How to Respond to Insults

I so want to reflect Christ.

Yet sometimes, I get it utterly wrong.

Sometimes it is not for lack of trying; it is misapplying. Misunderstanding God’s teaching and thus incorrectly living out His Word.

Sometimes though my heart desires to honor the Lord, my head misleads me in what that looks like.

And this one got me good.

throw rock

I used to think I was following Christ’s example:

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. ~ 1 Peter 2:23

When I used to get insults hurled at me, I used to think this was how I was supposed to respond. As Christ did. He said nothing.

“But you work at a church!” you say. “What do you mean that you’d get insults hurled at you? That must be such a nice place to work.”

{smile}

That’s the most common response I get when I tell people I work at a church, “Oh, how nice.” Or “that must be nice.” It seems to conjure up images of us all sitting around in a circle singing Kumbaya.

But as many of those who work in a church know, it is really the frontlines of spiritual battle. When our side is united and the Enemy is clear, oh what great victory and reason for singing! It is hard work yet so worth it.

But often, it is subtle mis-maneuvers that wreck our peaceful circle. I’ve shared my concern before about misguided feedback in the Body – when we critique things that God does not give us authority to critique. I am also learning that my response to such feedback has been very misguided.

One counselor’s response was especially helpful. I had the privilege of interacting with her in a seminary class I took. The Lord is so gracious to provide one wise phrase at times to totally change my perspective and my world. That day, he used her to do it.

I’d been taught to submit to others – that if people are in spiritual authority over you,

“submit…with all respect… to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God….if you suffer for doing good and endure it, this is commendable before God.” ~ 1 Peter 2:18-20

So I thought that is what I was supposed to do. If someone – especially a small group leader or a man in the church or whomever – was harsh, I thought I was supposed to endure. The text note in my Bible even says that while this passage refers to slaves and their masters, “Peter’s basic teachings on the subject may apply to employer-employee relations today.” The church is my place of employment, so I thought we were just supposed to endure. Christ remained silent when religious people hurled accusations at him. And I thought I was emulating Christ by doing the same.

After years of suffering, this wise woman offered such a simple rejoinder:

“That was unbelievers.”

It stopped me in my tracks.

It was unbelievers.

I’d made the parallel that it was religious people and leaders hurling insults at Jesus. But my parallel missed an important perpendicular; there was a tiny area of overlap, yet a huge convergence. Unbelievers hurled insults at Christ. Not believers. It was unbelievers to whom this response applies.

If you’ve been to seminary, you may know there can be some friendly teasing between majors. The Counseling people sometimes jest that the Biblical Studies people are, well, a bit too heady for the reality of the community of believers. The Biblical Studies people sometimes jest that the Counseling people are, well, a bit too much heart for the reality of the truth of Scripture. Yet that day, the worlds converged. This counseling TA spoke truth and biblical insight in three words that years of Bible teaching misconstrued for me.

“That was unbelievers.”

She was right.

Let’s back up a bit to context. The whole context of this passage is Peter’s challenging believers:

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God…” ~ 1 Peter 2:9

He challenges us about how to live in this world that should feel foreign to us:

“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world…” ~ 1 Peter 2:11

How do we interact among non believers?

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” ~ 1 Peter 2:12

Note the context: pagans. When *pagans* accuse us of doing wrong. He’s talking about the heathen world here. When pagans accuse you of doing wrong, let your life show that you are glorifying God. Responding to pagans is the context leading up to Christ’s example:

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. ~ 1 Peter 2:23

So if it is believers hurling insults at you, please do not fall for the misapplication I fell for. Please do not think the ‘Christ-like’ response is to sit there and quietly listen. It cripples the Body.

We are

like living stones…being built into a spiritual house to be a royal priesthood. ~ 1 Peter 2:5

If another ‘stone’ is attacking us, chipping away at our strength, and falsely characterizing our identity, what kind of messed up spiritual house are we building! If another ‘stone’ is hurling things at you, stop it by interrupting. It is not at all healthy for the strong spiritual house the Lord desires to build.

