When others don’t do their part

When others don't do their partYears ago, it dawned on me that when Ephesians 6:1-3 and Colossians 3:20-21 teach that children should obey and honor their parents, it doesn’t add any qualifiers. Those passages, as well as the ten commandments in Exodus 20, don’t say “Obey your parents if they are Christians” or “if they are perfect” or “if anything.”

Some time later, I noticed that these passages mentioned responsibilities on both sides of relationships.

  • Wives submit to husbands as unto the Lord (Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18); Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25; Colossians 3:19).
  • Children, obey and honor your parents (Ephesians 6:1-2; Colossians 3:20); Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21).
  • Servants, obey as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart (Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25); Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1). (I wrote about slavery in the Bible here. Generally we apply these verses to employee/employer relationships these days.)

Beyond these, the Bible speaks of relationships between people and rulers. When Paul in Romans 13:1-6 and Peter in 1 Peter 2:13-17 spoke of obeying and even honoring rulers, do you know who their ruler was? Nero, one of the worst rulers ever.

Then, most of the epistles speak to how we’re supposed to act towards our fellow church members.

Now, as an aside, we know from other passages of Scripture that we obey authorities unless they ask us to do something sinful. Then we have the right to refuse. And this passage does not give parents or spouses or anyone else the right to be abusive. If you’re suffering from abuse, please let a trusted teacher, doctor, neighbor, or someone know.

But for the purposes of this post, we’re just talking about everyday normal interactions.

In all of these pairs of relationships, it’s easier for one side to do their part if the other person is doing theirs. It’s generally easier for a wife to submit to a husband who loves her like Christ loves the church. It’s easier for a husband to love a wife who isn’t always at cross purposes with him. It’s easier to parent cooperative, obedient children; It’s easier to obey parents who are loving and nurturing. And so on.

But the Bible doesn’t say to do your part only if the other person does his.

It just says to do your part as unto the Lord.

That doesn’t mean we can’t discuss what’s wrong in a relationship. That’s healthy to do, even to call in help when needed.

But sometimes the grace shown by doing our part even when the other person doesn’t can lead to conviction, restoration, and encouragement.

We’re not only to love and do good to our friends and closest loved ones. Jesus said we’re to love, pray for, and do good even to our enemies.

God exemplifies this for us. In most of His relationships with His people, they fail. There are a very few people in Scripture against whom no sin is recorded. That doesn’t mean they never sinned, because we’re all sinners, except for Jesus. It just means their wrong-doing wasn’t pertinent to the narrative about them. It may mean they sinned less than others. But the point is this: there is no fault, no failing, on God’s side. We fail Him often. But He doesn’t stand apart, arms folded, rescinding His promises because we didn’t keep ours. He pursues us in love, drawing us to Himself, leading us in His goodness to repentance. Jesus died for us when we were His ungodly enemies. He didn’t wait for us to clean up our act first. He knew that was impossible. Yes, God disciplines and chastens, but in love. He’s always faithful to His own.

And, by His grace, He calls us to be faithful to Him and to the others we have relationships with.

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:21-25, NKJV).

It’s natural to want to strike back or withhold love or respect or obedience when the other person fails to hold up their end. Doing so only widens the chasm. And as Christians, we’re not called to react naturally, but supernaturally—something we can only do with God’s help. We seek His grace do the right thing. “Do not be overcome by evil,” or failure or disappointment, “but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection (Colossians 3:12-14, NKJV).

Romans 12:21, overcome evil with good

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Laudable Linkage

Welcome to another gathering of great reads discovered this week:

Imperfections Make Sundays More Beautiful, HT to Challies. “I’ll admit it: these human quirks and errors sometimes exasperate me. I’m here to focus on the Lord! Your awkwardness is distracting me from worship! So mutters my self-righteous heart. Perhaps the real problem isn’t with the clumsiness of others, but with our expectations for corporate worship.”

The Bible: Reading the “Ordinary” Way, HT to Challies. Good thoughts about taking the Bible “literally,” how metaphor is used, etc.

Are You Different Enough? 5 Ways to Use Differences in Your Relationship.

The 17 Phrases That ‘Scare’ Introverts the Most, HT to Lisa. This was posted before Halloween, thus the “scary” faces.

Heartwarming Photos of Acts of Kindness, HT to Lisa.

