When the lines aren’t clear

I’ve been trying to cut down on sweets, so I set a guideline that I’d only have them twice a week. I didn’t want to make it a hard and fast rule: I wanted to allow room for special occasions, unexpected gifts, etc. I had done this before with success and without incessant cravings until a family vacation threw me off course for a while. But while trying to get back on track this time, cravings were rampant.

One day last week I was planning to go grocery shopping and bring home Chick-Fil-A for lunch afterward.  My previous habit for that restaurant was to order one of their chocolate chip cookies, which would become warm and gooey from being placed on top of the sandwiches in the bag. I looked forward to that experience again . . . except for my nagging conscience. I was still within my two-sweet limit. But it was early enough in the week that having the second sweet now would make the rest of the week difficult. So the better part of wisdom would be to forego dessert this time. But my mind sought justification for indulging. “Eating a cookie isn’t a sin, after all. And this is a special occasion: it’s not like I go to Chick-Fil-A every day.”

For hours I justified myself but did not feel completely at ease. Finally something came up which caused me to put my grocery shopping off until later, sidestepping the problem. But the whole experience set off a cascade of thinking.

We’ve all known people with the attitude, “If you can’t show me chapter and verse why something is wrong, you can’t say it’s wrong.” And we’ve probably all thought that way at times. In sane moments we can set wise principles. In temptation or longing, we go beyond principle. We want a definite line in the sand, and we’ll even look for ways around that.

I’ve often wondered why God left some matters to conscience rather than spelling out His preferences. Exactly when does enjoying good food cross over into gluttony? What are the parameters of modesty? What constitutes “going too far” in a physical relationship before marriage? What is the defining line between acceptable and worldly music? What is and is not acceptable on the Lord’s Day?

Some of these and like matters allow for differences in stages of spiritual maturity. Maybe God left some things open for evaluation in order to give people room to grow. The more we grow in the Lord and in knowledge of His Word, the more we become like Him. Also, some standards change with the culture: no one imposes standards of modesty from the 1850s to the current day.

But I’ve often thought that these matters expose our hearts. What’s our basic motivation? Do we really want to please the Lord, or do we just want an excuse to do our own will? Can we follow the spirit of the law, or do we have to have the letter spelled out?

Or do we go to the opposite extreme of legalism? We don’t know where the lines are, so we draw our own. We set our standards high, feel self-righteous when we keep them, and then judge everyone who doesn’t measure up.

If God hasn’t spelled out specifics in some of these areas, and people on different sides of the issues still love God and want to please Him, then do these issues really matter? Well, yes they do. Romans 14 gives several guidelines. Do everything you do as unto the Lord (verses 5-8). We’ll give account to Him for all we do (verses 10-12). Don’t just follow what someone else does, but be fully convinced in your own mind (verses 5, 22-23). Don’t judge or despise someone who differs from you in these matters (verse 3). Don’t think just about yourself, but think also about the effect your actions might have on others (verses 14-21). Seek for what makes for peace and edifying (verse 19).

1 Corinthians helps as well:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial.
“I have the right to do anything”–but I will not be mastered by anything.
(6:12, NIV).
“I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.
(10:23b, NASB).

The freedom we have in Christ is not freedom to do anything we want: it’s the freedom to seek His grace to yield to Him and reign ourselves in for love of Him and others.

One of our former pastors used to say that if we truly kept the two greatest commandments, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves, we wouldn’t need the specifics laid out. Those two principles would guide everything we do. Yet, because of our penchant for seeking loopholes and exceptions and our own way, we have to have things spelled out for us. Because we don’t keep the spirit of the law, we get the letter.

But how do we make decisions for those things that are not specifically spelled out? Is our heart’s desire ultimately to to see how close we can get to the line of sin without going over — or to please God, glorify Him, and love others?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee,
Porch Stories, Share a Link Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth.

Links do not imply 100% endorsement of everything on others’ blogs)

Grace and Truth

Advertisements

Trusting or Grasping?

