Two tea cups in the hotel cabinet - Old Towne Hotel, Wichita, KS

Staying sharp

A knife can only cut something so many times before it gets dull. When I was growing up, we had sharp knives that we used to chop onion or celery, but they were so dull they did more smashing than cutting. I remember that my mom took them to be sharpened once, and when they came back we had to be very careful when we chopped with them.

What is interesting about knives is that you can’t expect to sharpen them using a material lesser than what they are made from. Anything less than the material they’re made from, and the knife will cut through.

Two tea cups in the hotel cabinet - Old Towne Hotel, Wichita, KS

Two tea cups in the cabinet – Old Towne Hotel, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 27:17.

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.

I’m a pretty independent person, and I’m an introvert to boot. So I’m not one of those people who runs around looking for new friends all the time. I’m not against making new friends, but it’s not my first priority.

And although there are times when I love to be alone, I recognize fully that I need people around me at other times.

No one person is an island. We weren’t created to be on our own all the time. God made us with the concept of community in mind. We need each other. We need each other to keep each other honest, to help us stay accountable to the promises and the choices we’ve made, and to help us get up again when we fall down.

There’s another verse that I blogged on some time ago about how two people are better than one because when one falls down the other can help them up. And that’s very true. But what kind of people are you choosing for your friends?

That can make a major difference in how you live your life. Friends are a huge influence. The people you spend your time with will determine a lot about you and about the choices you will make.

Friendship is just like trying to keep a knife sharp. If you choose a friend who is at a different place in their walk with God than you are and you decide to make that friend the closest one in your arsenal, you’re going to struggle. I’m not trying to be snobbish here. This is just a fact.

If you have one knife made out of steel and another knife made out of wood, what’s going to happen to the wood knife? The wood knife is going to be destroyed, and the steel knife will only get duller.

But what happens when you put a steel knife with a steel knife? They sharpen each other. They turn out better than they were before you started sharpening them. That’s what happens with friends who are walking with God the same way you are. You can point out the places where you’re struggling. You can help each other understand (or at least deal with) the things God is doing in both your lives. You can encourage each other to keep going.

Iron sharpens iron. Steel can’t sharpen itself. It will just get duller and duller. And it will cut through anything of a less quality material, but if you match it against more steel, it will be stronger than it was before.

If you want to maintain a solid biblical walk, get yourself a solid biblical friendship and hold on to it. There will be times when it’s not fun, especially when you need to admit you’ve done something wrong, but more often than not, you’ll build a relationship with another believer that will last through your lifetime on earth.

There is nothing more awesome than staying out with a cup of coffee and a friend you know you can trust, encouraging each other and reminding each other that God is still working even if you can’t see it right now.

Gorilla sitting by himself

Independent and proud

I’m an independent person. I always have been, even when I was a child. My mom used to tell me that even as a very small girl I didn’t want to be held; I wanted to run around like an idiot. Not much has changed, I don’t guess.

There is certainly nothing wrong with being independent, that is until you start thinking that you can rely on yourself for everything. Then you’re just asking for trouble. Because none of us are strong enough on our own to make it through life alone. I don’t care how independent or self-sufficient you are.

Gorilla sitting by himself

Gorilla sitting by himself - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Ecclesiastes 4:10.

If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.

I love Ecclesiastes because it’s pretty much just straight talk, and the passage where today’s verse comes from is all about the advantages of companionship.

Anyone who thinks the Bible doesn’t make sense hasn’t read Ecclesiastes. This is actually the passage where today’s verse comes from. It’s just so good, I had to post the whole thing:

Ecclesiates 4:9-12

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Two people are better than one. Why? Because if one person falls down, the other person can help them up. That is relevant in a figurative sense and a literal sense. If you trip and fall and scrape your knee, it’s a lot easier to stand up again when someone offers you a hand. Same thing when you slip and slide into some sin. It’s a lot easier to pull yourself out of a pit if someone helps you out.

In the cold, two people can keep each other warm, while one person will freeze to death. Two people can watch each others’ backs in a fight, while one person will be overcome. According to this passage, having someone to walk through life alongside you is a really good idea. But in our hardworking, busybody 21st Century American thinking, we don’t need anyone else. We are sufficient on our own. And if you ask for help, you’re weak. If you’re seeing a counselor, there must be something wrong with you. If you have an accountability partner, you must have a deep dark struggle with sin.

Well, you know what? Everyone is weak. Everyone has something wrong with them. And everyone struggles with deep, dark sin. Because everyone is human.

This is something I have to really fight in my own personal life because I hate it when people think I’m weak. I can’t stand it if someone feels like they have to take care of me or support me or try to help me carry my own weight. I don’t want anyone to have anything that they can hold over my head.

But that’s pride. And pride is pretty stupid, if you think about it.

