ. If we address worthwhile offenses with love and kindness, using God’s Word as our guide, we show that our love for that person is far greater than our desire to “be right”. If we practice patience and joy when someone is frustrating us, we show that we have eternal perspective.

Now let’s think about this practically for a moment. What would these reactions show to a world overflowing with self-absorbed, easily-offended people? It would be a welcome and wonderful change for store and hotel clerks, for co-workers, and for churches, too. It may even give us an opportunity to talk about the Gospel. At the very least, it will be evidence of the light of Christ that is within us.

We are never going to change anybody else. But we can change ourselves. We can choose to overlook a slight offense. We can show love and grace when confrontation is necessary. And we can choose to challenge people on the stuff that really matters–the things that offend our loving, heavenly Father. And, in doing these things, we are shining witnesses for Jesus Christ and also help to make the world a gentler, kinder place.

It begins with us.

 

 

The Birthday Party (or Self-Obsession: Part 2)

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After I published my last post, a couple of my friends contacted me to make sure they hadn’t been the ones to offend me with their words. I am so glad they did! First, so I could tell them they certainly had not and that my post had nothing to do with them, but also because they made me realize that I had neglected to say something when I wrote my post yesterday. (First, let me add here that I am fairly certain that the people I referred to in that post never read Growing4Life. If I thought they did, I would not have written it.)

But this is what I forgot to mention yesterday: No one owes me an apology. Anything I perceived to be hurtful is just that: my self-absorbed perception. I truly know that neither of those people meant to hurt me.

Have you ever caught yourself being driven by your perceptions of events rather than actual facts? Or perhaps of taking an off-handed comment and allowing it to take you into a downward spiral, far from the path of truthful thoughts? If you have, then you know what I mean.

So often we allow ourselves to hear something and by the time we are finished thinking about it, we have determined that the person who said it hates us with a deep, abiding passion (or some other similar, depressing, false thought).

If we continue to follow this line of thought, our spirit cries out for our “rights” to be approved and loved (as if they are rights somehow!) and our pride demands confrontation. But this is not usually the best way to deal with something like this.

It reminds me of an incident that happened to me long ago. One of my daughters spent a great deal of time with a group of girls. One day one of the girls handed out invitations to her upcoming birthday party. The only problem was that my daughter did not receive an invitation. Oh, how hurt she was! How hurt I was for her! My gut reaction was to be offended and upset over this. Actually, I was very offended over this. Why does it always hurt us moms at least 20 times more when our kids are hurt than when we are hurt ourselves??

When I shared the incident with a friend, she suggested I “confront” this mother about this in Matthew 18 fashion. But, for whatever reason, I recognized that my offense wasn’t based on biblical doctrine, but instead on my own personal feelings. Young as I was, God gave me the wisdom to not follow that advice and I am so very thankful for that.

That little girl had every right to invite who she wanted to that party. It was none of my business. It also taught my daughter (and me!) a lesson in handling disappointment.

Do you realize that perhaps 80-90% of the things we are offended over are due to our own wrong perceptions, pride, and selfishness? Confronting someone about something that is based on these things is the makings for serious turmoil in our relationships.

I know this because I haven’t always so wisely refrained from confrontation. But I am learning. Slowly learning. And now, I confront less and less. Unless it is a sin issue that can be backed up with scripture, I try to stay quiet. Although, I have to admit here that this is much harder to practice at home than anywhere else! I am also learning that sometimes it is best to offer grace, even when it is a sin issue. Sure, sometimes people say purposeful, mean things or do unkind things to us which are certainly harder to forgive. But, unless it is a regular occurrence by the same person, I am learning to choose grace: To process and forgive and love without making a scene and without holding a grudge, giving the benefit of the doubt and trying to show much grace. This is so much easier to do when I remember just how much grace I need myself–from God, first and foremost, but also from those who know me.

God is so good. He meets us in our desire to forgive the small (and large) offenses that come our way and I can honestly say that He has helped me to forgive both actual and perceived hurts. He can and will do the same for you. If you struggle with this, He will help you. We serve a great God who not only has saved our souls, but who strengthens and sanctifies us in our everyday walk with Him, as well. He has given us His Word for our anchor and guide while we live here on earth and there is much there that is said on this subject of forgiveness. Matthew 6:14-15 is a good place to start.

Well, I promise not to flood your inbox every day, but I did want to do this quick follow-up to yesterday’s post. I hope that it has clarified some things and that it has encouraged your heart. Have a great day!

 

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