We know God has promised to meet our needs, so we pray about them. Then, because the needs are legitimate, we’ve prayed about them, and we have every right (or so we think) to expect them to be met, we push, pull, grasp, or demand instead of trusting.

One example in the Bible is Rebekah. God told her that the twins in her womb would become two nations, one would be stronger, and the older would serve the younger. Rebekah favored the younger, Jacob, perhaps because of this prediction, perhaps because her husband favored Esau, perhaps because Jacob’s more domestic personality meshed better with Rebekah’s – perhaps all of the above. But instead of waiting to see how God would work out His will, Rebekah manipulated and deceived in order to edge Jacob ahead of the game. Not only did Jacob follow her poor example, becoming a manipulator himself, but he had to flee Esau’s wrath, and Rebekah never saw her son again.

Or consider Sarah. God had promised that Abraham would have a son who would bless the nations. But years passed, and Abraham and Sarah had no child. So Sarah decided to help God out and persuaded Abraham to sleep with her handmaid, Hagar. The negative results of that action continues on today in the conflicts between the descendants of Abraham’s sons with Sarah and Hagar.

It’s not wrong to “put feet to our prayers” within God’s will. We trust God to meet our financial needs, and sometimes He does that miraculously, like Peter’s tax money in the fish’s mouth and the widow’s cruse of oil that didn’t run out. But most often He provides for our needs by providing work. When we ask God to meet someone else’s needs, He might lay it on our hearts to be part of the answer by helping them.

But manipulation comes in when we think God isn’t answering in the time or the way we feel best. Instead of waiting to be led by Him, we jump ahead with our own great ideas. Or we’re so afraid our needs won’t be met, we grasp them to ourselves like a football and run over or knock down any obstacles in our way.

Here’s an example. I function best with some time alone. I love the people in my life, and I love the happy chaos of time together. But I get easily over-stimulated and tense without some degree of quiet solitude. So I used to stake out my quiet time and then resent anyone who intruded into it or prevented it. Then I’d get all the more tense.Or I would ignore promptings to minister to others because I needed my solitude instead of trusting God to provide it another time.

When I sought time to write amidst a busy and unpredictable schedule, I’d get frustrated when no time seemed open and either whine or lash out inwardly against the circumstances in my life.

When I needed peace in an anxious moment, I grew frustrated that it wasn’t coming.

None of those scenarios demonstrates trust.  God promises to meet my needs, but that doesn’t mean I can be demanding or resentful if the answer doesn’t come in the way I expected. Trusting that He is going to supply my need doesn’t mean I grasp it with both hands and hang on with all my might.

Trusting means just that. I release my stipulations, my demands, and my ideas of the best ways everything should work out. I trust that He will meet my need or enable me to get by without it, as Paul did when he learned to be full or to be hungry, to be content in any situation.

Instead of staking out my quiet time and fending off everything and everyone, I can trust that God knew my needs and will provide for them in ways I can’t yet see.

If someone interrupts my quiet time, I can remind myself that it happened to Jesus, too. I can remember His admonition to seek first His kingdom, and all these other things will be added unto me. I can see interruptions as allowed by His hand. Did you realize that the woman with the issue of blood was an interruption? Jesus was on His way to heal the daughter of Jairus when He felt this woman’s touch of faith and confronted her. The Bible doesn’t say how Jairus felt about it, but I can imagine how I would feel in his place – especially when he received word that his ill daughter died. But Jesus continued on to Jairus’ house and raised his daughter. If Jairus was stewing and fretting, he didn’t need to.

When I realized this, I wish I could say it changed my view of interruptions forever. I still have to battle resentment and remind myself that God is sovereign over those as well as the bigger trials of life.

When my children were young, I’d get to the end of the day and lament that I hadn’t found a quiet moment to read the Bible. I began asking God at the beginning of the day to help me recognize those opportune moments. And He did.

Recently, for whatever reason, I was revved up and on edge, but the rest of the day was full, and I didn’t foresee an opportunity to just chill and relax. I bought it up to the Lord, and somehow He relaxed me and helped me to enjoy the rest of the evening without stress.