Instead, God’s desire is this:

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” ~ 1 Peter 2:9-10

Please note that believers here are characterized as a holy nation. The word in Greek is ἔθνος. It is the same word used later for ‘pagans’ without the important ‘holy’ adjective in front of it. The context of this passage is living as foreigners – as a holy nation among the non-holy.

The context of this passage is *not* remaining silent when believers are saying untrue things about you. The context of this passage is *not* allowing living stones to think and speak deadening things. The context of this passage is *not* about enabling believers to share their dark thoughts about you who was called into Christ’s wonderful light. The context of this passage is *not* about enduring insults among believers in the kingdom of God.

Lest there be any remaining hesitation, please note specifically what it says about Christ’s response:

he did not retaliate… he made no threats.

Retaliate means he did not give abuse for abuse. In Greek, the root word is the same:

When they λοιδορέω-ed (hurled insults at him),
he did not λοιδορέω back (hurl insults back at them).

He did not respond to abuse by abusing them. He did not threaten them.

This is consistent with the response we advocate at {double hockey sticks}. When being a good steward of the selves God has given us, we protect against hurled insults to the person He has created us to be. Not an unintentional jab… and especially not an intentional one! The goal is to protect from the hurling and harm, not to hurl back.

Yet the truth remains: I was wrong. I was wrong for sitting silently and listening to the hurled insults of believers. While I do believe I entrusted myself to Him who judges justly, it was *not* commendable of me to bear up under the pain of unjust suffering at the hands of believers. It is not right to allow our holy nation to be darkened in that way, and it is not right to allow our living stone to cripple our spiritual house in that way. That is not the Christ-like way.

Silently listening to hurled insults is *not* the way to respond towards believers. I choose to stop the destruction through interruption! moo : )

It’s Saturday…

I was talking with a good friend this weekend about a relationship that just breaks my heart.  It’s not where I would like it to be… but I do genuinely believe that though it’s tough now, this is the path to a long-term, healthy, restored relationship.  If there is to be one, this is the way there.

But it’s not fun right now.

It’s hard.

And she did her darndest to encourage me that though it’s discouraging right now, this relationship may get worse before it gets better.

And though I don’t love to hear that, isn’t that often so true?

Just think about “cleaning out” a room… or the kitchen pantry… or your closet.  It’s not a ‘neat’ process – at my house, anyway!  I start with a few triggers – a sort of small mess, unused in-the-way things, a vision of how it can be better.  But before it gets better, it turns into quite a big mess!  Everything gets pulled out, and piles and trash bags and dust are everywhere!  And even if I’m systematic about it, if I stop in the middle and look around, it just looks like one. enormous. mess.  In those moments, it can be overwhelming.  It goes from needing to be cleaned… to a seemingly disaster area!  If I stop in the middle, it’s just a mess.  But on the other side of the mess is – finally! – organization.

So many things can be like that!  Maybe you’re like one of my friends in the middle of a discipline area with your child… and it sure feels like it’s getting worse!  Or maybe you’re like another one of my friends in a health situation where your body is detoxing or fighting a virus… and it feels like the fever is getting worse or the headaches are getting worse.  Or maybe you’re like me starting a workout program after too long away from the gym… and it sure feels more like your body is falling apart right now!  Or maybe you’re working through a relationship like I am… and it sure feels worse right now.  It feels like the disaster area moment.

It reminds me of something one of my counseling professors used to say,

It’s Saturday, but Sunday is a-coming!

Can you imagine what it must have been like the Saturday after Jesus was crucified?  The seeming mess.  The confusion.  What seems like hopelessness.  When you question where the victory is.  When you feel discouraged.  When you’re not sure what corner is going to turn when.  When it just feels like a mess.  Can you imagine the agony and the pain they must have experienced?  We know Jesus rose from the grave on Sunday… but that Saturday, well, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days,” may not have been quite so obvious to them.  That Saturday, many of them may never have imagined what God had in store on Sunday.

