How do I Achieve Peace AND Be Holy?

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Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Hebrews 12.14, ESV

Peace is an elusive, hard-won, state of affairs.

One party may feel at peace while another is ramping up efforts to overturn it. World leaders made flowery overtures about how they longed for lasting peace after World War I. Unfortunately, their desire to humiliate the Germans via reparations payments simply set the stage for another world war.

These past several years have been anything but peaceful, and the past few weeks have been downright nuts. I don’t care where you stand politically—both sides are behaving like sugar-hyped, bickering siblings. Continue reading

8 Habits of a Forgiving Heart

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How do we heal from those wounds for which no restitution can be made? How do we extend true forgiveness when we don’t feel like forgiving? How do we ease that burning in our hearts for justice?

Forgiveness is one of the most challenging commands given to the Christian. Sometimes complete forgiveness takes more than a day, a week, a month, or even a decade. What we feel on the inside must not dictate our actions on the outside. We must make a conscious effort to obey God externally while fighting the battle internally.

In the previous post, we discussed Peter’s flawed question of how many times we ought to forgive. Today, I hope to encourage you to develop a mindset of forgiveness, particularly for those hurts which run deep.

Forgiveness is not merely an action, it is an attitude we must develop and nurture until we return to dust. Continue reading

The Flawed Forgiveness Question

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Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”  

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

~ Matthew 18.21-22, NKJV

Can’t you just see the apostles doing the math? (Obviously they didn’t have this conversation, but humor me…)

“Seventy times seven? Um…Sheesh, I always hated numbers.”

“Hey Matthew, you’re good with numbers, what’s 70 x 7?”

“Easy. 490.”

“Are you sure?”

Continue reading

Who do I tell?

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Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never allow the righteous to be shaken.

~ Psalm‬ ‭55:22‬, ‭NASB

Have you ever had your heart crushed by someone who was supposed to be a friend? Enemies can attack and leave some bruising, but nothing is as devastating as being hurt, neglected, ignored or betrayed by a loved one. Enemy attacks are like surface wounds; friend’s attacks cut to the bone.

When you feel this way, where do you take your pain? To whom do you relay your frustration? I used to tell other people my feelings with the unfortunate consequence of it being relayed back to the perpetrator and more strife being created. There is a better way: take it to the Lord.

The Burden of Anger.

There are going to be times we are full to bursting with frustration and we have to get it off our chest. We may feel like we can’t take our negative, angry feelings to God because it’s too much like complaining.

When you think this way, remind yourself of the above passage: “Cast your burden on the Lord…”

Casting off is to shed some load that you are carrying. Anger is a burden. Some call this “baggage.” It’s a heavy load. Over time, we may not notice it’s weight, but it weakens our soul, morphing into resentment. Imagine being stooped for a long period of time with a weight on your back. At some point, the back won’t straighten up again because it’s permanently fixed in that position. Don’t allow your soul to be permanently stooped with bitterness. Cast your burden off!

Unloading your baggage.

If you feel the weight of anger/pain/frustration, pause for a moment and pray, “Lord, I am so angry with [insert name]. They did [this] to me. It made me feel [insert emotion]. I know that you desire me to forgive as you have forgiven me. I need to extend grace to this person and have the mind of Christ. Help me to overcome, to be holy as you are holy. I can’t let go of this without your aid.”

The Lord already knows what the person did and how you feel about it, but it is critical that you lay it all out as to Him as you would to a friend. You know that gnawing sensation you feel when you need to get something off your chest? That’s what you are doing when you pray this way to God. Get it off your chest. There is something innately helpful about talking something through. Unload your baggage. Don’t tell someone else who may go and share what you want concealed; tell the One who can actually handle the load.

Taking on Forgiveness.

Onice you have unloaded your pain, it’s time to pick up forgiveness. Carrying an attitude of forgiveness is a much lighter load than the leaden backpack of anger. It is not easy to forgive, which is why it is important to seek the Lord’s help. Do you believe in the statement of Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”? If you believe it, then ask Him for help! Do not doubt His promises.

Keep asking, seeking and knocking.