I am thankful Paul said he learned contentment whether in need or not. I haven’t aced the class yet, but I am learning. God knows my needs. I don’t have to grasp for His answer or manipulate circumstances or people in order to get it. I can rest in Him, trusting Him to meet them in the way and time He knows is best and will bring Him the most glory.

 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5-7

Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall. Ruth 3:18a, KJV

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.
Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee,
And Thy beauty fills my soul,
For by Thy transforming power,
Thou hast made me whole.

O, how great Thy loving kindness,
Vaster, broader than the sea!
O, how marvelous Thy goodness,
Lavished all on me!
Yes, I rest in Thee, Belovèd,
Know what wealth of grace is Thine,
Know Thy certainty of promise,
And have made it mine.

Simply trusting Thee, Lord Jesus,
I behold Thee as Thou art,
And Thy love, so pure, so changeless,
Satisfies my heart;
Satisfies its deepest longings,
Meets, supplies its every need,
Compasseth me round with blessings:
Thine is love indeed!

Ever lift Thy face upon me
As I work and wait for Thee;
Resting ’neath Thy smile, Lord Jesus,
Earth’s dark shadows flee.
Brightness of my Father’s glory,
Sunshine of my Father’s face,
Keep me ever trusting, resting,
Fill me with Thy grace.

Refrain

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.

~ Jean S. Pigott

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Grace and Truth)

Giving of ourselves in ministry to others

So often when we want to minister to someone, we think we need to start a program or do some thing. And often we do. James warns against wishing someone well without taking the steps to meet their physical needs. Programs can be a good way to organize ministry efforts efficiently.

But programs without heart, without a personal touch, can be just a going through the motions. God is the One who touches and changes hearts. He doesn’t “need” us, but He often chooses to minister to others through His people. Paul said, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Corinthians 12:15, ESV). He speaks of being “poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith (Philippians 2:17). He didn’t just run through a program. He gave of himself.

I visited my mother-in-law almost every weekday during her five-plus years in various care facilities. I often felt more “useful” if I could do something – straighten her room a bit, bring her some mail, change her hearing aid battery, etc. – rather than get caught in the same conversational loops repeatedly. What she needed most, and what was hardest to give, was just one-on-one time and attention.

Some years ago our ladies’ group wanted to do something for the elderly ladies in our congregation. We decided to make little gift bags and then divide them up among us to deliver to the older ladies’ homes. Though they enjoyed the gifts, what they loved most were the visits. Some dear folks in one church would make little gifts or cards for my mother-in-law when she lived in our home, but they would send them home with us or someone who lived near us because we lived a distance from the church. Though we appreciated that they thought of her, a ten-minute personal visit would have been so much more effective. Even if she didn’t know the person, even if she forgot within the next hour that anyone had been there, for those few minutes she would have known that someone was interested enough in her to come and see her.

I’ve read blog posts directed to pastors about what to do when visiting members of their church who are ill. Some of the instructions urge having an agenda of talking, sharing Scripture, and praying. Those are all fine. It does help to have some idea of what to share so your mind doesn’t go blank. But from the times I have been seriously ill, I can tell you that working through an order of service or script was not what most ministered to my heart. What did minister to me was the personal looking in the eyes, empathizing, listening.

Even in our families, we often have wonderful talks while driving, cooking, etc. But sometimes we need to put everything aside and just look each other in the eye and listen.

Jesus often ministered to crowds. But then He would take a moment for a personal encounter with one person. Once He was stopped by one lady while on his way to minister to a father’s dying girl. But He had time for all of them, even though it might not have seemed that way to the father, Jairus, at first. Once He stopped a whole crowd in response to a blind beggar.

The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. ~ A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything we need to do and with all the needs we need to meet. We can easily feel depleted. But we seek His filling, His strength and grace, not our own. And we minister to the person given to us in each moment, without worrying about everyone and everything else. We trust Him for His guidance and provision as we share Him with others. When we’re filled with Him, we bring a sense of Him to others.