I can’t imagine how difficult that Saturday would have been.  But I now know that Saturday was necessary so that God could enable Sunday.  A resurrection and eternal life we so don’t deserve. A reconciled relationship with God we are so blessed to have.  Our sins redeemed.  Our Father.

It got worse before it got better.  And it was right. And it was good.  And the ‘better’ – God’s best – was so dern worth it!

So if you’re in a Saturday moment right now, I pray we would together remember – Sunday is acoming!  God is a God of healing and hope.  He redeems.  Saturday may feel like its lasting a really long time.  Trust me, I know!  And many of you I’m sure know even better than I.  But Sunday is acoming.  And in that, we can rejoice!

Question: What is a verse that encourages you when you’re in a ‘Saturday’ season… trying to remember that Sunday is acoming?  One of my favorites is 1 Peter 5:10 ~ And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  I love the *himself* part!  Another favorite is Romans 15:13 ~ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  I would love to be encouraged by your favorites!

Pretty silly to judge!

I would be remiss to do a series on judging and not include Romans 14!  And wow is there so much good stuff in here.  I’m tempted just to cut and paste the chapter.  I mean, God is God, and His Word is brilliant, of course! We’ll just hit on a few things pertaining to judging…

… or one!  We could pretty much start – and end! – with verse 4:

Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?

That pretty much hits the nail on the head:  Who am I to judge another’s servant?

Especially when the ‘another’ is God!

To their own master, servants stand or fall.

For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.  (v 4, 10-12)

God’s servants answer to Him.  He doesn’t need us to judge them!

I love this summary*:

It’s God we are answerable to… That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.”

Do you love that?  “the petty tyrannies of each other”!  It is God to whom we answer, so

“None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters.”

God’s got the judgments – and the judgment seat – taken care of for His servants.  He doesn’t need us to help!

And actually, our judgments are, well, pretty unhelpful.

“So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:

‘As I live and breathe,’ God says, ‘every knee will bow before me; Every tongue will tell the honest truth that I and only I am God.'”

So our judgments don’t help us.  And they also don’t help our brother or sister in Christ.  Instead, as we look at verses 13-21, they cause a big ol’ mess.

1.     Judging makes their life more difficult.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. (v13)

   2.     Judging drags them down by finding fault.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (v19; Message instructs with the inverse)

     3.     Judging makes us no longer a companion with them in love.

If your brother is distressed because of [whatever the non-Scripture issue is], you are no longer acting in love. (v16)

  4.     Judging wrecks God’s work among us.

Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of [whatever the non-Scripture issue is]. (v20)

That certainly doesn’t sound like anything that is beneficial to the kingdom!

So if our judging is actually pretty destructive, and since God’s got the judging taken care of,

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. (v13)

Amen?

So we leave the judging to God.  After all, He is the perfect Judge!  And I love that in His judgment, He’s rallying for His servants:

To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (v4)

As the Lord rallies, so shall we.  Instead of judging, we can engage in things that are beneficial for the kingdom.

  1.     We use our energy to build up His servants.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (v19)

     2.     We single-mindedly serve our Master! 

So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.  For the kingdom of God is …a matter of …righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.  (v12, 17-18)

We’ve got our hands full just taking care of our own life before God!

* The summaries are from the Message.  I know some people don’t love the Message, but please be assured I am *not* relying on it as inspired text.  Just like commentaries can provide insightful perspective at times, the Message can at times provide perspective as well.

Faithful is the New Radical

I read a blog post today about why faithful is the new radical.  I just love it!

I couldn’t agree more.