You may or may not feel better immediately after confiding in the Lord. If you are still wounded, you need to keep going back to God. Remember, He can handle your heartache. It is not useless repetition, it’s like physical therapy. One trip to a physical therapist won’t fix an injury. It takes several visits to get back into shape. This is no different. Keep asking in faith. The Lord is calling us to be like Him, it is His will. If you desire to be like Him, then you need His assistance and you need it constantly.

Has someone slighted you today? Are you feeling wounded? Don’t tell another person, tell God—He can handle it!

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

~ 1 Peter 5.6-7, NKJV

[Please Note: There are instances, such as cases of sexual, verbal, or physical abuse in which it would be necessary to seek counseling/therapy. Trauma affects the brain just as violently as a being physically hit by a bus and the recovery takes just as long or longer. If you are a victim of trauma, seek help from a qualified Christian counselor AND the Lord. I have found that it is sometimes necessary to get counseling from someone who does not know you personally, because they are not biased towards you or the offending party. God puts people like this in our lives as His tools, just like doctors and nurses. There is no shame in getting help from a neutral party and it does not negate or weaken the hand of God.]

The Humility Remedy (Comparison Cure #3)

This is the fourth post in the series on Comparison Cures. To read the previous post, click here.

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Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.

~ C.S. Lewis

Have you ever thought that because you’re a faithful Christian, life should be easy? That is the subtle message of the prosperity gospel, and it is a lie. Your righteousness before God is not an entitlement to a life of ease and pleasure.

In this series of Comparison Cures, we’ve been discussing “remedies” for the disease of “why-me-itis” that we all fall prey to: “Why does that person over there have it so easy when they are lazy, dishonest, etcetera?” “Why does that amazing person over there suffer in that way? They don’t deserve it!” “Why do I have to suffer so much? Haven’t I had it hard enough?”

This comparison game stems from pride and a sense of entitlement. We think that we are somehow a cut above other people. We think (consciously or unconsciously) that we deserve a good life because we are obedient to God. You may not verbalize these thoughts, but when we ask these types of questions, there is a sense that we are better or more deserving than others.

Think of the list of people mentioned in Hebrews 11:

  • Abel
  • Enoch
  • Noah
  • Abraham
  • Sarah
  • Isaac
  • Jacob
  • Joseph
  • Moses’ Parents
  • Moses
  • Gideon
  • Barak
  • Samson
  • Jephthah
  • David
  • Samuel
  • the prophets
  • Daniel (implied)
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (implied)
  • John the Baptist (implied)
  • Stephen (martyr, implied)

Consider what you know about the people on that list, then name one that had it easy.

I came up with zero. At some point or other they all suffered loss, deprivation, or sorrow.

Think of the early Christians. Name one that didn’t deal with fear and persecution.

Think of Jesus. Where would we be if Jesus had thought himself too good to come to earth for us?

Paul brought this up in the following passage:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

~ Philippians 2.3-8, ESV

Just ponder for a moment how you would feel if you considered others as better than yourself. When something good happened, would you think: “no fair! They don’t deserve that?” No, you would think, “The Lord blessed them. I should congratulate them in their happiness. I should rejoice inwardly and outwardly.” Granted, some people make this easier than others. There are certain high-powered people that do deserve destruction, but we are told not to rejoice when our enemy falls. We are even told to pray for them! (You can read more on that here.)

Consider the mind of Christ. He is, was and always has been, God. He was in the beginning with God, creating the earth. He is worthy of glory, honor, praise, and reverence. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

And yet, what did he do?

  1. He emptied himself.
  2. He took the form of the beings he helped to create.
  3. He positioned himself as a son in an impoverished family in a go-nowhere district.
  4. He became obedient to God even to the point of death on a cross—the most shameful form of execution.

He didn’t preach from a cushion in a marble palace, nor did He sleep on feather beds in 5-star hotels. The Son of the Living God slept on the ground, wore the same old linen every day and walked all over Judea (no chariots for the King of Kings). He humbled himself to suffer a death he didn’t deserve in the most shameful way possible. Was Jesus righteous? Absolutely. Did he deserve to live such a life? No. But the life He lived reflected God. He showed us through His humble lot the power of God and the impact of God-centered life.

Did he do all that so you could be rich in earthly things?