Programs, gifts, etc., are all fine in their place. I’ve been ministered to via each of those means. But we mustn’t forget to give of ourselves.

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
His pow’r has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!

Annie Johnson Flint

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

The humility of wisdom

When’s the last time you heard anyone say they needed wisdom? About the only time I hear anyone mention wisdom is in regard to a particular situation. “I need wisdom about this job decision.” I’m praying for wisdom for dealing with Johnny’s continued disobedience.”

But when is the last time we thought about our need for wisdom just to live our everyday lives for God’s honor and glory? We often pray that He will guide us, provide for us, forgive us. But do we pray for wisdom? Do we value wisdom as the Bible does?

Or do we plunge ahead with our day and our plans, thinking we know everything we need to and can make our own choices?

Our church has been reading through Proverbs together the last few weeks. If you’re familiar at all with Proverbs, you know it is all about wisdom. I don’t think there is a chapter that doesn’t mention it. And since we’ve been camped out there, the need for and value of wisdom have been emphasized repeatedly and in varying ways.

A full-scale study of wisdom would take more space than a blog post allows. But what struck me most during this reading is the humility of wisdom.

It takes humility to understand that we need wisdom, that to go our own way often leads us astray.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
 Proverbs 14:12

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10

It takes humility to search for wisdom, to acknowledged that I don’t have it, and no matter how much I have, I need more.

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;  yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:1-5

It takes humility to receive and instruction, and even more to receive rebuke. I was familiar with one or two verses about it being wise to receive reproof,  but I’ve noted 19 so far! Here are a few:

Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear. Proverbs 25:12

The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.
Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor. Proverbs 15:31-33

By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.
 Proverbs 13:10

If someone tries to correct us, is our first response, “I better take heed: I might gain some wisdom from this?” No, our first response is anger with thoughts of “Who do you think you are?” and “Don’t judge me!” But the Bible says the wise person listens and learns. By contrast, “A scoffer does not listen to rebuke” (Proverbs 13:1) and “He who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1).

It’s scary to think of the personal consequences of rejecting reproof: it’s even more scary to realize that my lack of listening to instruction can negatively affect others. “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray” (Proverbs 10:17).

I wonder if this lack of realization of our need for wisdom is behind our subtle ageism, even in the church. Once when visiting a new church, someone was showing us where the various classes were, and as we passed one door, our guide said, “Oh, you don’t want that one. That’s where the older folks are.” One younger lady told me she didn’t come to our ladies’ meetings because she thought only older ladies attended – even though at that time most of the attendees were just in their forties. Instead of deeming older people as worthy of our time and drawing on their wisdom, we label them out of touch, too slow, not “with it.” Proverbs honors older saints and the value of listening to authorities.

Of course, the need for wisdom runs throughout the Bible, not just Proverbs. One notable passage says:

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. Colossians 2:1-4.

May we continually seek Him and His wisdom through His Word.

IMG_1422

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth. Links do not imply complete endorsement)

Smelting the Soul

Photo courtesy of alejandro godoy at pngtree

Perhaps you’ve heard this old illustration, as I often have. When metalworkers need to refine metals, they melt them down and then have to skim off the dross, impurities, and other metals until the product is pure. The actual process has changed over the years, but it still involves smelting, separating, and removing impurities. We’re told that the way the refiner knows that his product is pure is when he can clearly see his face reflected in the liquefied metal.

All my Christian life I have heard this refining process as an illustration of God’s sanctifying us.

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts. Proverbs 17:3

Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel. Proverbs 25:4

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. Isaiah 48:10

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Malachi 3:3

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. Job 23:10

The refiner’s skill in applying just the right temperature illustrates God’s skill in adjusting our trials at just the right level. Too little “heat” might upset us but not purify us: too much might discourage or destroy us. The impurities or mixtures of other metals speaks of our need to be cleansed and purified from various sins and divided loyalties. The melting liquid shows our need to yield to the process. And since God’s goal in our sanctification is that we become like His Son, the refiner’s seeing his reflection in the melted metal is a beautiful illustration of our God’s refining and purifying us until we’re conformed to the image of His Son.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Corinthians 3:18

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. Romans 8:29a

These parallels have been a blessing in considering the process and end goal of God’s sanctifying work in my life.