When things get tough, when the situation you’re in seems impossible, when a conflict seems to be taking its toll, when people are mean, when there doesn’t seem to be a good way out, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “Just quit!”  “Leave!”  At times, they may even call your faith on the carpet and tell you you don’t have enough faith to quit or leave or step out.

persevereBut sometimes, in some of the toughest situations in my life, the radical act of faith is to stay.  To stay the course.  To be faithful exactly where the Lord asked me to be.

And it’s tough as nails.

But it can’t be any tougher than Christ.  He was nailed to the cross for sins He didn’t commit.  Lest we forget – He is God!  He could have taken Himself off that cross.  He could have silenced the mockers instantly.  He could have done some ‘radical’ action.  But His radical action was His humble faithfulness.

Or think about the trials Paul faced.   Wow.  Shipwrecked how many times?  Beaten how many times?  In prison how many times?  Stoned how many times?  In danger from natural forces that the Lord could have controlled… without food, drink, and warmth that the Lord could have provided… and in danger from both unbelievers and fellow believers in the Lord.  There are plenty of reasons why He could have taken another path.

“Just quit!”  “Leave!”   “You don’t need this.”  “You don’t deserve this.”  “Clearly the Lord doesn’t want you doing these things.”  “You just don’t have faith to trust God may have a different role for you.”  Who knows what kind of crazy feedback fellow believers gave him.  But I am grateful he was faithful.

He was faithful to press forward.  He brought the gospel to the Gentiles (thanks, Paul!).  He wrote almost half of the New Testament (again, thank you!). He persevered and was faithful.  He simply stayed the course.

And that is radical.

If you’re going through a tough time, a tough relationship, a difficult conflict, a draining season, a depleting struggle, of course ask the Lord for His guidance.  But know that – even if you feel alone, like no one supports you, like people question your faith, like no one understands you – your ‘big solution,’ your ‘radical move’ may be simply to be faithful.

It may be tough as nails.

But in the big picture, what matters?  There is nothing more glorious… nothing more radical for the kingdom’s sake… and nothing more radical for your life than to one day hear the words,

 “Well done good and faithful servant.”

Being faithful may just be the ‘radical’ next step you’ve been looking for.

What I would love to change

I so wish I could change it.

I so wish I could change one of the recurring themes in interactions involving judging.  I just love thinking about how much cheerier the world would be if it were different!

This is what I wish we wouldn’t miss out on ~

Judging misses an opportunity to care.

Take this story, for example…

Mindy is hanging out in the church lobby waiting for service to start.  Oh yeah!  she thinks.  Here comes Sarah, my small group leader! 

Um… but wait. 

Sarah races by Mindy with her hand up covering her face.

Um, really?  Mindy thinks.  How rude!  She’s my small group leader, and she didn’t even have the common courtesy to say hi.  And then she put her hand up to cover her face?!  I’m not two years old.  I know you’re still there.  If you don’t want to talk to me, then just tell me.  If you don’t want to be friends, there are more mature ways to let me know than to pretend like you don’t see me and that I can’t see you in the church lobby.  You clearly don’t want me in your small group. 

And on top of all that, Mindy thinks, you’re my small group leader!  This is no way for a small group leader to act.  I should find a staff person and let them know how rude my small group leader is being.  She is certainly not reflecting Christ’s love.

So that’s what Mindy thinks.  Now this is what’s going on in Sarah’s world…

Sarah is on her way to church.  She’s putzing along in traffic, all the while praying for the girls in her group.  She adores those ladies.

As she walks into church, she greets the guy cleaning the windows.  He gets startled, and oops!  Window cleaner spray goes right in her eye.  She jerks and rubs her eye… but apparently too harshly.  Her contact lens scratches her eye, and as she’s rubbing, it goes who-knows-where on her eyeball.  Ouch!  Her eye is on fire from the combination of the chemicals, the scratch, and now the super awkward – and painful – location of her contact lens.  With her hand clutching her eye, she races towards the bathroom hoping to get some relief by flushing her eye out with water.  It’s kind of hard to see and navigate through the crowd.  She prays, Lord, it would be nice if someone saw me and could come help.