Umm…

Pause for a moment and really consider that question…

 

No, Jesus came that we might have life more abundantly. Are many of us wealthy and comfortable? Indeed! Just because we didn’t build Trump Tower, doesn’t mean we aren’t blessed. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with having or building wealth, but that is not the point to life or being a Christian. Abundant life is one that is filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness and self-control. Abundant life has all these things no matter the circumstances. Abundant life is one that centers it’s focus on Christ, heart overflowing with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

If we consider the richness of the blessings of Christ, will we so readily feel resentment against others for their temporary earthly fortune?

This remedy of humility is essential. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves under the might hand of God and He will exalt you in due time. The Bible is full of contrasts between pride and humility. Practice humility in your mind and show it outwardly even when you don’t feel like it.

I am so thankful that we have grace for all of our weaknesses. Let’s work on becoming humble in heart, poor in spirit and more like Jesus.

 

4 things to do before age 60

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”

~ Ecclesiastes 12.1, ESV

 

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When we are young, we think we have an abundance of time. After all, our parents and teachers tell us, “there’ll be time for that later,” or “not until your older.” We spend the first 18-20 years of our lives waiting until we are “older” to “do” things.

There is one thing we should never put off: serving God.

I remember asking my father if his hospice patients (those who were not Christians) tried turning to God near the end. They had lived their lives the way they had wanted—perhaps profligately—and now, with death staring them in the face, surely they’d want to make a change. He looked rather sadly at me and replied, “Once people get to that age, they’ve resisted God for so long that they have lost all desire for Him. Deathbed conversions occur once in great awhile, but it’s far more rare than it is common.”

It was an eye-opening statement, and one that has remained planted in my mind. We need to fix our desires, mindsets and habits now, before we do not have strength.

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth. 

By youth I mean anyone who is under the age of 60 not plagued by dementia or alzheimer’s. Even 70, if you’re still in great shape. Just because a child is 1 or 2, doesn’t mean you can’t start teaching them about God. Today is all we’ve got—make the most of it. I have sadly heard too many parents put off “church-going” because they think their kids won’t remember or “they’re too young.” They are more aware than you realize.

So, while we are still “young” we need to work on the following:

#1: Practice Forgiveness.

This should be a top priority. As I mention in this post on forgiveness, failure to forgive results in firmly rooted bitterness. We need to emulate Christ who forgave even his torturers. He also forgave us.

#2: Meditate on the Word.

Daily.

Don’t rely on Sunday sermons to fill you for an entire week. Even reading once a day isn’t meditation.

Meditating is not simply reading the Bible—it’s reading and pondering.

Here are three different ways to meditate on the Word:

  1. writing: keep a journal.
  2. walking alone: Some of the best thoughts come to me on my walks when I have time to think about passages I’ve read and sermons I’ve heard.
  3. talking with Christians: I love those kindred spirits who happily discuss biblical topics with me and allow me to think things through with them out loud.

#3: Pray Daily.

Again—daily. Multiple times per day.

If you are not in the habit of praying, start with meal-time prayers. After you get that set in place, set your alarm 10 minutes earlier get out of bed (this is important so you don’t fall back asleep) set the timer for 10 minutes and pray. After awhile, you may discover that 10 minutes isn’t enough!

Having regular communication with God while young will give us a stronger connection with him when we are old.

#4: Cultivate Joy.

This is one of my biggest challenges, especially as someone who is inclined to be a “brooding Irish” type. Joy does not equal happiness. Happiness is a momentary feeling swayed by circumstance; joy is a determined attitude.

There’s a few things involved in getting a joyful attitude:

  1. Know your home.
    This life overflows with uncontrollable circumstance. All that waffle about being the “captain of your destiny” is absolute rubbish. Most concentration camp survivors will tell you they couldn’t get out by their own power. A few succeeded in escaping, but most were stuck, plagued by illness or simply too helpless. The only thing you can control is your own mind. Knowing that there is an eternal home beyond the vicissitudes of earth is a source of joy for the Christian. We look to what Shakespeare calls, “The Undiscovered Country.” I long for that country which has been discovered by my brothers and sisters in the Lord who have gone on before me.
  2. Refocus the mind.
    If you are a long-time reader, you know that I have dealt with depression for many years (you can read more here). I still do. It is a daily fight to stay upbeat. I’m not always strong enough to keep my head above water, but God is! When this mess called life begins to weigh on my heart I have to recenter myself and focus my thoughts on what I know to be true.