But one particular aspect that I had not considered much before blessed me in a big way last week.

I’ve mentioned before that I am sometimes discouraged at my lack of love, my innate selfishness, and I often pray to be more loving. I know that the struggle between the Spirit and our flesh is a lifelong one that won’t end until we’re in heaven. Yet it seemed like, after around 45 years of being a Christian, I should be further along than I am now, and it should be less of a struggle.

But since that struggle doesn’t end until heaven, we’re going to continue to have our impurities brought to our attention. And that’s a good thing – not that we have them, but that they come to the surface so we can deal with them by confessing them to the Lord and seeking His grace to overcome them.

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Proverbs 28:13

When I first became a Christian, I was convicted of a lack of love and a need to be more unselfish in some areas. But they were probably big, obvious areas. The more I grow in the Lord, the more He makes me aware of smaller, deeper areas, like a harsh thought as well as harsh words.

The refining process is an answer to my prayer to be more Christlike and more loving. I can’t be more loving until I see the ways in which I am unloving. I can’t turn from selfishness until I see the ways my selfishness displays itself. I can’t grow more like Christ until I see the ways I am not yet fully like Him.

So instead of being discouraged that God continually shows me the ways in which I fall short, I can rejoice that He is continuing to refine me. And I praise Him for the grace that washes away all sin.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

Happy New Year!

crown-the-year-new-year-550x320

(Graphic from crosscards.com)

A New Year’s Prayer

May God make your year a happy one!
Not by shielding you from all sorrows and pain,
But by strengthening you to bear it, as it comes;
Not by making your path easy,
But by making you sturdy to travel any path;
Not by taking hardships from you,
But by taking fear from your heart;
Not by granting you unbroken sunshine,
But by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows;
Not by making your life always pleasant,
But by showing you when people and their causes need you most,
and by making you anxious to be there to help.
God’s love, peace, hope and joy to you for the year ahead.

~ Author Unknown

Wishing you all God’s best this year!

The Fatal Flaw

“If you look for the fatal flaw, you’ll find it.”

I remember a Sunday School teacher saying this in our adult class over thirty years ago, but I don’t remember the context or what we were studying at the time. His point, though, was that none of us is perfect and even the best of us has feet of clay. He was not promoting nitpicking and fault-finding; he was encouraging realism.

That saying has come back to mind many times in recent years with the advent of social media: some people use their online voice primarily for airing their for fault-finding. Sometimes one mistake is bandied about such that a person’s life or opportunity for further work or usefulness is destroyed.

Recently as I read an acquaintance’s impassioned but cryptic account of overcoming issues in her upbringing. I knew the family years ago, and the mother was a lovely woman, someone with several attributes I admired and wished I had. I’m not saying the daughter was right or wrong, but I wondered what could possibly be the problem. On the other hand, every individual family member has its flaws, resulting in the whole group being in real life something less than their perfect, smiling Instagram photos might suggest. I don’t think this is always a case of hypocrisy, though sometimes it is. Some families do hide dark secrets. But usually our collection of flaws is just real life.

As our faults bump against each other, it’s hard to know sometimes when and how to deal with them. Some sins are crimes and need to be reported as such. In cases of abuse, protection of the abused is the first order of business: then the abuser needs to face whatever punishment is due.

But with what we might call our less flagrant, more every-day flaws, we struggle with when to confront the other person, as Matthew 18 describes, and when to cover over each others faults in love (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8). One former pastor suggested that when we have tried to overlook something another person keeps doing and it keeps bothering us, maybe that’s an indication that we need to have a talk about it.

