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.]

And the greatest of these is….? (Comparison Cure #5)

 

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

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It always comes down to love, doesn’t it?

Do you rejoice when your child does well? How about your spouse? Why? Because you love them!

Why do other people have it so easy?” was the question that began this series of posts on comparison cures. This minimizing of our blessings and maximizing the perceived blessings of those around us entraps us all at some point with the unfortunate result of creating bitterness, envy, resentment, and ingratitude.

There are cures for this sickness. To date, we’ve covered four: contentment, acceptance, humility and compassion. (Click on each word to read the previous posts). Each cure is a learned behavior. We do not employ these remedies to be self-righteous, create positive chi, or even to feel better. We seek them because we love God and we want to be like him. Like so many things God calls us to do as Chrisians, it all boils down to love. The love God desires from us is a selfless love; a love that demands us to put our needs on the back burner; a love that is learned; a love that puts God first, others second and us last.

How much do we really love others?

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

~ 1 John‬ ‭4:20-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Are you ready for a truth bomb? There are many people who are difficult to love and strive to make themselves as unloveable as possible. Yet loving others is not optional, it’s commanded! Take a look at the above passage from First John. If we fail to love our brother whom we can see, how can we love God whom we cannot see?

When I look at my neighbors, friends and fellow Christians and resent the good things that happen to them, two things are happening: I am failing to showing gratitude for the blessings I already have and I am failing to cultivate love. It’s not for me to decide whether they deserve what they have. I certainly do not deserve the blessings I have been given!

We are commanded to pray for our enemies and bless those who curse us. We are commanded to love. If we cannot even pray for those “undeserving” neighbors, friends, and fellow Christians, how in the world will we be able to pray for our enemies?

Ask the Lord to help you love the unloveable and quench those feelings of envy, bitterness, resentment and covetous. This type of love runs contrary to our nature. Godly love is not easy, but it is powerful. Imagine how different the church would be if we worked on growing our love and squashing our enviousness?

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

~ 1 John 4.7-8, ESV

I want to know the Lord, but in order to do so, I must start crushing my selfish nature and pursue love that seeks the best for others.

What is Genuine Love?

So, we know we are commanded to love, but how do we show love when we don’t feel love? We want to obey God, but we think that if we show love without actually feeling love, we are, in fact, disingenuous. This is a tricky problem.

In Romans 12.9, the NKJV reads, “let love be without hypocrisy.” In Greek and Roman culture, actors were called hypocrites because they created a “counterfeit persona” and were often considered to be untrustworthy because of their ability to affect emotions that they weren’t truly feeling. We don’t want to be hypocrites, right?

Here’s the thing: Just because the emotions are absent, that does not necessarily make you a hypocrite. For example: ask any solid, happily married, veteran couple (married 10 years or more) what “love” is, and they will tell you that love is more than a feeling. When a couple first marries, they do things for the other person because of how they feel. A couple that has been married 10, 20, 30+ years will tell you that they often do things for their spouse in spite of how they feel. They aren’t riding cloud nine every day, but they work to keep the spark alive because their love has grown into something much stronger than emotion—it is a deep, abiding commitment.

So, when we try to rejoice with those who rejoice (even though we don’t feel like it) we are doing so, not from some noble, transcendent emotion, but rather because we are choosing to do what is right. We want to be like God, we want to love God, so we make it our choice to demonstrate love. The feelings will come. It’s not hypocritical to choose to do right even when your feelings are against you.

Did God show you love when you became a Chrisian? Did Jesus deserve death? Did he forgive your sins? Does he continue to extend grace to you?

If that is so: shouldn’t we also extend love and grace to those around us? Are we more deserving of God’s grace and mercy than anyone else on the planet?

Before concluding, consider this passage from Colossians:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,

compassionate hearts,

kindness,

humility,

meekness,

and patience, bearing with one another

and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.