    This is my constant aim:

    Finally, brethren,
    whatever is true,
    whatever is honorable,
    whatever is right,
    whatever is pure,
    whatever is lovely,
    whatever is of good repute,
    if there is any excellence
    and if anything worthy of praise,
    dwell on these things.

    The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

    ~Phillipians 4.8-9, NASB

    Bring the mind back into focus. Let it dwell on the things listed above. For more on this, read here.

  3. Pray.
    As I mentioned in the previous point, I know I’m not strong enough to fight the weight of the world. I need help. Only God is powerful enough to pull me out of the stormy ocean of emotion and circumstance. Fix your eyes on Him. I have always treasured the account of Peter stepping out on the water toward Jesus. He walked on the water (which is physically impossible) as He looked toward Jesus. As soon as He took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the raging waters he sank like a lead weight. What did he do? He cried out to the one who could save him—and Jesus reached out and pulled him to safety. You can read the full account here in Matthew 14.

    When life threatens to crush your joy, cry out to God. He will lift you up.

Serve God today while you still have breath and mental clarity. For while there is life, there is hope.

Day 30: Jesus Christ, the Son of God

This post is part of “30 days of Giving Thanks” To read more within this series, click here.

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

~ John‬ ‭1:1-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Jesus has so many names: The Messiah, the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Immanuel, the Word, the Light.

Jesus came into the World to give us life, grace, and truth.

For the last 29 days, I’ve been writing about things I am thankful for. I saved the one of greatest import for last. Why am I thankful for Jesus? I don’t think I could write enough posts to cover that answer completely…

He lived on earth.

Teenagers are so fond of saying to their parents: “You have no idea what I’m going through!” They forget that their parents were, at one time, teenagers who indeed experienced all the frustrating fluctuations of teenagerness. Parents can sympathize to some extent because they were young once too!

Jesus lived as a man. His parents had very little. He had to go through puberty. He had to suffer want. He was rejected, ridiculed, and tempted. He knows what we are going through.

He lived here on His own created earth. I am so glad that I have a God and friend who understand what it’s like to be Human. And he still loves us…

He died a cruel death for us.

I really had no concept of how truly terrible crucifixion was until my dad preached a detailed sermon on the subject. My dad is a registered nurse and a veteran. He understands anatomy and physiology pretty well. I remember cringing at the description of how each breath was torturous, particularly to those nailed spots. The Bible doesn’t really go into depth because when it was written, most people had witnessed a crucifixion—they didn’t need vivid details.

So, why am I thankful for His death?

His death gives me life.He didn’t have to die. He could have snapped His fingers and a whole army of angels would have come down and taken care of business. His death had purpose. He died because only His blood could cover our evils. He died so I could be at peace with God.

He rose from the dead.

Yes, I believe.

He conquered Satan and death.

Jesus’ resurrection is one of the hardest things for people to accept. Most people believe He lived on earth and died, but only the Christian believes in His resurrection. If Jesus had not conquered death, we would have no hope.

But he did conquer death. And we do have hope.

I walk in His light.

This world has many wonders and beauties, but it is a very dark place. Evil abounds, sickness pervades, death comes to all. Jesus gives us life and light. While we struggle through this life in our decaying bodies, Jesus is renewing our souls each day. Without Him, I would be tossed around like a boat with no rudder or sails. With Him, life has purpose and meaning.

I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and I am thankful for Him. Every day I have abundant life—no matter the circumstances—because I have hope of better things to come. I am not stumbling about in darkness because Jesus lights the way—even if it’s only one inch at a time.

I am so thankful for Jesus. He brings us light and life.


 

This post concludes the series “30 days of Giving Thanks.”

I want to thank all of you who have read through these posts. I hope you have been as edified through the reading as I have been through the writing. Take time to give thanks to the Lord everyday for His abundant blessings—Jesus being the greatest blessing of all.

I will not be posting every day in December, but I will be resuming The effective prayer posts and coffee chats and completing a series I began in September.

What was your favorite “Thankful” post?

 

 

Do you honestly think you’re that important?