It’s better to discuss issues with other people than to assume. And it’s better to address an issue than to seethe inwardly. Back in college the only microwaves in the dorm were in the snack room with the vending machines. We weren’t allowed any other kind of cooking in the rooms besides a “hot pot” for heating water for instant coffee. One particular roommate liked to use my hot pot for loose herbal teas. I didn’t mind that except that she’d forget to clean her tea out: so in the mornings when I made my coffee, I’d have to clean out her leftover tea with the leaves floating in it. I don’t know why I didn’t just speak to her about it. I could easily do so in the same situation now. But then I just (wrongly) fumed about it to myself.

It’s far better to confront the one person whose flaw is bothering us in some way than to gripe about it to everyone else. We need to consider how our words will hurt the other person and damage our relationship. Years ago Clearwater Christian College had a song on one of their CDs with a chorus that went like this:

You can tell the Lord all the things I’ve done
that didn’t seem right to you,
but don’t tell your neighbor ’cause
he can never give me the grace to see me through.
You can tell Him all about how weak I am
and pray that He’ll strengthen me–
you can talk about me any time you wanna
but please do it on your knees.

(Author unknown)

Sometimes dealing with a person’s flaw is the most merciful thing we can do. But we need to speak the truth in love.

We also have to consider whether we know the whole story and understand the other person’s context. A long time ago my husband was acting uncharacteristically short-tempered and irritable. Instead of asking what was wrong, I just got irritable back. When we finally did talk about it, he told me there were some issues going on at work, particularly with one man that seemed to have it out for him. He had been under tremendous pressure enduring all this and trying to figure out how to respond, but he didn’t share with me what was going on because he didn’t want me to be upset about it as well. In a “prodigal daughter” story I’m reading, the daughter saw her parents through a critical, rebellious lens that colored all their actions and motives. In later years when their relationship improved, she could see more clearly. She then understood them better and appreciated them and was able to discuss the one or two areas she did have problems with in a more constructive way

We need to remember that a person’s flaws are not the totality of his or her personality.

Some years ago one of my sons brought home a report card that was fine except for one low grade. He had evidently been bracing himself for my questioning of that grade, because, when I did, he exploded: “Why do you have to focus on the one grade that’s not good?” Well, because that’s the area where there is obviously a problem. So we need to see what the problem is: do you need help understanding, did you do the assignments, etc. His response did remind me, though, that I needed to praise the good marks and not just notice the one bad one.

When someone is wearing a white shirt with a black spot, the eye is naturally drawn to the black spot. Some of us just cannot rest when we notice something not “right”: we either have to do something about it, or we’re lost to all further conversation and interaction because we’re so distracted by the one thing wrong.

Yet we can’t handle people that way, or we’ll wreck all our relationships. We’re quick to defend ourselves with “Well, nobody’s perfect” when someone points out our flaws. Or we couch our traits in the best terms while casting the other person’s flaws in the worst. I’m persistent, but she’s stubborn. I have a take-charge personality: he’s bossy. We should instead be more generous with other people and more wary of our own elevated self-evaluation. “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. (Luke 6:31).

We know not to expect perfection from other people, but we do. We react in anger, dismay, or disappointment when we come across their imperfections. We need to give them grace and make sure we understand where they’re coming from. We need to decide whether to deal with the issue in some way or overlook it, and we need to do either in love. We need to deal with others in hope for their best. We need to look at the whole person and not write them off because of one failing.  And we need to realize our own flaws as well.

But most of all we need to remember how our gracious God deals with us.Just this morning as I sat down to have my quiet time with the Lord, I was in a snippy, irritable mood. I’m not sure why: I had not even been awake long enough for anything to influence me that way. But I confessed that to the Lord and told Him I had not one iota of goodness of my own and I needed to be filled with His love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Galatians 5:22). Then I opened my Daily Light on the Daily Path, and the very first verse was a phrase from Isaiah 62:4: “The Lord delighteth in thee.” In the midst of my sins, faults, and failure, He loves me and delights in me. My heart melted.