And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

~ ‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:12-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬, emphasis mine

“Love… binds everything together in perfect harmony.” It really does. It’s no coincidence that Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. It’s a commandment and we must strive to fulfill it with each breath we take. Let’s find joy in contentment, peace in acceptance, patience in humility, grace in compassion and connection in love. When you feel the stirrings of envy that come with comparison, ask yourself if you love that person the way God wants you to. Run down your list: Am I being content, accepting etcetera? Set your mind on what is true, noble and praiseworthy.


This concludes the series on Comparison Cures. I hope the series has strengthened you as much as it has me! I hope you’ll leave a note in the comments and share which one was the most helpful to you.

May the Lord be with you, my friends!

The need for Compassion (Comparison Cure #4)

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

Jenny steeled herself and walked purposefully through the familiar front door. The cozy little house was already buzzing with the chatter of women. Jenny plastered a smile on her face, determined not to be the dark cloud on her friend’s special day.

After exchanging pleasantries with the hostess and a few other ladies, she found her dear friend, Julia, standing near a pile of blue presents and bright balloons. Her protruding belly announced to the world that a new life would soon be making its debut. Jenny wrapped her arms around her friend in a warm embrace.

“How are you feeling?” Jenny asked.

“I’m ok. My back is killing me, but that’s to be expected,” replied Julia. “Are you doing ok?”

Julia knew this wasn’t the best time to ask, but she knew the significance and sacrifice behind Jenny’s presence today. Jenny’s stomach tightened with anxiety as she carefully arranged her features to conceal the sudden twinge in her heart.

“I’m good. Looking forward to seeing you open your gifts! How do you plan to fit all this in your apartment?” said Jenny.

“Who knows? It’s unbelievable how much stuff you need for a little baby. This kid’ll probably have more outfits and blankets than I do.”

Jenny seated herself between two ladies and watched as, one by one, blue onesies, tiny shoes, brightly-colored toys, baby hats and handmade blankets were each removed from their wrappings. With each gift, the cynical old lady on her left muttered about spoiling babies with “unnecessary trinkets” and Telling Jenny that if she ever became a parent she shouldn’t waste money on such trifles. Jenny’s stomach was so knotted and her heart so tight she could hardly breathe. It was hard enough setting aside her own heartache and empty womb to make this a good day for her friend without listening to the bitter voice next to her.

She waited until she could get up without being noticed and went to the bathroom to take some deep breaths. It had been three months since she’d seen that mass of unexpected blood in the toilet; three months since the ultrasound tech had showed her that big empty space in her womb where her baby should have been; three months since she lay sobbing in that cold hospital room with an even colder, indifferent Doctor telling her that miscarriages happen all the time—and to get over it.

She kept on breathing deeply, resolved to hide her emotions. She opened the door and went back to the baby shower. She stood near the edge of the group, served slices of cake and made small talk with a few more ladies. As soon as it was polite to do so, she left the party. Once out of sight of the house she broke into a run until she reached the safe haven of her car. Once the door shut, she released a loud wail and wept heavily. She had done it. She hadn’t ruined her friend’s shower. But why, oh why, did she end up next to that bitter old woman!

“Why, God?” she gasped between sobs, “Why when I’m trying so hard to be happy for my friend and not bitter? I’m trying, Lord. I’m trying. Why did this have to happen today?!”

A month later, Julia lay in a hospital bed, her pale face lined with exhaustion from the arduous labor and emergency C-section. Her little baby boy was in the NICU because something was wrong with his heart. Jenny gently squeezed Julia’s shoulder.

“Everyone’s seen the baby but me,” Julia croaked, “I’m so worried about him.”

Jenny’s heart ached for her friend. “The doctor said he thinks everything will be ok. Can I get you anything?” she asked.

“No,” Julia exhaled, “I just want to hold him.”