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“I don’t mean to be rude —”  [Vernon] began, in a tone that threatened rudeness in every syllable.

“—yet, sadly, accidental rudeness occurs alarmingly often,” Dumbledore finished the sentence gravely. “Best to say nothing at all, my dear man.”

~ Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Have you ever noticed how easily offended people are these days?

I’m not talking about the old church lady who gasps in sanctimonious horror at Mr. Saggy Pants in the third row; I’m referring to people who seem to take an almost twisted pleasure in being offended.

Use words like “sound doctrine” and see the hackles rise:

“What do you mean? How dare you insinuate that I’m not teaching sound doctrine. You are so judgmental and self-righteous!”

Or maybe you think that the designation of marriage should be between one man and one woman. Instead of avoiding conflict, you tactfully proffer your contrarian view.

Look out for flying daggers:

“How dare you force your opinion on me! It’s not as though that supreme court ruling affects you anyway. What does it matter if two adults who love each other happen to be of the same sex and want to get married. It’s not as if you have to marry the same sex. You’re so selfish! You’re such a bigot!”

Just admitting that you’re a Christian gets people frothing at the mouth:

“What?! Don’t you know that Judeo-Christian religions are responsible for all the terribly offensive and devastating things that happened in history?! You’re such an idiot to believe in that nonsense.” 

And so it goes…

As Christians, we anticipate attacks from non-believers. If we mature in Christ, those types of attacks, while irritating, will be like the barking of a chihuahua to a great dane. None of us is greater than Jesus Christ, and we all know how vehemently his opponents cried out for his crucifixion. Jesus’ mere presence was enough to make the veins pulse dangerously on the Pharisees’ heads.

They passionately hated Him. Is it any wonder that people hate us?

What we don’t anticipate is thin-skin among fellow Christians. When we are working with fellow Christians, we consider ourselves to be in a safe zone. We operate as though we can act and speak with love, and, as long as our intentions are good, those words and deeds will be received with gratitude. Unfortunately, there are times when our good intentions are met with cynicism and substantial criticism.

It all began with political correctness.

Do you remember when the grip of political correctness tightened in the United States? It was in the 90s. It seemed to me that many considered it a passing fad. Colloquial phrases that had been used for decades were suddenly “offensive” and “inappropriate.” The majority found PC phrases to be absurdly humorous—until people started losing jobs and facing lawsuits. The whole movement has become so asinine that one can be accused of hate speech just for stating a countercultural viewpoint.

Political correctness created a culture of hypersensitivity. The perceived danger of “causing offense” enabled people and groups to grasp their desires, inflict harm on their enemies and hijack otherwise intelligent discourse. How often do we get in discussions, only to have them morph into a playground fight: “you’re racist.” “no, you are!” “you’re a homophobe.” “you’re just ugly” “am not!” “am too!”

Sadly, the thin-skinned political correctness movement has seeped into our church because we live in this world. We aren’t monks. We don’t get to go into isolation (although that often sounds very appealing…). We are bombarded with our culture every single day and it takes a lot of effort to counterbalance it.

Evil intentions? Or just having a bad day?

There is an old West African folk story entitled, “Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears.” It’s a simple tale of a mosquito who told an iguana some foolish nonsense. The iguana, intolerant of such ludicrous talk shoved sticks in his ears and left. As he ambled along, a python saw him and called out, “Good morning, Iguana!”

The iguana failed to hear the python (due to the aforementioned sticks) nor did he happen to see him. The python thought, “He must be plotting against me! I need to go and hide!” With great speed he slithered into a rabbit hole, and the occupants bounded away in fear.

Thus began a chain of events that eventually lead to the accidental death of an owlet; the owlet belonged to Mother Owl who woke the sun each day. So bereaved was Mother Owl that she refused to hoot for the sun to come up. Prolonged darkness settled on the land and anxiety settled on the animals.

When the animals gather to determine the source of the problem, they investigate the chain of events to find the source of all the trouble. In the end, they accuse the mosquito of being at fault for making up such nonsense in the first place.

When I read that story, I always think that it was the python’s fault. He should have seen the sticks in the ears of the iguana and thought, “I wonder why he’s walking around with those silly things in his ears…” Instead, he immediately assumed ill intent. He reacted erroneously based on unfounded suspicions. His reaction caused tremendous trouble.

