You Don’t Have to Write Devotionals

I follow the Facebook page of someone who is not a household name, but is well known in certain circles. I don’t know her personally, but she and her husband have ministered to my family for decades. She writes of her husband’s declining health, the decisions that need to be made about his care, memories of their life and ministry together, funny stories from the past and present, etc. I’ve been thankful for her transparency, the way God has used her family, and the way He provides for her in myriad ways now.

In one post, however, she lamented talking about herself too much. The next day, she posted lessons from a passage of Scripture.

I had never thought of any of her previous posts as talking about herself too much. I had been encouraged to see God’s hand in her life and the strength and grace He gave her. While I hope I never have to walk the road she is on, her example taught me that God will help if He calls me to that. She reminded me that a life used and blessed by God is not always an easy one and that shining moments occur along the way.

Devotionals are good. Bible studies are good. I’ve been blessed and helped by both.

But I’ve also been blessed and helped by seeing God’s hand at work in someone’s everyday life.

A couple of my favorite bloggers, who, sadly, are no longer blogging, had what I called homemaking blogs. Their blogs weren’t how-to articles. The ladies just shared what was going on in their lives, but their spirit showed through and instructed me. They talked about the Lord in a natural way as part of everything they did.

I was startled to realize recently that Jesus didn’t say, “Be a light to the world.” He said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14a). If we’re believing Him, obeying Him, walking with Him, His light will shine through us.

I’ve shared a few times before an incident found in Isobel Kuhn’s book, Second Mile People:

Isobel shared that at a certain Bible conference, she met a sweet, winsome girl named Dorothy. Isobel was not yet a believer, and Dorothy hoped to speak to her about the Lord. But when they took a walk together, Dorothy didn’t get a chance to share, and she felt like a failure. Isobel wrote later that Dorothy was

unconscious that the one she had hoped to help was going away enchanted with this glimpse into the very human sweetness of this Christlike girl. ‘…I felt His Presence when you laughed just now….’ The Spirit-filled life cannot ‘fail’, it is fruitful even when it may seem least to have done anything. That walk gave Dorothy ‘influence’ over me when a ‘sermon’ would have created a permanent barrier. In fact at that time I carried a mental suit of armour all ready to slip on quietly the moment any ‘old fogey’ tried to ‘preach’ at me!”

Oswald Chambers says, ‘The people who influence us most are not those who buttonhole us and talk to us, but those who live their lives like the stars in heaven and the lilies of the field, perfectly simply and unaffectedly.’ A great mistake is to think that a Spirit-filled man or woman must always be casting sermons at people. Being ‘filled with the Spirit’ (which is a first qualification of Second Mile People) is merely a refusing of self and a taking by faith of the life of Christ as wrought in us by His Holy Spirit. “We must take the Spirit’s fullness, as we take our salvation, by faith in God’s promise that He is given to us.”

This isn’t saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary,” as is often mistakenly attributed to Francis of Assisi. Not only did Francis not say this, but it’s an unscriptural idea. The very gospel is words, words Jesus wants us to share with others. Later in Isobel’s book, Dorthy did get to share the gospel with her more clearly, at a time when Isobel was ready to receive it.

But those words don’t always have to be in the form of a “lesson.” If we walk with the Lord, His Spirit will fill us and infuse everything we do.

God can use those gifted at unfolding truths from Scripture in ways that help others understand.

But God also uses any kind of writing or speaking that testifies of His working in our lives, acknowledging His provision, protection, fellowship. When someone tells of how God met their need or manifested Himself to them in some way, I’m drawn in.

I have known some people like Dorothy who seem to reflect Christ and carry a “sense of Him” in everything they do, every word, action, and attitude. Something of Him shines through even when they are talking about everyday activities. That only comes from spending much time with Him in His Word and prayer and being filled with His Spirit.

May I live so close to Him that people always sense His presence.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Kindness

I shouldn’t look. But sometimes on Twitter a name or situation in the “Trending” sidebar catches my eye. So I click over. And I am usually sorry I did. All too often, the trending person or group is the subject of undeserved vitriol and ridicule.

Most people would say that the world should be kinder. If only people would just be nicer to each other, we think, then the world would be a better place to live. Wars, murders, and injustice would cease.

But then someone disagrees with our politics, and we lambast them. Or someone cuts us off in traffic, and we call them all kinds of names. Or we see someone wearing a mask while inside their car, alone, and we take to Facebook to make fun of them.

In the earliest days of the pandemic, I got in someone’s way in a store without thinking. As the young man passed me, he looked in my eyes, pulled his mask down, and told his companion, “I hope she gets COVID. I hope she dies from it.” Seriously—to wish death on someone for a minor inconvenience?

If we want a kinder world, we can’t wait for everyone else to make the first move. We need to evaluate our own words and attitudes.

Well, sure, we might say. We need to watch our temper. We probably shouldn’t get on Facebook or Twitter to vent. But, seriously, there are some people . . . like the guy who just will not listen to reason. Or who is totally wrong about the best way to handle immigration, economics, or whatever.

Sadly, many Christians are nor faring any better in the kindness department. Some are gracious and loving online. But many are harsh and judgmental, quick to argue instead of listen, answering in superiority instead of humility. We desperately need revival.

Kindness doesn’t mean passivity, never taking a stand, or never disagreeing. But I think it must at least involve assuming the best rather than the worst motives and not stooping to the lowest levels in the way we answer people made in the image of God, people Jesus loves and died for.

We’re to treat other believers as family: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1-2). To unbelievers, we should shine as lights. We should be inviting, treating them as those we want to come into the family.

Jesus told his disciples, in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

How is it that we apply this to everyone else under the sun, except the person who irritates us the most?