Back to the Sources, HT to Linda, on cases of what were probably inadvertent plagiarisms by Christian authors (see the comments for how it could possibly have happened).

The 2018 Modern Mrs Darcy Gift Guide for Book Lovers, HT to Linda.

As we look ahead to Thanksgiving in the US this week:

There seems to be a theme running through most of the posts I’ve read concerning Thanksgiving so far this year: the fact that thankfulness isn’t an emotion, but an act of the will, and not always easy. Here are a few:

Gratitude Is a Gift for All Seasons. “To intentionally call to mind images of gratitude in the midst of peace and prosperity is one thing, but it takes a sinewy faith to summon them when chaos reigns and the future looks bleak.”

Being Grateful Ain’t Always Easy (Or Is It Just Me?)

Thankfulness From Those Who Suffer.

Time Out for Thanksgiving

For some Thanksgiving fun:

Free printable Thanksgiving trivia, for use as a game or conversation starter

Thanksgiving Bingo.

Thanksgiving Word Search Place Cards, HT to Laura.

And, finally, a couple of my favorite Thanksgiving quotes:

Happy Saturday!


Laudable Linkage

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

The Error of Counterfeit Holiness. “Making holiness primarily consist of externals confuses what holiness is versus what holiness does. Defining holiness by what it does leads to works-dependence. Defining holiness by what it is leads to God-dependence.

How Self-esteem Ruins Bible Reading.

Share Ministry, Even If It’s No Big Deal, Because It Actually Is, HT to Challies.

Why I Abandoned Seeker Church, HT to Challies. Lots of good thoughts here.

Difficult Relationship? Write an Action Statement.

Our Bodies and Birth Trauma This Side of Eden, HT to True Woman.

God Calls Me to Motherhood and Art. How Do I Do Both? HT to Story Warren.

The Spiritual Discipline of Driving With the Radio Off, HT to Linda. I do like the radio or an audiobook on in the car, but I need and treasure silent moments in other parts of the day.

And finally, a couple of thoughts from Pinterest:

Happy Saturday!

Sandpaper Christians


Some years ago I read a book by a Chinese Christian whose life was severely impacted by the mercurial demands of his mother. In that culture at that time, respect for elders was taken to extremes, and neither this man nor his wife felt that they should ever confront his mother. He wrote of the Lord using the situation to smooth some of his rough edges, like a pebble that has been worn round and smooth by being tossed and bumped around in a stream. I wish I could remember the book title or author’s name, because I would love to revisit this book. (By the way, I am not suggesting that mothers-in-law should act that way or that adult children shouldn’t sometimes have some frank discussions with their parents, but this was how this man felt led in his time and culture.)*

Around that same time, there was a lady at the church I was attending who, I am sad to say, really rubbed me the wrong way. Unfortunately, that says more about me than it does about her. She was not mean or unkind. I won’t go into the details about what I found so irritating, but I had just about decided that the best way to keep positive thoughts about her and to keep peace in my heart towards her was just to avoid her as much as possible. Then one January, our ladies’ group at church drew names for “secret pals” from others in the group: our primary duty to our secret pal was to pray for her, but we were also encouraged to send notes and small gifts through the year. Guess whose name I drew. Yes, that particular lady. I was tempted to put her name back and draw another, but I decided that was petty, and this woman was one for whom I was supposed to especially pray that year. And praying for her did help. I began to understand a little of why she acted the way she did and, though we never became very close friends, I saw her in a different light and my attitude changed.

I don’t remember exactly when those two incidents happened in relation to each other, but in my mind I connected them, and began to think of my “secret pal” as a sandpaper Christian, one designed to smooth off some of my jagged edges.

Though I have moved away and lost touch with that particular lady, it seems like I almost always have one or two sandpaper acquaintances in my life. Again, that is a sad commentary on me more than a reflection on them. I admit sometimes I wonder who is sandpaper to them, but God reminds me that’s His business, and He is working with each of His children to help them grow more Christlike. And, sadly, though I am not aware of being an irritant to anyone else, I am sure I am unwittingly sandpaper to somebody.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote in A Lamp For My Feet (and it encourages me that she felt this way about some people, too, sometimes):

How can this person who so annoys or offends me be God’s messenger? Is God so unkind as to send that sort across my path? Insofar as his treatment of me requires more kindness than I can find in my own heart, demands love of a quality I do not possess, asks of me patience which only the Spirit of God can produce in me, he is God’s messenger. God sends him in order that he may send me running to God for help.