How often are we like that offended snake?

Is the church transforming the culture or is the culture transforming the church?

Whether we want to admit it or not, we are all products of our culture.

We don’t walk around in togas. We can go to the store in jeans and a ratty old t-shirt and people don’t necessarily assume we’re from the wrong part of town. We use iPhones, watch television, play sports, listen to music, argue about politics, read blogs, love our pets and take selfies (well… some of us do.). All of these activities are part of the standard American culture. They aren’t necessarily wrong or right, healthy or unhealthy. It’s just the way things are.

What about culturally acceptable viewpoints? Do we mesh with those too?

Consider:

Our culture loves “tolerance.” Christianity is intolerant of sin.

Our culture embraces free-thinking. Christianity embraces Christ’s thinking.

Our culture believes in sensual satisfaction. Christianity believes in denying self and seeking spiritual satisfaction.

We go against the grain of our society—at least we’re supposed to—so it’s no real shock that society passionately hates us, just as Christ was hated by the culture of His day.

Our culture gets offended… easily. If you had the guts to go on Facebook during the whole “Love Wins” deal and speak against it, then you how quickly people took offense to your “bigoted” view point. It didn’t matter how civil your tone, the fact that you even espoused such a view was offensive.

People file lawsuits, claim racism, start riots all because of perceived offense.

Is the church countercultural in this regard? What has been your experience?

Hypersensitivity is very much alive in our congregations. It’s not supposed to be like that.

We are called out of the world.

We are called to be radically different from the world.

We are called to adopt the mind of Christ. Christ was not hypersensitive; he was perceptive. He knew when someone was genuinely on the attack and when they were just foolish.

There are three primary causes of taking offense too easily:

1) We are slow to understand and quick to anger.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

~James 1.19-20, ESV

Whoever James was writing to, they needed some attitude adjustments. Sounds like there were a lot of angry pythons running around…

Being slow-to-understand  can really damage our relationships. We sort of hear, we don’t process properly and we inevitably get angry. Anger leads to bitterness; Bitterness to resentment; resentment to hatred.

2) We think a little too much of ourselves

Remember that time your friend seemed like they were avoiding you? Your texts went unanswered, phone calls went to voicemail and your invitations were turned down a few times. You start to wonder if they even liked you anymore. You felt hurt and a tad resentful… and then you found out that they’d been dealing with a monumental crisis.

It had absolutely nothing to do with you.

There are times when people act or speak a certain away and we immediately take offense or assume malice.

Did consider that you hadn’t even crossed their minds?

You are like the python. They didn’t see or hear you because they were so consumed with frustration that they were blocking every extraneous thing. If they had seen you, they would have acknowledged you and told you about that dumb mosquito and his frustrating nonsense. But instead of going to them and making sure all is well in your relationship, you assume ill intent. You get mad. You hold a grudge. The relationship frays.

I’m surely going to offend somebody here, but it needs to be said: sometimes we overestimate our own importance. We have a little too much self and not enough Christ. Narcissism dwells in our heart instead of humility.

It’s time to do a little home maintenance

3) We fear being stabbed in the back.

Nobody wants to be fooled.

I think it is safe to assume that most of us fear what others think about us (despite all our bravado to the contrary). In order to avoid that humiliating position, we go on the defensive: we assume every player is trying to break through our line. We assume every player is the enemy… we go so far as to identify our own teammates as enemies.

We hunker down against everyone and everything and tuck that football into our body so that nobody can score a touchdown.

What if we try assuming innocence until guilt is proven?

What if we asked clarifying questions instead of wearing a chip on the shoulder? Would that make us all sissies… or would we simply have a little less bickering?

It’s time to start assuming good will from our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It’s time to fix this problem.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to cover how we can adopt the humble and wise mind of Christ with the following topics:

Chip removal for Christians:

  1. Assume goodwill
  2. Perfect the art of listening.
  3. Do to others what you would have them do to you.
  4. Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves
  5. Think before you speak
  6. Be slow to anger.

God be with you my friends.

The Ultimate Secret to Conquering the Haters.