A few minutes later, Julia’s husband entered the room, a small bundle wriggling in his arms. He gently laid the little baby boy in Julia’s expectant arms as tears trickled down her face. Why was this happening? Why did her baby have to be threatened with a heart condition? Her eyes took in the face of her newborn boy as she thought about the people in the room. For a brief moment she wondered if Jenny was secretly gloating over her misfortune. Her eyes flicked to Jenny’s face momentarily, but there was nothing but genuine concern reflected there.

Her body relaxed automatically. No. Jenny had set her own feelings aside to celebrate with her, and now she was here, supporting her during this agonizing moment.  No matter what happened next, she was so thankful for Christian sisters like Jenny.

Jenny watched Julia reflectively as her hand absently moved to her abdomen. She wondered if she would face similar complications… if this baby growing within her made it to delivery. That was the thing with babies—miscarriage, stillbirth and deformity were an ever present possibility, but so was the potential for death and disease after the baby was born. She was so thankful she hadn’t missed the opportunity to rejoice with her friend, because today she could support her without any hint of gloating over her distress. God was training her, and for once, she hadn’t failed Him. Compassion in good times and bad is so much more fulfilling than envy and jealousy.


In my original post, I talked about our tendency to compare ourselves with others and wonder why other people seem to have it so much easier than we do. In the above story, Jenny and Julia were both grappling with their own sorrows, but instead of bitterness and resentment, there was genuine love and compassion. There are two things to consider here: first, someone may be bearing a private heartache unknown to you or anyone else; second, their suffering may be imminent and they’ll need your non-gloating sympathy.

Compassion is defined as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” How often do we see only the good things that people have and brush aside the weight of their suffering? How can we be compassionate if we choose to overlook their pain?

Consider the following passage from Romans:

Let love be genuine.

Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”

~ Romans‬ ‭12:9-16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

You may notice that the word “compassion” isn’t mentioned here, but these are actions that enable us to show compassion.  I put parts of the passage in bold to emphasize a few things.

Genuineness is an essential part of compassion.

“Let love be genuine.”

Your compassion will be somewhat ineffective if your love is fake or self-serving. The love we show is to  be the “brotherly” type. As Christians, we ought to pull together just like a blood family does when one of it’s relations falls on hard times.

Constant prayer.

In the middle of Paul’s list is this encouragement to “be constant in prayer.” Why do you think that is there? Because this stuff is downright hard! We need God’s help to go against our own selfish inclinations. In the story above, Jenny set aside her fresh grief to rejoice with her friend and it took a great deal of effort. The important thing was that she took her pain to the Lord in prayer.

We also need to pray for others  as though we were coming to God with our own needs. This is much easier to do if we make regular prayer time and write down our requests so we don’t forget.

Bless those who persecute you.

Sticks and stones don’t need to touch your bones for someone to hurt you. Indifference, rudeness, thoughtlessness and disdain are perfectly lethal weapons. Sometimes the people closest to us are the ones who hurt us the most. As children of God, we are supposed to forgive those who hurt us—even when they don’t apologize. Much of our resentment and “why-me-itis” stems from this inability to forgive. We think that people don’t deserve their good fortune, typically because we hate something they’ve done to us or someone else.

How can you show compassion for a brother during hard times if you are gloating over their suffering because you failed to forgive them? You can’t!

Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.

We are commanded to rejoice with those who rejoice.

Most of the time, we find it easier to weep with those who weep. Our pity for their plight stimulates a teeny bit of thankfulness that we are not them. We don’t mind going to the rejoicing party as long as there’s good food and the ability to mask our irritation at their blessings. My friends, that is not the attitude of Christ.

So often we find ourselves avoiding times of rejoicing with others because the ache in our own hearts is too great. We need to work on giving our grief to the Lord and celebrating those good times with others without resenting their temporary good fortune. Life is full of good seasons and bad. Very few people live their entire life on cloud 9. What’s good today will be a distant memory tomorrow.