Jesus died so that all our sins could be forgiven when we believe on Him. He has forgiven us so much more than anything we need to forgive others for. When we’re filled with His love, we can see others’ faults in perspective and love them in spite of them.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 1 Peter 3:8-9, ESV

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

Don’t lose the individual in the community

The last few years have seen a marked increase in discussion of and emphasis on Christian community. Perhaps it has been spurred by the continual drop in church attendance or the tendency, in America at least, toward individualism.

God has ordained that we operate withing the realm of Christian community, meeting together regularly, sharpening each other, practicing all those Biblical “one anothers” on each other.

I’m thankful for Christian community. I love singing in church with brothers and sisters in Christ. I love group Bible studies and the way that discussion there stimulates my own thinking. I so appreciate being able to share prayer requests and burdens with others in the family of God. I don’t know how many times someone has shared a word of encouragement or conviction at just the right moment. I appreciate that God uses other people to sandpaper off my rough edges, though I don’t enjoy the process.

But I wonder if sometimes we lose the individual in the group. A few years ago a Christian leader wrote that “We will not know God, change deeply, nor win the world apart from community.” I disagreed. Though God uses community in each of those ways, the first two occur for me most often when alone with God. Recently I saw on Twitter a retweeted comment that we should change the pronouns in our hymnbooks and Christian songs from “I” and “me” to “our” and “we.” That particularly struck me because our church has been reading through the psalms together, and I had noticed over and over again that, though they were meant to be sung together, most of the psalms speak of individual experience. We don’t need to deemphasize our individual experience with God to reinforce the idea that we’re a group. Instead, we share with each other what God did for us individually, for the psalmist or songwriter or preacher or church member,  so that we encourage each other as we go back out into our individual lives that God will help us in the same way. An article I read which shared ways to incorporate Bible reading and study offered among its suggestions that of reading or studying with another person. Though studying the Bible with someone else is a great thing to do, it shouldn’t replace time alone in God’s Word.

We can’t imagine a family in which the father relates to the children just as a group and never one-to-one. Though we enjoy much time spent together as a family, we know that our father loves each of us, with all our foibles and quirks, individually. We know that we can talk to our father alone and ask for help or advice.

The same is true in our spiritual life. We shouldn’t worship or pray or read the Bible only with other people, as great as those experiences are.

God formed us individually. We’re born again individually. When we stand before God some day, we’ll give account only of ourselves. In-between those events, there will be times we have to stand alone. David encouraged himself in the Lord when everyone was against him. Joseph stood true and faithful to God when forsaken by his brothers, torn from his family, thrust into a new living experience foreign to everything he had grown up with and opposed to everything he believed. Notice in the psalms how many times the writer speaks of communing with God alone, remembering God’s kindness while lying awake at night. In Psalm 107, amidst the description of what God has done for the nation, the psalmist notes that God “satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” Soul – singular. We’re not lost in the crowd. God sees us, loves us, and meets our personal, individual needs.

God is our Father: we need to get to know Him personally. God has blessed us with the gift of community, but that doesn’t replace our personal relationship with Himself. We need to feed on His Word and speak to Him ourselves. There will be times we have to stand alone, times when no one else is near to support or advise or lean on. When that happens, we find that He is more than sufficient for every need.

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

 

Laudable Linkage

Welcome to my latest round-up of noteworthy reads around the web:

Please Do and Don’t Assume Motives. This would solve so much. It doesn’t mean being naive.

Are You Becoming More or Less of an Encourager? HT to Challies. “The church must be an oasis for the true Christian! You must be such a great encouragement that you become a breath of fresh air for those who speak to you. Of course, we should confront sin and push people towards holiness, but when people talk to us they should feel like we care about them and, more importantly, their soul. Sadly, as life goes on and as time goes on, we can tend to become crankier and less thankful for our salvation, but the writer of Hebrews calls us to be different.”

We Don’t Need to Go Back to the Early Church, HT to Challies. I’ve heard off and on throughout my Christian life that we need to “do church” like the early church of the first century. But if you read the NT epistles, those churches were rife with problems that the NT writers had to correct.