This is Part 3 of the 3-part series on dealing with the haters. For part 2 click here.
chess

God never gives us an impossible task.

For the past couple weeks I’ve been posting on the topic of Trust. Through the experiences of both Gideon and Moses, we see an enduring truth about God: Whenever God tasks someone with something, it always comes hand-in-hand with the words, “I will be with you.”

Remember Gideon? The first words from the angel of the Lord were: The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.”

Remember Moses? “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

I have to admit that on my walk the other day when I was visualizing all the verbal punches I could deal out to my enemies, my heart wanted to rebel against the idea of blessing my enemies. Pray blessings? (Choking, gagging sounds) It took several minutes before I was able to say the words, “Bless ______ and _______ and ________ (those who have hurt me).”

I am still working on it. I keep asking God to help me rip out those weeds of bitterness that are in my heart and grant me the power to forgive. I don’t want to be bitter when I am old. I don’t want anger, resentment, and hurt to deplete the soil of my heart.

You may be feeling fresh hurt even as you read this. Someone may have abused you physically or emotionally or both. Women who have been raped, spouses who have been cheated on, friends who have been betrayed, daughters or sons-in-law who have endured years of berating from their spouse’s parents—all of us are wounded critically at some point in life by the people who are supposed to love us. We live in a world where evil runs rampant. Pain is an inevitable result of evil and pushes people towards God or away from Him.

But there is a secret to overcoming your enemies. We pray blessings on our enemies, we ask God to give us the strength and courage to forgive, we rip out the roots of bitterness within us… but without this one thing, this great secret, we will be unable to achieve either of these. And the secret is….(Drumroll please).

Love. 

I can hear your groans of disappointment across the pixels. Bear with me while I elaborate. The love of which I speak is not human in origin. It’s a love produced within us by God and demonstrated to us by His Son, Jesus Christ. It is a godly love, different from any other type of love on this earth. It is not an emotion, it is an intention; not a feeling, but a willingness to love others the way Christ has loved us.

To illustrate my point, I want you to think of your enemy. I want you to use the questions below, put their name in the blank and ask yourself each question honestly and objectively. This is your strategy: to work on loving your enemy, not in an abstractly, but in an actively. They say actions speak louder than words. Let’s put it into practice!

My Strategy for _________ (insert name):

Love is patient (or suffers long). Am I showing patience toward ____________? How long have I suffered their indignities?

Love is kind. In what way can I (or have I) shown kindness to __________?

Love does not envy or boast. Is __________ doing better than I am in this life? Or am I doing way better? I must endeavor not to envy _________ or what they have. I need not try make myself look better than ________, or gloat over them when calamity overtakes them. I need to bring those thoughts into captivity.

Love does not behave rudely. How do I respond to _________ when they hurt me? Do I lash out, give them the cold shoulder or the stink eye? Or do I hold my peace?

Love does not seek its own. Would I be willing to let _________ have a better seat at a major league game? Would I allow _________ to be first in line? Would I give up something important to me—my already limited time, money etc—to help _______? Would I bring _______ flowers if their husband or wife died of cancer?

Love does not take into account a wrong suffered. What has _______ done to me? How many times has __________ hurt me? Do I hold on to these incidents to throw them back in their face as my line of defense? (If you are dealing with a poisonous long-time adversary, this is difficult. I’m not advising you to keep putting yourself blindly in harm’s way, but you have to stop dredging up the past in order to treat them with love.)

Love bears all things. Every insult, every wound, every betrayal. Do I bear with all of ______ oddities, jabs, and irritating behaviors or do I lash back?

Love believes all things. Do I believe that __________ can become a better person if they learn to obey the Lord?

Love hopes all things. Do I hope __________ will turn their heart around and start treating me—and others—as God would want? What have I done/what am I doing to help ________soften towards God?

Love endures all things.

Love. Never. Fails.

God is love, therefore, God never fails.

Your enemy may never change. They might even act worse as you return evil with love. But there is also the chance that as you treat them with love, they will come to see Christ living in you. If we truly desire people to turn their hearts the Lord, it is imperative they see Jesus through us. Otherwise, we are no different than the people around us.

We are in a war. A war against a cunning adversary. Satan will try and lure us into his sphere. If he can prevent us from learning how to love like Jesus, he wins.