Yikes, right?

Mindy feels like she has quite the case.  But does she?  When she runs her thoughts through Philippians 4:8, how will she fare?

Now what if Mindy – instead of judging and critiquing – chose instead to take captive her thoughts?  What if she chose to consider palliating circumstances?  What if she chose to not let judging and critiquing distract – or usurp – her love for her sister?  What if she had chosen instead of judging to care?

We have such a powerful opportunity as believers for our love for one another to be a testimony of Christ.  Yet judging or critiquing often causes us to miss an opportunity to care.  It can be such a sinful distraction from Christ’s call in our lives to love one another!

Simply being aware of this can keep us watchful for sin and Satan’s sneaky ways!  It can be a reminder when a judgmental thought enters our mind to ask, “Is there a way I could show love here?  Is my judging causing me to miss an opportunity to care?”

The Lord was gracious to use this in a powerfully humbling way in my life recently.  I can’t wait to tell you about it next time!

Whose team are you playing for?

The answer may not be as obvious as you think!

In my seven years of seminary, there is one moment I remember so clearly.  It was one of the most poignant gems.

I mean, it was a gem in the sense that it was a treasure – a phenomenally helpful paradigm for my relationship with others, our thoughts about one another, and our reflection of the Lord.

But I must say, my initial reaction was a bit incredulous.

At first, it seemed so strong that my natural, sort of knee-jerk reaction was to want to think it wasn’t true.  To try to think of a way it couldn’t be true.  Or perhaps, it was to *desire* that it wasn’t true.

But I kind of think it is.

I was sitting in a counseling class.  In a very average spot – middle desk in the middle row.  The professor was talking and teaching, and we were discussing and note taking. It seemed like a normal class on a normal day. And then, in the midst of the ordinary, he asked an intriguing question,

Do you know why it is such a heinous sin to falsely accuse your brother or sister in Christ?

Wow.  That really got my attention.  If I’d been daydreaming, I certainly wasn’t anymore.

Heinous sin?  Wow.

Now granted, any good philosophy student or any good logic student would have a heyday with that question.  Yes, it is a loaded question.   It carries very loaded assumptions.

The question first assumes that people falsely accuse fellow believers.  Maybe it’s not as egregious as a total, out-of-the-blue, radical sin – I don’t know many of us who walk around falsely accusing people of murder.  Maybe the false accusations are more subtle: “You were selfish when you did this.” “You acted entitled when you did that.” “You expect us to serve you.”  “You were arrogant when you made that comment.”  I mean, those things might be true.  But they might also be false.  There are many reasons why a person may have done what they did or said what they said.  And to presume to know the motive of a man’s heart – Yikes.  That’s way above all our pay grades!

So maybe such ‘false accusations’ are simply just mistakes.  Maybe they’re really just mistaken accusations.  Or misperceptions, perhaps.  Should we really be calling them heinous sins?  I was intrigued to see how my professor was going to answer it.

We all sat there sort of like deer in headlights processing this hugely loaded question.  Would the response justify its wording?

And this was his answer:

Because that’s what Satan does.

Um, yikes.

That had to sink in a bit.

The devil is the false accuser of the brethren.

Wow.

I mean, that’s true.  I can’t argue with that.  That’s how he’s described in Revelation 12:10.  In fact, that is what his name means: devil means ‘false accuser.’  He attacks people’s character as he did in Job 1-2.

But the implication?  Wow.

So the devil is the false accuser of the brethren.  That’s true.  He attacks character.  And as the rest of the chapters in Job illustrate, others can quickly follow suit.

When they do… when they join in being a false accuser of fellow believers… um, whose team does that most resemble?

  • Christ’s – our advocate before the Father
  • Or Satan – the accuser of the brethren

It’s a bit stunning.