We’re all made in God’s image and deserve each other’s respect for being His creation if nothing else. That image is marred in each of us not only because sin in general entered the world, but because each of us has our own particular sinful tendencies. God loved us “while we were yet sinners,” and since He wants us to love as He does, that means loving others who are still sinners, who aren’t yet perfect, who don’t have their act completely together yet. And if the other person is a Christian, he or she is my spiritual sibling. Further, He calls us to “in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” I often remind myself that I am no better than the other person; in fact, I am a good deal worse.

I am often discouraged by my lack of love and my abundance of irritation towards people, and it is a frequent matter of prayer. In a quote I saved but can’t find now from a sermon by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones from I John, he makes a distinction between liking and loving and says we are to love people we might not necessarily like, and that helped some. Biblical love, after all, is not just a warm fuzzy feeling. I always appreciated Bible verses about “forbearing one another in love” partly because it’s an admission that there are going to be people in our lives who are going to require forbearance. Sometimes I have felt that tolerating or forbearing was the best I could do, but God calls me to more. They are His dear children for whom He died, and He wants me to love them as much as I love myself, and even more – as He loves me. A tall order that can only be accomplished by meditating on His great love.

A few years ago I read C. S. Lewis’s Weight of Glory, and one section in the first essay of the same title really helped along these lines. After discussing what our future glorification in heaven means, he writes:

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to …remember that the dullest and most  uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

I would disagree with what I think he is saying about the sacrament – I believe it is symbolic and representative and doesn’t contain any glory in itself. It is bread, not Christ’s actual body, meant to put us in mind of His body torn for us. But Christ does indwell a fellow child of God, and he is continually working in His children so that more of Himself can be seen through them.

No mere mortals. No ordinary people. Future glorified saints. Fellow citizens of the household of God. Sons and daughters of the King. These are the ones with whom we have to do. May we treat them accordingly. And may we treat those who are not yet in the family of God as if we are eager for them to be.

Beneath the cross of Jesus
His family is my own—
Once strangers chasing selfish dreams,
Now one through grace alone.
How could I now dishonor
The ones that You have loved?
Beneath the cross of Jesus
See the children called by God.

~ Keith and Kristen Getty

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Matthew 25:40

Love each other

(Revised from the archives)

*There are times to confront, and there is some behavior that should not be tolerated. Sometimes the authorities even need to be brought in, for example, in cases of abuse. This post is not dealing with those issues, and I am not saying we should be doormats for people to walk all over us. This post is talking mainly about those everyday irritations we experience as our personalities bump against each other.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Wise WomanWoman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday, Tell His Story, Thought-provoking Thursday)





Book Review: Everyday Grace: Infusing All Your Relationships With the Love of Jesus

I’ve mentioned several times here that I read years ago in an old biography of a missionary who felt strongly the lack of love in her life, felt guilty about it, berated herself over it often, tried to spur herself on to do better, all to no avail. But when she began instead to meditate on God’s love for her, He began to transform her in ways she was unaware of until her husband told her people were commenting to him about the change in her.

Everyday GraceIn Everyday Grace: Infusing All Your Relationships With the Love of Jesus, Jessica Thompson takes this same principle and applies it to nearly every relationship we might have. She points out that most relationships operate on the basis of karma – I’ll do for you if you’ll do for me, or maybe I’ll do for you so that you’ll do for me in return. But Christianity operates on the basis of grace: God loved us and Jesus died for us when we were enemies, when we didn’t care, when we didn’t love Him, and He wants us to love others in the same way.

But how can we do that? He is God, and though he has saved and changed us, in our everyday lives our old fleshly nature too often evidences itself.

We are not basically good people who need a little instruction so that we can live up to our full potential. We are completely sinful people who need help from outside of ourselves in order to be made alive (p. 39).

We don’t just need a new list; we need a new heart. That is exactly what is promised to us in Ezekiel 11:19-20:

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God (p. 47)

We can operate from a basis of grace because Jesus lived a perfect life, keeping all God’s commands in our place, and died, taking all of our sin and its punishment in our place.