God doesn’t just give good things to those who believe on Him. He “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” He went so far as to die for people who were his enemies:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

And we’re called to be like him.

We can’t do that in our own strength. We need His.

The world at large won’t understand this. But maybe if they see it in action, their eyes might be opened, their hearts more receptive to the truth.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Focus Determines Direction

When we first started house-hunting in eastern TN, I observed that there were few totally flat lots here in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. Some houses had driveways so steep, I knew I could never get up and down them on my own.

The hilly land had an effect on roads as well. Many streets had a significant drop-off on one side—with no guard rails. Most were not steep enough to be fatal if one ran off the road. But many would cause injuries or bang up a car pretty well. Some roads were pretty scary even with guard rails.

Naturally, I tried to watch the edge of the road in order to stay in my lane. But when I did, I found myself veering in the direction I was looking.

Sometimes I’d be so concerned about getting too close to the edge, I’d overcompensate and drift in the oncoming lane.

Driving some roads here was nerve-wracking for me unless I disciplined myself to watch the road ahead.

It’s natural that the rest of our body will be drawn to what our eyes are focused on.

It’s natural, too, that our hearts will be drawn toward what our thoughts focus on.

When we focus on our fears, we remain stuck in them.

When we focus on our weaknesses, we remain discouraged and defeated.

When we focus on a sin we’re trying to overcome, that’s all we can think about.

When we fill our thoughts with someone who hurt us, we remain wounded.

How do we move forward?

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord (II Corinthians 3:18).

How do we behold Him?

In His Word:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27).

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me (John 5:39).

In His house:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory (Psalm 63:1-2).

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple (Psalm 27:4).

In repentance:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

In prayer:

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth (Psalm 145:18).

I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces shall never be confounded. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. (Psalm 34:4-6).

When we’re driving, we have to glance around us and in our rear-view mirror sometimes. But to get where we’re going safely, our sustained focus needs to be on the road ahead.

In life, we can’t spend every moment in prayer or Bible reading. We have God-given responsibilities to families, communities, workplaces, dwellings. But a sustained focus on Him in His Word and prayer will help keep our sets set on Him in everyday life. Robert Murray McCheyne said, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief!”

I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. . . .You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:8, 9, 11).

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26).

May we always respond like David when he said, “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek'” (Psalm 27:8). We have His promise, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

(Revised from the archives)

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Don’t Forget the Hope

The church we attended when my sons were teens wanted to emphasize the need for modesty among the young women. Speakers shared that women displaying too much flesh or too-tight clothes could cause men to lust. Men are aroused visually, we were told, and therefore women and girls should take care how they present themselves visually.

I didn’t realize until years later that this information created a problem for one of my sons. If he was aroused visually, how was he supposed to respond when immodesty came into view through no fault of his own? It’s not that he had an extraordinary problem with lust, but he felt bombarded by what he saw constantly on billboards, in stores and public venues, and yes, even at church. He felt like he was at the mercy of temptation in a world that didn’t value modesty. The battle seemed impossible to win.

He spent his college summers volunteering at a Christian camp. One year the camp had a new director who had previously been an evangelist. At one meeting with the counselors and staff, the director happened to share about a time when his plane landed in a tropical country. Women surrounded the disembarking passengers and placed leis around their necks. To this man’s astonishment, the women were topless.

One of his listeners asked, “What did you do?”

The evangelist replied, “I looked in their eyes.”

That one statement was a watershed moment for my son. When faced with temptation, there was a way out—just as the Bible said. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Evidently previous youth leaders and pastors were so intensely concerned about modesty that they forgot to present the other side of the issue: that God can give men victory even when women are immodest.

It’s true that women should be modest. The Bible tells us so. The problem comes in defining exactly what that looks like. But women shouldn’t have the attitude, “I should be able to wear whatever I want, and men shouldn’t look.” If we had a friend we knew was trying to lose weight, we wouldn’t serve her doughnuts, would we? Or if a friend had credit card debt and spent money too easily, we probably shouldn’t invite them to a mall shopping spree. Yes, people are responsible for their own sin, but we don’t have to make it harder for them.

And there is a higher principle for women’s dress than not tempting others. We are daughters of the king. We should honor Him in how we dress. I’ve often thought that if our young people were encouraged more in their inner walk with the Lord, getting to know Him better in His Word, the outer standards would take care of themselves.

But this post isn’t primarily about modesty. It’s about remembering to share hope with our children, students, readers, those whom we’re discipling. Sometimes we’re so passionate about whatever we’re warning against that we forget to offer the hope that God extends to His people.

I attended church only sporadically until I was about sixteen. Then God led me to a Christian school and a good church where we were encouraged to read through the whole Bible.

I was not taught a works-based salvation or a performance-based Christian life or the eradication of our sin nature. But somehow I didn’t understand sanctification, though I’d heard the term. I was grieved to the core when I sinned. I knew I could confess my sin to God (1 John 1:9) and be forgiven. But then I’d sin again, either the same way or in a different way. I despaired of ever living a Christian life without “messing up.” I was almost afraid to step out and serve in some ways, because I knew I’d fail.

Maybe it just took a while before everything I was learning about the Christian life coalesced. But one year in college, a guest speaker preached a sermon on grace. Of course, I knew about grace: we were saved by grace and lived by grace. I don’t remember the details of the message, but I remember being so relieved. God knew I would “mess up.” He expected growth, but He knew I would continue to fall short until I reached heaven. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).

Sometimes the very weight of God’s requirements is what drives us to His grace. We realize we can never live the Christian life on our own, and we need His help. Some years later, I was praying for forgiveness for something, and told the Lord I didn’t deserve His forgiveness and was asking for His grace. Then the light dawned—my Christian life was dependent on His grace all along.