One obedient person plus God equals victory.

You can forgive. If it seems impossible, remember that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. If we want to be like Jesus, we have to learn to forgive the haters no matter how often nor how much they have wounded us.

Consider these two passages from the Bible as a final thought:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter‬ ‭2‬:‭21-24‬ ESV, emphasis mine

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

~Luke‬ ‭6‬:‭27-28, 32-33, 35-36‬ ESV

This week, pray for your enemies once each day. Write these verses on cards and pin them where you can see them, to remind you of what your mindset needs to be toward the haters in your life.

Pray for the Lord to remember His promise to be with you as you carry out his command to love your enemies.

Do not be overcome by evil. Overcome evil with good and with God.

What are you growing in your garden?

This is part two of a 3-part series. To view the previous post, click here.

garden

I am an amateur gardener. Growing vegetables is not my strong point. I live in a harsh climate with extreme heat, low humidity and high winds. It’s hard to grow vegetables, though herbs and weeds seem to thrive.

I have learned a few things about gardening:

  1. Soil is important. It needs good fertilizer or else the plants will be less robust and the vegetables or fruit will contain fewer minerals.
  2. A good layer of mulch suppresses weeds & retains moisture. A good gardener keeps a good mulch layer and regularly replenishes the soil.
  3. Keep out weeds. Weeds choke out the good plants and deplete the soil of necessary nutrients.

So, you may be asking what this has to do with the price of eggs, or, more importantly, having good relationships with God and man. Yesterday, we talked about haters, or more particularly people who are supposed to be allies but are actually enemies. As a quick recap, Jesus and Paul told us that we are to bless those who curse us. It’s so much easier said than done!

There is another aspect of dealing with haters that we need to address: bitterness.

I want you to think of your mind and heart as a garden. Our character traits are sown in the soil of our heart. They grow over time as we nurture them and feed the soil with the replenishing, nourishing word of God. We lay down a thick layer of faith to suppress weeds and retain what God supplies us each day.

Unfortunately, like any garden, the good productive plants can get choked by weeds if they are neglected.

Bitterness is a weed whose seed is sown by cruelty, fertilized by anger and nurtured by resentment.

Bitterness takes over a heart like an invasive weed. When we are young, we can conceal that weed really well, but as we grow older and our strength fades, that bitter weed will—after years and years of free reign—choke out whatever good characteristics had previously been growing there.

The deadly danger of bitterness is that it is often concealed. People harbor bitterness for years and even their closest friends may be none the wiser.

The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.

~Proverbs‬ ‭14‬:‭10‬ ESV

But be warned: that concealed bitterness will sap all the nutrients in your soil. It will cause your good traits to become infected with disease. If bitterness is allowed to take root, it will destroy all the fruits of the spirit you are trying to grow in the garden of your heart.

tomato-608290_1280apple-455436_640

Have you ever known an old person who is bitter and their every word is poison? They allowed too many people to sow seeds of bitterness in their hearts. Their bitterness didn’t come upon them suddenly. It is the culmination of a lifetime of pain and injury. They allowed it to take root and encouraged it to grow using full-proof anger-gro fertilizer and a thick layer of resenta-mulch.

Forgiveness is like pulling weeds. When we forgive, we uproot and toss away bitterness, allowing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control to flourish in the soil of our hearts.

Do not permit others to plant bitterness within you. If they throw those seeds in your garden, tear them out immediately!! Lay down a thick layer of mulch so they cannot grow.

Forgive. 

Do not give power to the haters.

Tear out those weeds of bitterness before they take root in your heart.

I implore you to remember that the Lord, He is God. If you truly believe in God’s great power, then believe that He is strong enough to tear out the bitterness from your heart. Weeding out the bitterness is a team effort though. God won’t barge in and start tearing it out, He wants to be invited first. He will help us if we simply ask.

Don’t count on your own strength to forgive your enemies. Ask the Lord to help you. Through obedience to God we can accomplish the impossible.

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled… 

~ ‭Hebrews‬ ‭12‬:‭15‬ ESV

Press on to know the Lord. Press on to be like Christ.

Lord willing, tomorrow we will examine the greatest weapon we can use to conquer the haters.