My hope is that this book will help you “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). That as I open up to you all that he is and all that he has done…as you taste this multifaceted relationship with God, it will transform all of your other relationships (p. 43).

Paul doesn’t just pray [in Ephesians 3:14-21] that the Ephesians would get their act together; he prays that they would somehow be able to comprehend the incomprehensible love of God in Christ (p. 49).

In subsequent chapters, Jessica discusses God as our Father and husband and how that influences our relationships with our spouse and children, Jesus as a friend, coworker, brother, and how that influences our relationships in each of those areas, as well as how our relationship with God directs our interactions with our communities and fellow church members. She ends with discussing the Holy Spirit’s help, dealing with difficult people, and “The Gospel for the Relationship Failure.”

In the chapter on friendship, she writes:

Jesus tells his disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”…It seems to be saying that he will be our friend only if we obey. But that isn’t what Jesus is saying at all. His friendship came first. This obedience is not what makes them friends; it is what characterizes his friends. I have lived most of my life under the assumption that if I am not obeying, then Christ doesn’t want any part of me. That is a terrible weight and it is a lie. God’s love for us in Christ always precedes our loveliness. His faithfulness always precedes ours, and his friendship is what brings us into relationship with him…If we are true believers in Christ, we will obey. That doesn’t mean we will obey perfectly…But it does mean that we will have a desire to obey. If your life is characterized by a growing desire to obey, you can be sure that you are a friend of Jesus. It is his very pronouncement of “my friend” that gives us the longing to be obedient to his commands. His love for us is what engenders a heart of obedience (pp. 76-77).

In a chapter on work, she writes:

While there is nothing wrong with doing a job you enjoy or looking for a job that you are passionate about, we have made a terrible point of our focus. We are setting out to fulfill ourselves instead of looking for ways to serve others. How often do we really think of our jobs as a way to be God’s hands, even if our job is just stacking books at the library? (p. 169)

[Jesus’] work wasn’t dependent on the one who received the benefit of his work. His work was only and always dependent on his love for God and his love for his people (p. 171).

I thought this from the chapter on church members was particularly lovely:

So we are humble with one another, not thinking we are better than others. We are gentle with each other, instead of beating each other over the head with a long list of “you-shoulds.” We can point out sin, when necessary, without distancing ourselves or acting like our friends have a disease that we might catch if they don’t get their acts together. We bear with one another in love, which is tough, especially if their sin affects us personally. And we are eager and excited to maintain peace, instead of eager and excited when we get a juicy bit of gossip about our friend. We remember that we are one body, and if I hurt you, I am actually hurting myself. We take a vested interest in each other and in loving one another. Lastly, we remember that all of our failures to live as one body have been paid for by the Savior. We don’t have to hide from our community when we sin against them. We confess and remember that even the sin of hurting others in the church was paid for on Christ’s cross. We pray for a new and deeper understanding of what he went through to make us one body; and we pray that this understanding changes who we are as individuals and as a community, one redeemed sinner at a time (pp. 161-162).

In the chapter on difficult people, she talks about not only people whose personalities rub us the wrong way or who have hurt us, but also those going through hard trials – not that they are difficult, but because we find it difficult to know what to say or how to comfort them. A few lines from that chapter were instructive to me:

Part of the reason I struggle to be around people who suffer is because I have to come to grips with my own inability to make everything better. I hate to see that I am actually not the Holy Spirit and I can’t bring them the comfort they need. I hate that I say the wrong things at times and I end up hurting more than helping. But I believe it is in embracing that very weakness that the Holy Spirit has more room to work. The more I try to make it better, the more I try to come up with the perfect verse, the more I am ultimately in the way. When I relinquish my desire to be the Savior and just grieve with my friends, the Holy Spirit does some pretty amazing work (p. 189).