How Can You Show Radical Hospitality as an Introvert? by Rosaria Butterfield, HT to Challies. “We need the people who are quietly listening and praying as other people are talking, discerning about things.”

Home Libraries Confer Long-term Benefits. “Home libraries are strongly linked to children’s academic achievement.”

Is Turning Off Your Notifications the Ultimate Productivity Hack? HT to Challies. Excess notifications are one of my biggest pet peeves, and I turned off most of them long ago. Especially anything that makes noise. Interesting note here that it takes “on average, 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task at hand after a distraction.”

And, finally, someone shared this on Facebook. Pretty cute.

Happy Saturday!

Because My Father Is My King

But as for Aslan himself, the Beavers and the children didn’t know what to do or say when they saw him. People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly. C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Our church is going through the psalms together and discussing a few at a time on Sundays. In many psalms, the writer pours out his heart to God pleading for mercy, justice, protection, forgiveness, revival. Often the writer comes to God out of sorts, but after a few moments of meditating on who his God is, he is set to rights and sees things clearly.

Other psalms (like 95-100) set forth God’s majesty, holiness, and greatness and our response of awe and worship.

On those occasions in Scripture when someone meets a heavenly being of some kind, like an angel, that person often falls to the ground in worship that the angel has to correct. If just an angel causes that reaction, we can understand God answering Moses’ request to see Him by saying Moses would not be able to withstand seeing the full scope of His glory and splendor. John had been the closest disciple to Jesus during the Lord’s time on Earth. Yet when John saw Jesus in all His glory in Revelation 1:17, he didn’t shake his hand, slap him on the back, cry out, “So good to see you again!” He “fell at his feet as dead,” overwhelmed.

It’s good for us to meditate on and remind ourselves of just Who our God is in all of His aspects. We don’t often think of His majesty, splendor, and greatness unless we encounter those traits in Scripture. Sometimes a glorious sunset or huge waterfall or massive lightning storm will give us a glimpse of His powerfulness and immensity.

Yet sometimes I have a hard time reconciling the greatness of God that would immerse me in awe and bring me to my knees in worship with the closeness and intimacy of my Abba, Father, described in Romans 8 and Galatians 4. It’s not that the Old Testament presents God as massive and majestic and the New Testament portrays Him as close, personal, and loving: no, both aspects are presented all through the Bible.

So one day, this illustration came to mind of a child of a king.

A beloved child played on the floor with his father and sat in his lap to read a book.  His father rocked him to sleep and comforted him when he was hurt or afraid. The child knew his father was something called a king, but he didn’t quite understand what that was or what his father did at work every day.

But one day, an affair of state required his father to wear his full royal regalia and address the nation. As the child stood with his mother and siblings, the king’s entrance was announced, accompanied by a trumpet fanfare. When the king came in, the child hardly recognized the man as his father. He looked so different in his crown and royal robe, standing so erect, receiving the applause of the audience, speaking in such authoritative and measured tones, followed by his entourage. The child was awed, but a little afraid of the king. But as his father finished speaking and turned to go back to the family residence within the castle, he searched for his son, and smiled. And then the child recognized the love in his father’s eyes and knew that he was indeed, the same daddy who had comforted him and played with him so often before.

It’s an imperfect analogy, and it wouldn’t carry over in every single point. But the gist of it helps me to reconcile how the Lord whose full holiness will overwhelm me is the same Abba Father who comforts and cares for me now.

Because my Father is my King, I can rest in His power and authority. He’s in charge, and He is just. He is both kind and righteous. He employs all the sources of His kingdom to protect me and provide for me.

Because my King is my Father, I have the closest access to Him. I can rest in His love and know He cares about every detail of my life. I have a glorious inheritance.

He is worthy of my worship, my trust, and my love.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12, ESV

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. 1 John 3:1a, ESV

O worship the King, all glorious above,
And gratefully sing His power and His love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, Whose canopy space,
Whose chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.

Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.

~ Robert Grant

(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)