Another pastor taught the truth that we’ll always have a sin nature because what the Bible calls the flesh or the “old man” is still with us and will be until we get to heaven. I remember feeling deflated. You mean I am going to have to battle this all my life? This was a godly, balanced preacher, so I am sure he went on to share how to have victory. But I think I missed it because I was stuck on this point.

Then some time later, I came across 2 Peter 1:3-4:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

All things that pertain to life and godliness. All things! It was then that I realized I could truly live for the Lord. Not a sinless life. But a victorious one.

I wish I had taught these things more to my children. I was still learning them myself. The big emphasis in Christian parenting books when I was a young mom was on teaching obedience. And that’s good and necessary. If children don’t learn obedience to their parents, they’ll never learn to obey God and other authorities. If they never learn to rein themselves in, they’ll be a slave to their own desires and will. But I wish I had talked more about God’s grace not only for forgiveness, but enabling. I know we taught them to ask God for forgiveness. I’m pretty sure we encouraged them to ask Jesus to help them. But I wish I had shared grace more.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “Choices will continually be necessary and — let us not forget — possible. Obedience to God is always possible. It is a deadly error to fall into the notion that when feelings are extremely strong we can do nothing but act on them” (from The Glad Surrender). Obedience is not always easy. But it’s possible, through His power and grace, by way of His Word and His Spirit.

The Bible is permeated with hope. Some of the sternest warnings of the OT prophets were accompanied by some of the tenderest expressions of God’s love and longsuffering and readiness to forgive. The New Testament is filled with encouragement to look to and depend on God’s promises to equip and supply us with everything we need to live for Him.

One of my college professors was known for encouraging a “positive faith attitude.” Not just a baseless positive thinking or a Pollyanna-ish optimism, but a positive trust in God’s presence, Word, grace, strength, and provision.

There’s every indication that life might get harder for Christians. The world is ebbing ever further away from a Judaeo-Christian ethic. Our flesh isn’t getting any weaker, and the enemy of our souls is ever persistent. But God is greater than them all.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

When the World Weighs Heavy

I don’t watch the evening news, but I’m still flooded with the sometimes unspeakable suffering across our globe.

Haiti is suffering the aftereffects of a major earthquake. Japan has experienced an earthquake, floods, landslides. Potentially devastating storms from tropical depressions and hurricanes hit our coasts. Horrible stories are coming out of Afghanistan, with more to come as the Taliban takes over.

And these are all on top of the long-term worldwide pandemic we’re still dealing with, made worse by the division over how to respond to it. Several friends have had COVID, some severely. A nurse friend tells of staff exhaustion and patient suffering in the COVID ward of her hospital.

As Christians, we’re concerned that our country and world are ebbing ever further away from biblical truth. We wonder what kind of world our children and grandchildren will face.

Plus we have personal concerns. A friend is taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s alone. A dear older lady is in the hospital with severe pain from an old hip replacement. Others have varying issues to deal with.

All these things weigh heavily. How are we supposed to go about everyday life with so much suffering and wrong in the world?

Well, maybe we aren’t.

There are times in life to stop everything, pray, fast, mourn. The 9/11 attacks here were like that. Everything stopped as we watched the news coverage, grieved, and prayed for those affected and those helping.

But at some point, the needs of life intrude. Laundry must be done, the family must be fed, family members must go to work.

Perhaps our concerns can guide how we do our tasks and how we think while we do them.

The world’s news can:

Inform our perspective. Disappointment over an activity canceled due to weather pales when I learn that Afghani Christians are being killed if a Bible app is found on their cell phones.

Remind us how small we are and how much we need God.

Remind us to pray. We can’t save the world. The sheer magnitude of suffering and sorrow in the world is overwhelming to us, but not to God. Some years ago I received this prayer guide from Voice of the Martyrs:

Remind us to weep with those who weep. Particularly concerning those believers undergoing persecution, Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

Remind us this life is not the end. The world isn’t getting better and better until we reach utopia. Jesus said there would be wars, earthquakes, famine, pestilence, persecution. Heaven will be a place of no tears, pain, or sorrows, but on earth we’ll have plenty of each.

Remind us God cares for our sorrows. He “doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33, KJV). Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) and wept with those who grieved.

Remind us to cast our cares on Him. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). I love Octavius Winslow’s phrasing in his poem: “Nor fear to impose it on a shoulder which upholds the government of worlds.”

We need to remind ourselves as well that though it sometimes looks like the world is in chaos, God is still in control. As the old hymn says, “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.” Olympic runner Eric Liddell became a missionary in China. As the Japanese army committed atrocities leading up to WWII, Liddell wrote, “Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins. God’s love is still working. He comes in and takes the calamity and uses it victoriously, working out His wonderful plan of love” (Eric Liddell, The Disciplines of the Christian Life [London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1985], 121–122).

Why does God allow these things then? That would be a question for another post. He has many reasons for allowing suffering, and we can trust that He has a purpose. As Joni Eareckson Tada has often said, “God permits what he hates to accomplish what He loves.” Sometimes God is not as concerned about removing calamity or persecution as He is about accomplishing His will in people’s hearts through them.

While we wait for His purposes, timing, and help, everyday life can be wonderfully grounding. Elisabeth Elliot wrote that in the aftermath of her husband’s death, she would sometimes feel overwhelmed not only with grief, but with new decisions and tasks she had to take on as a jungle missionary without her partner. She was helped by an old English poem which said, “Do the next thing.”

The poem says, “Do it immediately, do it with prayer, do it reliantly, casting all care. Do it with reverence, tracing His hand who placed it before thee with earnest command. Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing, leave all resultings, do the next thing.” That is a wonderfully saving truth. Just do the next thing.