I must say that I think my professor’s question is merited.  It seems indeed to be a sin if we’re rallying on the wrong team.  But ‘heinous’?  Oh yikes.  Yet I think even this word is merited.  Playing for the wrong team is indeed dangerous – and has potentially been called worse.  Traitors – whether intentionally or unintentionally – give a path for the enemy to advance.

Such a stunning question with such convicting implications.

And such revealing implications as well. Committing to a singular conviction of challenging people according to God and His Word – not speculated motives – is a huge threat to the devil.  He likes it when he can trick us into taking jabs at other believers.  He loves the help.

So whose team will you play on?  You may get a little pushback from the weakening devil.  But squashing heinous sin is worth it – Amen?

1 Key to a Valuable (not destructive!) Confrontation

I share the following with great – well, ‘trepidation’ is too strong a word.  Maybe with great respect for the Enemy… but with confidence in the Lord, His Word, and His application of Scripture in our lives.

Last year, our small group read a great book – David Platt’s Radical.

We were in the midst of his chapter on community – all about how we all join together to fulfill God’s purpose.  I just love the vision and truth he brings to light.  As Jesus is preparing to go to the cross, he recounts to the Father his ministry to the world: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).

Platt notes the intriguing things that Jesus does not include in his summary of his works on earth:

What is shocking is that when Jesus summarizes his work on earth, he doesn’t start by reliving all the great sermons he preached and all the people who came to listen to him.  He doesn’t talk about the amazing miracles he performed—giving sight to the blind, enabling the lame to walk, and feeding thousands of people with minimal food.  He doesn’t even mention bringing the dead back to life.

Instead, this is what Jesus includes in his summary of the work God gave him to do:

Instead he talks repeatedly about the small group of men God had given him out of the world.  They were the work God had given him.  They were, quite literally, his life.

I love that.  Platt emphasizes that the way you change the world is by investing in a few.

With the task of taking the gospel to the world, [Jesus] wandered through the streets and byways of Israel looking for a few men… He was initiating a revolution, but his revolution would not revolve around the masses or multitudes…. All he wanted was a few men who would think as he did, love as he did, see as he did, teach as he did, and serve as he did.  All he needed was to revolutionize the hearts of a few, and they would impact the world.

It’s a fascinating ‘mega-growth’ strategy – the power of a small group.

So we started talking about our small group and the power of community.  The power of being a band of disciples.  The power of investing in one another’s lives. The power of challenging one another.

Then I asked a question that I think ruffled the devil a bit.

As we were talking about challenging one another, I wanted to explore what is was that made for an effective challenge of another.  Sometimes challenges feel helpful, growth-oriented, and inspiring towards the Lord.  Other times, they feel demeaning, destructive, and persnicketily critical. What is it that makes a challenge one or the other?

So we looked at the passage David Platt discusses in this chapter – John 17.  I just love this passage! Jesus prays to be glorified, then he prays the most incredible, passionate prayer for his disciples and then for all believers.  It is such a beautiful and exciting – if not a bit challenging – vision of what he desires for us to be as His body of disciples.

The verses Radical was specifically talking about were 6-19, Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, so we camped there for our answer.  What is it that makes this investing in one another’s lives and challenging one another valuable and not destructive?

Listen to Christ’s intense connection to and commitment to God and His Word:

I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.

Yum – there is so much wonderfulness in this passage!  We’ll just briefly recap a couple things about Christ:

  • “I have revealed you”

Christ – part of the Godhead! – was focused not on teaching the disciples things he thought were valuable and important.  As part of the Godhead, He certainly could teach his thoughts, opinions, and preferences on how the disciples interact and relate. Instead, he was focused on revealing the Father.  The things he focused on with the disciples pertained to revealing God.

  •  “I gave them the words you gave me.”

Christ’s focus was on passing along God’s word.  Jesus knew that everything given to him comes from God.  Even Christ – part of the Godhead! – didn’t throw in his opinion regarding what to challenge people on and teach people.  Instead, he focused on the things that came from God – the words God gave.  And glory!  The disciples accepted them.