While I found this book immensely helpful in many ways, I’m not eager to go out and buy everything Thompson has ever written. The truth grabbed me: for the most part, the writing did not. I haven’t spent a lot of time analyzing why, but it could have been a lot tighter and less wordy in places (and I realize I have no room to talk there. 🙂 ) There was a lot of repetition.  Plus I think she went way too far in her speculations in some biblical situations that the Bible doesn’t spell out, like the ways in which Jesus was tempted, the situation between Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement, what was going on in Mary’s mind the time she and her other children tried to get in and see Jesus, and instead of instructing them to be admitted or going to the door, He told those He was teaching that whoever does His will is is family. Saying, “Mary might have thought or reacted…” in a particular way is one thing. Saying Mary did think and feel in ways that the Scripture doesn’t say or even indicate she did is dangerous (Thompson postulates that Mary doubted or forgot who Jesus was for a time). This kind of thing keeps me from fulling trusting Thompson’s handling of Scripture, but she seems better in exegesis and application than in speculation. On the other hand, speculation and imagination do serve her well in some areas where she doesn’t go too far, such as picturing Jesus working as a carpenter and encountering the same kind of people we encounter in the workplace.

I found much more that I did like in the book than I didn’t like, and I feel I could recommend it with a caution about those sections.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Laudable Linkage

It has been a while since I’ve been able to share some of the interesting reading I have come across recently. Hope some of this is of interest to you!

A neat study on True Woman about the “I am” statements referring to God and those referring to us.

Smilingly Leading You to Hell. Sadly, some of the most appealing speakers don’t always have the best messages.

The Assumption We Cannot Afford on the need to teach the Bible and encourage others to study it for themselves. Excellent.

Missing the Forest for the Trees. “The Bible is not just a spiritual search engine.”

In the Heat of the Moment, dealing with rampant emotions.

Anger: Giving In to the Enemy.

Let’s Stop Forgiving Those Who Don’t Want Forgiveness. This has long been my stance on this.

Help! My Kids Are Looking at Porn! Advice for how to handle that.

Authentic worship, hands down. “Authentic worship means to me exactly what it means to you: the freedom to worship as the Lord leads. I have traveled the length of the denominational spectrum….It was a long trip through myriad worship styles, and participation was not always optional. My hands are at my sides for the same reason yours are thrown in the air: because I am free – free from the expectations of any of my fellow worshippers, free to worship in whatever posture the Spirit leads.  The truth is, I do occasionally raise my hands, but never when told to by a worship leader or a lyric. Because of my history, nothing could be more inauthentic, nothing less free.” This spoke to me on many levels. The churches I have attended are not usually physically demonstrative, but worship is sometimes “commanded” in other ways (“Turn to your neighbor and say…” or “Pray this right now” or any number of others things dictated from the pulpit). There is a difference between leading worship and manipulating worship.

How Mothers Can Worship In the Midst of Inconvenience.

 What Winter Trees Know About Singing. Lovely, lovely post about handling children’s questions without squashing their innocence and wonder.

Ten Lessons From a Hospital Bed.

Always Apologize First, HT to nikkipolani. “Apologizing first is the bucket of water which douses the flames threatening to burn bridges between wife and husband or father and children.”

100 Ways to Thank a Teacher. Neat ideas for end of the year teacher gifts – or any time you want to express appreciation to a teacher.

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

Here are a few good reads seen on the Web this past week:

Touch the dead. I dare you. Thought-provoking post from Lisa about how and why we who are alive spiritually can and should reach out to those who aren’t yet.

What does “unworthily” mean? I used to fear taking communion due to the verse about partaking in an unworthy manner. This is a good article explaining what that means.

Countdown to Easter. Great Bible reading plan for the 21 days leading up to Easter. Though there are less than 21 days now, it’s not too late to jump in on this.

Is Easter Too Violent For Kids? We don’t serve them well by downplaying the truth.

Doing Less Well.

God’s Quiver Full dealing with loss from miscarriage or stillbirth.

The Blogs, the Battles, and the Gospel. Controversial topics are inevitable and even necessary to discuss. Here are some things to consider in discussing them in a God-honoring way.

Quit Looking For Your Soulmate because He/She Isn’t Out There. Great article about unrealistic expectations in relationships.

I Come to Bury Keats, Not To Praise Him, HT to Sherry. Lovely article about truth, beauty, and creating.

These first two videos I saw at girltalk.

Why believe in the Resurrection of Christ?

Why is the cross “a big deal” for Christians, and why do “good” people need to consider it?

And someone shared this in church Wednesday on the question of if God is good, why is there evil in the world. It doesn’t answer all the questions — nothing could in under 2 minutes — but it makes some good points.