There may be tangible ways we can help those suffering. James reminds us not to just wish people well, but to give what they need. (I would caution great care, however, about the charities that seem to spring up overnight to help the most recent calamity victims. Research organizations or ask for recommendations from people you trust.) Sometimes even our small everyday tasks help towards meeting someone’s need.

But sometimes there’s nothing we can physically do to help someone. We can pray along with Jehoshaphat, “We are powerless . . . We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Why Aren’t Christians More Loving?

A friend asked a question recently that I have been pondering ever since I read it: Jesus said His disciples would be known by their love. So why are some non-Christian people more loving than Christians?

It’s not a new question. It’s one I have considered before.

And it’s a general question. Many Christians are very loving and kind and put me to shame. And there are unbelievers who are most definitely unloving and unkind.

But the observation still stands, especially if you spend much time on social media. Christians, who should know better, can be just as vitriolic as anyone else. Worse, they would probably not describe themselves as hateful. So how do they miss the total lack of love in their responses?

The fact that people who don’t know God in a personal way can be kind hearkens back to our being made in the image of God. The fact that we have a distinction between kindness and hatefulness even before becoming Christians points to God putting that in our hearts. He made us like Himself, but that image has been marred by the fall of humankind into sin.

C. S. Lewis pointed out that people can be nice and still be rebels against God. In Mere Christianity, Lewis brings up a placid Dick Firkin and a nasty Miss Bates. You would think by their personalities that he is the Christian and she is not, but it’s the other way around.

You cannot expect God to look at Dick’s placid temper and friendly disposition exactly as we do. They result from natural causes which God Himself creates. Being merely temperamental, they will all disappear if Dick’s digestion alters. The niceness, in fact, is God’s gift to Dick, not Dick’s gift to God. In the same way, God has allowed natural causes, working in a world spoiled by centuries of sin, to produce in Miss Bates the narrow mind and jangled nerves which account for most of her nastiness. He intends, in His own good time, to set that part of her right.

The question is what Miss Bates’s tongue would be like if she were not a Christian and what Dick’s would be like if he became one. Miss Bates and Dick, as a result of natural causes and early upbringing, have certain temperaments: Christianity professes to put both temperaments under new management if they will allow it to do so.

But it does seem like, especially with redeemed temperaments, Christians should be more loving than they often appear to be. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

So why aren’t we more loving?

I don’t know all the reasons, but here are a few possibilities:

We feel “safe.” We know we’re saved by grace through faith, not by our good works (Ephesians 2:8-9). But we forget we’re saved unto good works (verse 10). Because we expend no effort in order to be saved, we forget there is effort involved in living the Christian life. The Bible describes Christian life sometimes as a battle or a race. We don’t become Christians and then coast our way to heaven without paying any attention to our words and actions. We should be continually growing in grace and the knowledge of Christ and bringing our words and actions more in line with His.

We know Biblical love is not just a feeling. One of my former professors defined agape love as a “self-sacrificing desire to meet the needs of the cherish object.” But that, even more than warm feelings, should spur us on to be careful of our words and actions, to sacrifice that desire to lash out.

We stand for truth. Sure, love involves telling the truth, and the truth can be hard to hear. But we’re to speak the truth in love. If love is a self-sacrificing desire to meet the loved one’s needs, how loving is it to club them over the heads with truth? How is that meeting their needs? It seems, rather, that it’s driving them further away from the very truth they need.

We misread Biblical examples. One man with a harsh demeanor felt he was following the example of the OT prophets. But who were the prophets preaching to? Israelites who were worshiping false gods and showing marked injustice to their neighbors. Some point to Jesus’ stern words to the Pharisees as an excuse to speak that way generally. But the Pharisees were those who added to God’s requirements and led people astray. These were serious issues that could lead people to a devastating end. We don’t need to address every disagreement in these ways. Somehow people who want to be as fiery as OT prophets miss the compassion and pleading those same prophets express. They also miss the NT admonition to “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:23-25).

There are different tiers of differences in our beliefs and practices. At the very top are things one must believe in order to be a Christian. If you don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God or that you’re a sinner, you don’t understand true salvation yet. Doctrines like the virgin birth of Christ are vital, but people probably wouldn’t be able to articulate them or understand why they are important before becoming a Christian. (There’s a difference, of course, between not understanding something and rejecting it.) People have a variety of interpretations about end-time events or styles of worship, but can still fellowship together. Further down are differences that are not clearly spelled out in Scripture but that we derive from Scriptural principles. Some people don’t have television or Netflix in order to avoid setting worldly images before their eyes, but they shouldn’t insist that no one should have those things.

The problem is, some Christians treat everything as a tier one issue. I’ve seen Christians argue for their choice of a lower tier issue with more vehemence than they would a more crucial doctrine. Romans 14 tells us to allow for differences on these lower-tier issues without despising or passing judgement, even when our choices are better or wiser in our own eyes..

We’re not listening. We’re instructed to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19). We’re warned that “He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs 18:13, NKJV). This is what I most often see in online exchanges: it’s easy to share a drive-by response without taking the time to truly understand the nuances of what has been said in context. Not taking time to truly hear leads to making assumptions

We have blind spots. I was going to write a post specifically on our blind spots, but then I remembered I already had, here. God told the Laodicean church in Revelation, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). In Malachi, God leveled a number of charges against His people, but they, in essence, said, “What are you talking about?” We need to pray, as David did, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). And if someone mentions something to us—especially if a number of people comment that a stance we took or an answer we gave was unkind, we need to prayerfully and humbly look into it. We know—or we should—that we’re not perfect and have a lot of growing to do. Spurgeon said:

Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be. If he charges you falsely on some point, yet be satisfied, for if he knew you better he might change the accusation, and you would be no gainer by the correction. If you have your moral portrait painted, and it is ugly, be satisfied; for it only needs a few blacker touches, and it would be still nearer the truth.