That leads us to a couple things about the disciples:

  • “They have obeyed your word”

Christ’s first description of his disciples’ actions was that they obeyed God’s word.  He knew that’s what the Father cares about – that they align their hearts and lives to God’s desire.  And they did!  He didn’t describe his disciples as having been accomplished, obeying the right social customs, or doing what people thought they should do.  His focus is on their obeying God’s word!

  • “They accepted them”

The disciples accepted Christ’s words – that is, Christ’s words that were God’s words.  They knew with certainty that Christ came from God – and that his words were from God.  And they accepted them!

So I’m guessing you’ve picked up on the theme here: Christ’s focus was on revealing God and giving the words God gave, and the disciples obeyed and accepted because they knew the source was God.

So what’s the answer to our question?

Q:  What is it that makes challenging one another valuable and not destructive?

A:  When our focus is on revealing God and His Word.  A challenge is valuable when we know the source is God.

Jesus was so tightly committed to this.  His prayer mentions this concept over and over from several angles.  And Jesus was part of the Godhead!  If He emphasizes how important it was for him to focus on revealing God and His Word, how much should we?

Now can I say that this focus, commitment, and passion scares the silliness out of the devil.  Or maybe it is more accurate to say it scares the silliness into the devil.  He does not like when a group of believers becomes committed to this.  I have experienced it firsthand… and can so understand Jesus’ passion that his ensuing prayer is for protection:

Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one… protect them from the evil one.

A singleness of purpose so committed to revealing God and His Word – and nothing else – is a huge threat to the devil.  We’ll talk about why more in our next post.

Knowing that reveals its power.  Knowing that this gets the devil up in arms – knowing that committing to this means we need to pray for protection from the evil one – highlights that this is crazy, powerful stuff.  This is the heart of the kingdom.  This is the marrow of the gospel.  God’s word, God’s thoughts, God’s opinion – and nothing else.

I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

Oh what joy it brings!

Question: What is a way that you can be sure the challenges you make to others are from God and His Word? This is a great way to increase joy – in your life as well as in the lives of others!  Feel free to leave your thoughts below.

Picture: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

Bumbles and Stumbles and Oughts – oh my!

After I became a believer, I started church shopping.  I was looking for a church that taught the Bible… but that also didn’t have a bunch of extra rules that weren’t in the Bible.

As I began exploring this new-to-me Christian world, I kept kind of stumbling.  I’d be going about my business, and {bump}!  Oops!  Something I apparently shouldn’t do.  Or {stumble}!  Oops!  Somethinig else I apparently ought not do.  I just kept on with a {bump} and a {stumble} into all kinds of shoulds and oughts!  But when I looked in Scripture, I couldn’t find anything that supported some of these things as overarching directives.

Then {bump}!  Then {stumble}!  Oh my!  ‘Man’ sure had a lot of shoulds and oughts!  How in the world to navigate them all?

Yet in the midst of the bumbles and stumbles, I was loving my time with the Lord!  I was a new believer enjoying walking with the Lord – and loving becoming transformed to His ways as outlined in His Word!  And oh my – there is a lot in there! I kept thinking, “Maybe once I get this stuff down, then I’ll be interested in exploring your oughts and shoulds.”

And yes, I’m laughing as I type this!  Fourteen years later – and after seven years in seminary – oh, wow!  I can hardly think of one verse I think I totally have down and totally always live out well.  By God’s grace, I’m sure trying!  But in God’s mercy, I’m not always succeeding.

So *maybe* one day I’ll be interested in other people’s oughts and shoulds, but for today, I’m going to major on the things in Scripture.  There’s plenty in there for me to work on!

Trayvon and Zimmerman: Crosshairs or the Cross?

As people rally around Trayvon’s family, I am moved by all the support.

Support I love.  Support in grief is invaluable.

But part of me is deeply, deeply concerned.