The story I wrote above is a true story, but the names were changed. Jenny’s willingness to go to that baby shower and celebrate the good times with Julia made her presence more comforting for that same friend during her time of distress. Rejoicing for others in the midst of grief can be done, but only when we die to self and lean on the Lord.

If you find yourself bitterly envious of those who have it better than you, it’s time to work on compassion. Whether you feel they don’t deserve their good fortune or they got what was coming to them, you need to give those feeling to God and act on what you know is right.

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

~ Ephesians‬ ‭4:31-32‬ ‭NIV‬‬

 

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.

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.
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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.

How to love the haters in your life.

This is the first post in a 3-part series.

haters

Enemies.

We all have them.

Even though we as Christians are striving (or should be striving) to live peaceably with those around us, the fact of the matter is that there are people who are going to oppose us and hate us for who we are and what we believe.

Or… they may simply hate because they don’t know how to love.

In my opinion, the worst enemy is one who is supposed to be on your team, but does everything they can to crush you. (Read Psalm 55)

It’s an age-old problem. Someone you love, a “friend” or a partner attacks you. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s blatant, but it’s always painful.

For it is not an enemy who taunts me— then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me— then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng.

Psalm‬ ‭55‬:‭12-14‬ ESV

I would rather face ISIS, Al Qaeda or the Nazis rather than deal with a poisonous “friend.”

We call them “Haters.”

You know who I’m talking about. They are people who are so full of bitterness it oozes from every pore. They can’t utter a single word without spewing poison. These are people who betray confidence, undermine friends, gossip, and stab you in the back. Some will smile outwardly, feigning kindness and camaraderie while inwardly brewing their venom.

My companion stretched out his hand against his friends; he violated his covenant. His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.

~ Psalm‬ ‭55‬:‭20-21‬ ESV

The other day as I was out walking, I was thinking about some people who have caused (and are continuing to cause) a lot of pain for my spouse as well as a couple of people who had recently attacked me. It was coming at us all at once! I felt bitter and angry. I wanted so much to have them right in front of my face, each in turn, so I could tell them exactly what I thought of them. I thought of David and his plea for God to consume and destroy his enemies. I wanted God to exact justice on these poisonous people who were causing so much anger, pain and distress.

As all these sour notes swirled in my head, a louder persistent thought rose above the din:

“Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse.”

I literally stopped walking.

How many times had I read that verse? I wasn’t sure where I had read it (It’s Romans 12:14 by the way), but it rang in my head as firmly and clearly as a bell. Here I was, fuming, craving, and longing for my enemies to be put to shame. I wanted justice instead of mercy. I had been praying that God would turn their hearts to him, but if they would not, then to bring them to justice.

Yet the words came through so clearly. “Bless and do not curse.”

Hang on… I had to pray blessings on these insidious, poisonous people?

I resumed my walk, and the words of Jesus came to mind:

“Love your enemies.”
“Pray for those who persecute you.”

These people had cursed me. They had cursed my spouse. They spread lies and bitterness. We were not their sole targets, they were causing strife everywhere. They were attacking good people and demoralizing entire groups.

Yet, as I considered Jesus’ words, I realized something paramount: Praying for my enemies isn’t optional, it’s required.

Jesus gave a command. We have to obey. No ifs, ands or buts.

Jesus forgave the very men who pounded the nails through his flesh into that cross.

Jesus forgave Peter for leaving him behind and denying that he even knew him.

Jesus forgave… me.

He asks no more of me than what He did Himself.

Our first weapon in overcoming the haters is blessing those who curse us. We are told to pray for our enemies and not to the purpose of asking God for vengeance.

Forgive not in words, but also in deeds. Bless and do not curse.

What ought to separate the Christian from the world above all else is our ability to forgive our enemies and bless them. If we do not do this, we are no different from the world. Our enemies will never see Christ in us if we hold on to our anger.

If God permits, we will look at our second method of conquering the haters tomorrow.