We’re not forbearing. We’ve forgotten we’re “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

We want to be right more than we want unity. I’ve written several times that we can be both right and kind. When people say we should choose being kind over being right, I am concerned that they want to cut corners of truth that we shouldn’t in order to be unified with those whom we shouldn’t be. But there is a sense in which we hold our own opinions higher than anyone else’s and feel the need to leave a verbal smack-down with those who disagree. This has been a big temptation with all the differences over masks, vaccines, opinions about how the church should respond. etc. How are you supposed to be in fellowship with people in your church who have ridiculed your views on Facebook? I’ve had to “hide” some people who constantly ranted against my own (unstated) positions because it was constantly stirring up hurt feelings and wrong responses. We really don’t have to say everything we think. And for love of the brethren, we should be able to disagree on issues without demeaning those we disagree with. We need to show grace.

One of the lower-tier issues in NT times was what kind of foods were okay to eat (whether the OT food laws were still in effect, whether it was okay to eat food that had been offered to idols). Paul said, “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God” (Romans 14:20). We need to be careful that we’re not destroying the work of God over COVID or politics or anything else.

We fail to hallow God’s name in all we do. In what we call the Lord’s prayer that Jesus taught to His disciples, the first request is, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” The ESV footnote says “hallow” means “Let your name be kept holy, or Let your name be treated with reverence.” This involves not only carefulness about how we use His name, but carefulness in how we act as those who bear the name of Christian.

We’re basically selfish. This is my biggest problem, not so much in public verbal arguments, but in everyday life.

We feel superior. We lack the humility to acknowledge we might be wrong or might have misunderstood or might not have the full picture.

We assume the worst. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says love “believes all things, hopes all things.” One pastor put it something like “Love cherishes the best expectations of others.” Instead of jumping on what others have said and assuming their meaning or motives are bad, we need to assume they have the best intentions until we find out otherwise.

We fail to see people as God does. If they are not Christians, they’re not going to be led to consider the claims of Christ by people who handle those claims with an air of superiority or hatefulness. If they are believers, they are His precious ones, future glorified saints, fellow citizens of the household of God, sons and daughters of the King. C. S. Lewis said there are no mere mortals. They are our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Perhaps thinking of someone as a sibling makes you think of conflict. But we should love family even if we don’t always get along.

We’re not filled with the Spirit, Whose fruit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

We’re not gazing enough on Christ. “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). How do we behold Him? In His Word. Is it possible to spend time in the Bible every day and still not behold Him? Yes, if we’re just performing a duty, or if we’re not specifically looking for Him in the passage, or if we’re trying to fit Him into our preconceived notions.

Of course, we’ll never be perfect in this life. But we should be growing, becoming more like Jesus, more loving, until we’re truly.

It’s comforting to know that even someone Iike Elisabeth Elliot struggled with these things. In talking about meekness in her book Keep a Quiet Heart, she says:

But how shall I, not born with the smallest shred of that quality, I who love victory by argument and put-down, ever learn that holy meekness? The prophet Zephaniah tells us to seek it (Zephaniah 2:3). We must walk (live) in the Spirit, not gratifying the desires of the sinful nature (for example, my desire to answer back, to offer excuses and accusations, my desire to show up the other’s fault instead of to be shown my own). We must “clothe” ourselves (Colossians 3:12) with meekness–put it on, like a garment. This entails an explicit choice: I will be meek. I will not sulk, will not retaliate, will not carry a chip.

A steadfast look at Jesus instead of at the injury makes a very great difference. Seeking to see things in His light changes the aspect altogether.

May God give us grace to “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Strengthening Others

If someone had said to me personally, or before our church congregation, “I want to strengthen you today,” I would have thought, “Well, thanks, but only God can do that.”

But during my last trek through Acts, I noticed several times the Bible said someone strengthened others. That gave me pause. How did they strengthen others? Why did the Bible phrase it that way instead of saying God strengthened them? I made a note to come back and look at those occurrences some time, and did that last week.

According to BibleStudyTools.com, the Greek word for “strengthen” in these passages means “to establish besides, strengthen more; to render more firm, confirm.” The KJV and a few other translations use “confirmed,” but most use “strengthened.” There are synonyms to this word all through the Bible, but this particular Greek word seems to be only in Acts. So for now I confined my study there.

In the first passage, Acts 14:19-23, men came from Antioch and Iconium and stoned Paul and left him for dead. But Paul got up, traveled to another city, and preached there. Then he returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch—the very places that men had come from to stone him—and began “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (v. 22).

You can imagine how the disciples might have been shaken. If this could happen to Paul, it could happen to them. These guys had who stoned Paul had traveled to another city to do so—what would they do to Christians in their own towns? But Paul encouraged them: Yes, we’ll face persecution. It’s part of the Christian life. But this is the true faith.

Matthew Henry says in his Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume VI.—Acts to Revelation:

But is this the way to confirm the souls of the disciples and to engage them to continue in the faith? One would think it would rather shock them, and make them weary. No, as the matter is fairly stated and taken entire, it will help to confirm them, and fix them for Christ (p. 185).

Henry then goes on for several paragraphs bringing up other verses that talk about persecution being part of the Christian life and something even Christ experienced. 

The rest of the passage says they appointed elders in the churches, prayed, fasted, and “committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (v 23). No doubt these were an outworking of Paul’s encouragement.