As I hear so many things espoused in this intense situation, I can’t help but think of Philippians 4:8 – to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.

Now whether or not Zimmerman did that is one issue.

But that’s not the issue we answer for.

We answer for our thoughts.  We answer for whether or not we are thinking things that are true – actually, factually true.  Noble.  And pure.

All of our thoughts.  Including our thoughts about George.

Now I know this may sound extreme.  But negatively defining a person by telling them what they are, what they think, and what their motives are is a pretty intense thing.  It’s actually called verbal abuse.

Now what Zimmerman did or did not do, again, is his.  But what we do is ours before the Lord.

So should we be negatively defining his motives as racism?

Now I’m not trying to defend the guy.  I’m not saying he’s for sure not a racist.  As far as I am aware, the actual, factual truths include this: George is a Hispanic man who has black family members, black friends, and tutors students of all races, including blacks.   He may indeed, in the midst of all of that, have some sort of racist something in him.  Anything is possible.  But given his life – given the actual, factual truths (and not my emotions) – it seems like there could at least be a sliver of a possibility that he is not racist.

If I stand before the Lord and call this man a racist, and the Lord instead finds a man who reached out to people of other races, what does that make me?  Yikes.  I’m more than wrong.  At best I am an abuser.  A sinning abuser.  And at worst?  Well, there is a bounty on his head.

We may never be sure exactly what happened and exactly what the motives were.  But what is for sure is our Lord.  And what is for sure is His command to us.  He tells us to think things that are true – actually, factually true.  And he tells us to think things that are noble – what is a possible noble explanation?

Not thinking so is sin.

What is ours to answer is not whether Zimmerman had pure thoughts.  What is ours to answer before the Lord is whether we have pure, noble thoughts.

Will our reasoning be correct?

Never violate the principles of God in order to gain or maintain the blessing of God. ~ Charles Stanley

We mustn’t circumvent God’s principles in order to arrive at our conclusion.  Is racism wrong?  Absolutely.  I believe racism so saddens the One who created every person on this planet – including both Trayvon and George.  Is George Zimmerman a racist?  Our job is to follow God’s principles as we consider this man He created.  Our job is to view others through the cross – not crosshairs!  We must be careful not to violate the principles of God to get to a blessed conclusion.

I am so saddened about Trayvon’s death and for his family.

But I also have great concern that in our emotion, we still honor our Lord and His desires for every step of our hearts and minds.

Opining folly

I hope you enjoyed our Tale of Three Kings discussion!  Before I exposed my sucker-ness for free things : ), we were getting ready to launch into a spicy part of thinking things that are Philippians 4:8 lovely:

Now as we’re talking about keeping from becoming critical, it almost feels like there is an elephant in the room.  You know, the big Christian elephant.  The one that everyone wonders:  Why are Christians so judgmental?

Since having lovely thoughts includes not setting our minds on criticism, since judgmental thoughts are, well, critical, and since Christians are so well known for being judgmental, I think it’s important we dig into this… and dig into it well.

I want to begin our discussion with a perhaps controversial statement.  Are you ready?  Here we go:

Christians have too many opinions.

Yes.  Total folly.

Yet another Christian with yet another opinion.

… about opining nonetheless!

But I think we can do better.

Maybe I’m the only Christian who, as I’ve learned new truths of Scripture, has gone through seasons where my application of those truths has been more judgmental than helpful, and more destructive than what Christ intends for our hearts.  Maybe it’s just me.

And maybe I’m the only one who has experienced the destructive effects of others’ judging.  Maybe I’m the only one who has gone through seasons where the Lord has repeatedly allowed the painful impacts of opining.  Maybe it’s just me.

If it is, then these posts will at least help me sort through all of that.

But maybe – just maybe – they can be helpful for all of us.

Maybe they could really enliven our relationships so that our lives and interactions are filled with grace, care, and love infused into the truths that matter.

I think we can do better.

And I think we’ll enjoy the result.