In the second passage in Acts 15, some men were teaching newly-believing Gentiles that they had to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses (verses 1, 5). The apostles and elders met together to discuss the issue. “After there had been much debate,” Peter shared his experience of being taught by the Lord that God “made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” To put them under the OT law would be “placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear. But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Paul and Barnabus followed with their experiences reaching Gentiles. The council confirmed that the Gentiles did not have to keep the OT ceremonial law and just asked them to observe a few things. They sent a letter with Paul, Barnabus, Judas, and Silas to the brethren in Antioch. “And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words” (verses 31-32).

Here the disciples were strengthened with truth and the rest that comes from grace. Instead of coming under a religion of works that they could never live up to, they could rejoice in the grace of God. One commentary here noted “Their work was the very reverse of those who had previously come from Judea ‘subverting the souls of the disciples (Acts 15:24).'”

The rest of the verses, Acts 15:40-41; 16:4-5; and 18:22-23, just mention that Paul, along with various companions, traveled place to place strengthening the disciples.

So from these passages, we can draw out these principles of how the apostles strengthened others:

Their presence. The elders in Jerusalem sent a letter, but they sent it with people to deliver personally, who then went on to strengthen them. Paul went back to several churches he started, watering the seed that was planted, encouraging them in person.

They shared truth and grace. God gives us strength through His Word. “Strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:28b). The passage where Paul was persecuted presages Peter’s later epistle encouraging disciples not to be surprised at persecution, but to “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” The truth encouraged them. Then the Acts 15 passage brought them back to the foundation of grace rather than the added-on works of tradition.

They showed loving concern. Paul was so concerned for the disciples that he went back to the city of those who stoned him to encourage them. Though he was the one who had suffered, he wanted to strengthen them. Matthew Henry says of Acts 16:4-5, “that spirit of tenderness and condescension which appeared in these letters plainly showed that the apostles and elders were herein under the guidance of him who is love itself” (p. 203). What a contrast to the Pharisees, who protested at people being healed on the Sabbath in violation, not of God’s law, but their own, and who were so full of hate that they sought to have Jesus killed.

They were empathic. I love Peter’s empathy when he asks why they would put a heavy yoke on the new disciples that they had not been able to bear themselves.

Paul didn’t lessen the truth that persecution would come, but he encouraged them to bear it for Christ.

There is a sympathy that weakens and a sympathy that strengthens. One thing that stood out to me in Walter and Trudy Fremont’s book from many years ago, Formula for Family Unity, was this thought:

Parents should not take the grit out of their children’s lives by protecting them from every hardship, blow, or disappointment. Remember, adversity strengthens character. . . .

Children are resilient; they can take a lot if Mother doesn’t make them feel abused and neglected by an overly sympathetic attitude. Such a statement as, “Oh, honey, it’s so cold out there; I’m afraid you’ll freeze on your paper route,” produces a negative attitude in the mind of the child. Mother ought to say, “When you finish your paper route, I’ll have a cup of hot chocolate waiting and a good breakfast” (pp. 103-104)(2).

The mother’s second statement acknowledges the child’s difficulty and her sympathy, but in a way that braces him for what he has to face rather than leaving him wallowing in self-pity.

We can do the same as we interact with others. Sometimes we slap truth on like a band-aid without taking time to enter into another’s situation. No wonder what we say hits them the wrong way instead of ministering to them. Instead, Jesus was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15, KJV). Since He “has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15b-16).

Why does Acts say the apostles strengthened others instead of saying God did or the Word of God did? Strength actually came from God and His Word, but He sent it through His messengers. God often works through people. How we need to be faithful messengers, loving, caring, personally interested, sharing truth and grace.

Matthew Henry sums it up perfectly:

[Paul] preached that to them which strengthened them, which confirmed their faith in Christ, their resolutions for Christ, their pious affections to him. Disciples need to be strengthened, for they are compassed about with infirmity; ministers must do what they can to strengthen them, to strengthen them all, by directing them to Christ, and bringing them to live upon him, whose strength is perfected in their weakness, and who is himself their strength and song (p. 240).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Under His Shadow

It’s hot. I’ve run errands in a high temperature, humidity, and heat index. My car has air conditioning, but the seats are hot and the AC takes a few minutes to cool off. After several hot-then-cool transitions, I’m feeling a little nauseated.

When I get home, shoes come off, the AC is turned up, the ceiling fan is turned on. I get a cold drink, and I sit down to cool off and dry out. I may even have ice cream or a root beer float.

Not so many years ago, all those options weren’t available. We didn’t have central air conditioning in our house when I was a child. We didn’t even have a room unit. We attempted to take parent-mandated naps with windows open and an oscillating fan cooling off head or feet, but not both at the same time.

When my aunt bought a home with central air, I thought it was so luxurious to nap in the coolness of her room with dark blue curtains that shut out the sunlight.

In older times, and even now in some countries, refuge from the scorching heat is first sought in shade: under a tree, in the shadow of a building, anything that will put a barrier between people and the blazing sun.

Shadows can represent many things: the Bible uses the metaphor of shadows to illustrate the brevity of life or the nearness of death. But often Scripture speaks of shadows in reference to God. His shade provides:

Protection. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 17:8). David prayed this seeking refuge from enemies. We can pray it when weary of a world that opposes God or weary of our own fight against sin. Some of those seeking David’s life were a former friend and his own son. People will fail us: God never will.

Refuge. Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by (Psalm 57:1).

Provision. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights (Psalm 36:7-8).

Joy. For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy (Psalm 63:7).

Shelter. He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2).

For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall (Isaiah 25:4).

Keeping and care. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore (Psalm 121:5-8).

Delight and sweetness. As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste (Song of Solomon 2:3).

Forgiveness and fruitfulness. The prophet Hosea pleads, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, ‘Take away all iniquity” (Hosea 14:1-2a). God promises that if they will do this, “I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. . . . They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine (Hosea 14:4-7b).

In the March 30 reading of Edges of His Ways, Amy Carmichael wrote, “If the Bible had been written in England, there would not have been nearly so many words about the comfort a shadow can be. But it was written in countries where the heat could be very great and where great open plains of burning sand make the shadow of a great rock something to be remembered.” She then shared her poem “I Follow Thee,” which captures the idea of shelter from heat as well as Israel’s flight from Egypt:

Shadow and coolness, Lord,
Art Thou to me;
Cloud of my soul, lead on,
I follow Thee.
What though the hot winds blow,
Fierce heat beats up below?
Fountains of water flow –
Praise, praise to Thee.

Clearness and glory, Lord,
Art Thou to me;
Light of my soul, lead on,
I follow Thee.
All through the moonless night,
Making its darkness bright,
Thou art my heavenly Light –
Praise, praise to Thee.

Shadow and shine art Thou,
Dear Lord, to me;
Pillar of cloud and fire,
I follow Thee.
What though the way be long,
In Thee my heart is strong,
Thou art my joy, my song –
Praise, praise to Thee.

Are you hot, weary, depleted, in need of shelter and refuge? Come under His shadow.

This is a beautiful piece based on the Song of Solomon passage, set to music by Elizabeth Poston: “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree”:

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Battling Anger, Frustration, and Impatience

You might not suspect it, but I have a short temper sometimes. I don’t yell. I grew up with yelling and didn’t want it in my home. But I tend to seethe silently, which is no better (and certainly isn’t healthier).

Of course, some anger is justified. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” But the next verse warns, “and give no opportunity to the devil.” There are a number of warnings in Proverbs and other Scriptures about the dangers of anger.

What trips me up most often are dumb little things. Like trying to get one coat hanger, which somehow makes others fall down. Or the easy-open package which doesn’t live up to its description. Or tossing a plastic bottle into the recycling bin only to have it bounce out and roll under the car.

When a flash of anger or frustration or impatience flares up, I pray for forgiveness and try to gain the right perspective.

I pray for patience. People say not to do that because, since “tribulation worketh patience” (Romans 5:3, KJV), you’re asking for more tribulation. But I am asking for grace to respond better when even these minor tribulations show up.

Lately I’ve wondered if there’s a way to head that flare-up off at the pass. “Good sense makes one slow to anger” (Proverbs 19:11). So I sat down one afternoon and sought some good sense “to be renewed in the spirit of [my] mind” (Ephesians 4:23).

We live in a fallen world. Stuff will go wrong. The computer will mess up just as I was finishing my work. Ants will find their way into my kitchen, despite having a whole big world outside to explore. Weeds will grow faster than plants. Ever since the fall of man in Genesis 3, life has been harder than it was before.

In my early adulthood, we didn’t have the plethora of personality profiles we do today. No one had heard of the Enneagram or Meyers-Briggs. All we had to go by were the four temperaments. Some Christian books on the subject were very helpful in understanding myself. But it was a preacher who shared in passing something that was a big eye-opener to me. He mentioned that melancholics (my personality type, but not meaning sad) liked things to be right. They’re often seen as critical (and can be), but that’s an outgrowth of wanting to fix what’s wrong.

But there’s no way I can personally set everything right, from hard-to-open packages to social justice. I can only do what’s before me to do. I ask God to set things right and pray for grace to deal with the everyday frustrations of life.

Who am I, that I should expect everything to go my way? I’m running late and get frustrated with red lights, as if the whole transportation system should rearrange itself for my benefit. I get angry at the driver who cut me off or took the parking space I was aiming for, as if I had a right to those spaces over him. A lot of my frustration boils down to selfishness.

Giving way in small things makes it easier to give way in big things. I used to think it wasn’t necessarily wrong to take anger out on an inanimate object when I was alone. It didn’t have feelings, and I wasn’t ruining my testimony. But letting myself “lose it” in those moments just makes it easier to keep responding the same way. As the old hymn says:

Yield not to temptation,
For yielding is sin;
Each vict’ry will help you,
Some other to win;
Fight valiantly onward,
Dark passions subdue;
Look ever to Jesus,
He will carry you through.

Ask the Savior to help you,
Comfort, strengthen and keep you;
He is willing to aid you,
He will carry you through.

H. R. Palmer

Impatience and frustration are not Christlike. “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Yes, Jesus got angry. But when He overthrew the money-changer’s table in the temple and cursed a fig tree, those incidents were not flash-in-the-pan exasperation or losses of temper. They were a demonstration of His authority and a small preview of the judgment to come. In His dealings with everyday people, He was meek and kind.

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.(1 Peter 2:21-23)

The fruit of the Spirit. Last week I talked about not just “don’t-ing,” not just concentrating on what we’re not supposed to do, but pursuing what we are supposed to. For the past few weeks I have been asking God every morning to fill me with His Holy Spirit and work out His fruit in my life. Then I recite the fruit of the Spirit to myself: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Keeping those things at the forefront of my mind will hopefully incline me more toward them than the flesh.

Meditating on God’s Word. In addition to the passage about the fruit of the Spirit and anger, verses like these melt my anger away:

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:30-32)

Anger and frustration are not worth the consequences, physically (high blood pressure, headaches, etc.), mentally (letting the next minutes be ruined by a sour attitude over some frustration) or spiritually.

Remember little things are just little things. Don’t let them foment into a bigger problem.

Take practical measures. Stop struggling with the package and just get the scissors. Leave the house with a cushion of time. Set reminders so I don’t forget things.

Let God use frustrating circumstances for good. Elisabeth Elliot wrote in Keep a Quiet Heart:

Everything about which we are tempted to complain may be the very instrument whereby the Potter intends to shape His clay into the image of His Son–a headache, an insult, a long line at the check-out, someone’s rudeness or failure to say thank you, misunderstanding, disappointment, interruption. As Amy Carmichael said, “See in it a chance to die,” meaning a chance to leave self behind and say YES to the will of God, to be “conformable unto His death.” Not a morbid martyr-complex but a peaceful and happy contentment in the assurance that goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives. Wouldn’t our children learn godliness if they saw the example of contentment instead of complaint? acceptance instead of rebellion? peace instead of frustration?

Elisabeth once quoted what George MacDonald said in What’s Mine is Mine: “Because a thing is unpleasant, it is folly to conclude it ought not to be. There are powers to be born, creations to be perfected, sinners to be redeemed, through the ministry of pain, to be born, perfected, redeemed, in no other way.”

A Chinese proverb says, ‘”A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.” 

Amy Carmichael once wrote:

The hardest thing is to keep cheerful (and loving) under little things that come from uncongenial surroundings, the very insignificance of which adds to their power to annoy, because they must be wrestled with, and overcome, as in the case of larger hurts. Some disagreeable habit in one to whom we may owe respect and duty, and which is a constant irritation or our sense of the fitness of things, may demand of us a greater moral force to keep the spirit serene than an absolute wrong committed against us. [Houghton, Frank. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur. (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1983), 86-87]

I make my prayer Colossians 1:11 (KJV): “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.” Not just patient and longsuffering, not just “grin and bear it,” but joyful!

What helps you to battle impatience, frustration, and anger?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Don’t-ing or Doing?

In my early Christian life, a lot of teaching I heard seemed to emphasize what we as Christians don’t do. We don’t dress like that. We don’t listen to that kind of music. We don’t watch those programs. We don’t play those games. We don’t use that kind of language.

During part of this time I had a job in retail sales. I wanted to be a good testimony. I politely said no to invitations to places I didn’t feel comfortable going with my coworkers. I quietly absented myself from certain conversations. My style of dress was noticeably different from that of others. They knew I didn’t do a number of things. Some were even kindly protective of me, careful not to put me in situations where I might be uncomfortable. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, what these actions (or inactions) indicated to my coworkers and customers. They knew I was “religious.” But could they tell the difference between me and an adherent of any number of other religions? They saw my standards, but did they see my Jesus?

The Bible does have a lot to say about what we should not do. Freedom in Christ doesn’t mean we live any way we want to. God’s command for our holiness filters down into every part of our lives, and our love for Him does influence our choices of dress and entertainment. We need to understand what things are wrong. We need to realize we’re innately drawn towards wrong. Paul said, “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7). It’s important to remember the Bible’s warnings against sin. Some people fall off-balance by minimizing or even overlooking the “don’ts” in the name of love and positivity or an effort to be inoffensive.


But the Bible doesn’t stop with a list of “don’ts.” “So flee youthful passions,” 2 Timothy 2:22 says. But it goes on to say, “and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

Colossians 3:5-9 tells us to “ Put to death ” or “put away” “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry . . . anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another.”

But the passage doesn’t stop with “putting off.” “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (verses 9-10). The next verses enumerate what that new self we put on looks like:

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 (verses 12-17).

Ephesians 4:17-32 has similar instructions to “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (verses 22-24). We trade lying for truth (v. 25), stealing for honest work (v. 28), corrupt talk for edifying words (v. 29). We don’t let anger linger (v. 26), and we replace bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice with kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness “as God in Christ forgave you” (verses. 31-32).

We’re not aiming just for “positive thinking”: we’re seeking a balanced focus. “Putting on the new” not only keeps us balanced, but it actually helps us put off the old. We have known of preachers who have fallen into sexual sin after years of preaching against it. Surely a number of factors contributed to their fall, but one may have been an undue focus on the forbidden.

Erwin Lutzer shared a helpful illustration in How to Say No to a Stubborn Habit: if someone tells you not to think of the number eight—suddenly that’s all you can think about. The more you try not to think about it, the more it fills your mind. But if you start thinking of other numbers or working equations, you’re distracted from eight.

Likewise, if I try to diet by repeating to myself, “Don’t eat chocolate cake, Don’t eat chocolate cake, Don’t eat chocolate cake,” what is my mind filled with? Chocolate cake. I’m thinking about it so much, I am likely to give in and have some. But if I turn my thoughts toward other things I can eat, chocolate cake lessens it’s hold on me. Now I can focus on the positive, on what I can do rather than what I can’t.

Years ago I read in a forgotten older book about “chastity meetings.” The author didn’t elaborate, but evidently these meetings were held to help young people make a decision to pursue purity. His wise advice was, “Have your chastity meetings, but then go on to another subject.” If every single week these young people were warned about sexual sin and urged to avoid it, their thoughts would be filled with it just like mine would be with the chocolate cake I needed to avoid.

Concentrating on “doing” rather than just on “don’t-ing” not only helps us avoid sin and pursue good, but it presents a better testimony. If all we talk about is what we don’t do, we sound either curmudgeonly or self-righteous.

Pursuing the positive also creates joy in Christ rather than mourning what we can’t do.

But we don’t follow a list of impossible good works in order to gain favor or rack up points with God. We focus on these good traits not to become righteous but to demonstrate that God has changed us and made us righteous. The Ephesians passage mentioned above says the goal is to  “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (verse 13). It also says we effect these transformations by being “renewed in the spirit of [our] minds (v. 23) and because that’s the way we have learned Christ (verses. 20-21). Romans 12:2 tells us “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Colossians 3:10 tells us our “new self…is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

How do we renew our minds in the knowledge of Him? By beholding Him in His Word: “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. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). As we see Him in His Word, we get to know Him better, and we become more like Him. As we pursue the pure and good and holy, the lesser things fall away.

(Revised from the archives)

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