Maybe being alone is easier at times because you don’t have to sacrifice to make someone else happy, but the result is that you are completely by yourself with no one to help you when the time comes that you need help. And, trust me, the time will come when you need help.

So weigh your options.

Independence with pride because you don’t want people to think you’re weak? Or independence with the knowledge that every now and then you might need help because you’re not perfect?

Some hungry-looking piranhas

Christians aren’t supposed to eat each other … but we’re really good at it

The church was created for a number of purposes, the biggest being to reach out to people who don’t know Christ and explain how to have eternal life through Him. Another purpose of the church is to support believers. It’s a place where people of like faith get together to worship Christ and learn about Scripture and help each other grow.

Sadly, in my experiences, the church in America is less like a support base and more like a tank of piranhas. They will devour any other fish who happens to come along and doesn’t fit in, and in difficult circumstances, they will devour each other.

Some hungry-looking piranhas

Some hungry-looking piranhas - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 14:13.

So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

There has to be a point where we in the church focus less on finding fault in other believers and instead focusing more on how we live our own lives. Now, am I saying that when another believer gets involved in sin, we should let it go? No. That’s not what I’m saying. There are times and places for holding each other accountable. But holding each other accountable is completely different from condemning each other.

That’s what we do in the church. And I’m not talking about nonbelievers. This verse sounds to me like it’s written to Christians.

Christians are terrible about condemning each other. Another believer puts a toe out of line, and instantly they become public enemy number one. They are shunned. They are spoken ill of. Everyone around them treats them like they have leprosy.

Really? Is that how we’re supposed to act? Doesn’t everyone sin? Isn’t the church supposed to help and support people? If we can help and support people who don’t know Christ yet, why can’t we do it with people who share our faith?

Again, don’t misunderstand me, there are circumstances where some people who claim to be believers need to go their separate ways, but not for a single sin. Not if they are repentant and genuinely seeking forgiveness. But the church treats all the same many times. And we focus too much on finding faults in people and bringing them up.

But what about ourselves?

Before we condemn someone else for faults in his or her life, we need to look at ourself in the mirror. How many sins that we condemn others for have we committed today? How many indiscretions and imperfections do we criticize others for because we can’t fix them in ourselves? How many times do we take out our frustration on other people simply because it’s easier than righting something in our own life?

We need to live in a such a way that prevents other believers from falling into sin. If you follow Christ, we are called to live a life above reproach, not just among nonbelievers but among each other.

Care more about the mistakes and choices you are making, rather than finding fault in another believer. And who knows? If you turn your life around and live the way you’re supposed to and love others and make choices in your life that help others, maybe other people around you will understand. More people watch you than you know. And it’s not your job to straighten them out. It’s your job to live a life that points directly to Christ, that keeps other believers from stumbling.

Being a piranha is overrated. Live the way you’re supposed to, and God will take care of the rest.

Judging

Christians are really good at judging people, which is pretty incredible because that’s not something we’re even capable of doing. It seems easy to look at someone who is doing something we don’t agree with and to levy judgment against them simply for the reason that we don’t like their actions. But there’s a big difference between disliking someone’s actions and judging them as a person.

I find it interesting that many people who say they follow Christ think it’s their mission in life to judge other people, whether they’re making the right choices or not, whether they’re living their lives the right way or not. They say they follow Christ when they do this, but we don’t have a record of Jesus judging anybody. Because that’s not why He came. Jesus came to save people, not condemn them.

The verse today comes from John 3:17.

17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

 Christ was here on a rescue mission.

So where do Christians get the idea that we’re supposed to walk around telling people what they’re doing wrong and how that affects their worth as a person?

Now. I should probably clarify what judging actually means. Judging is passing sentence on a person’s heart based on what their actions.  And if you think about it, that’s all a judge in a court room does. Based on the evidence of a person’s actions or behavior, a judge makes a ruling on whether a person meant to break the law or not . . . and whether he’s sorry about it or not.

Judging is about us determining someone else’s motivation. And that is impossible for us to do. We can’t know someone else’s heart, their reason for doing the things they do, their motivation for living life. That is hidden to us. All we can see is the results of their motivation.

Now . . . can we judge actions? Yes. If you believe the Bible, you believe in right and wrong. Stealing is wrong. Lying is wrong. Adultery is wrong. Homosexuality is wrong. Being jealous is wrong. Disobeying parents is wrong. But stating those facts isn’t being judgmental. That is what the Bible says. Many times. Over and over. The Bible declares that these things are sin. And in the same breath, the Bible turns around and says that all of us are sinners. One sin isn’t worse than another sin. So how can one sinner turn to another sinner and declare himself worth more or less? We can’t. Only God can determine the worth of a soul, and we already know the price He paid for us — His Son.

Now . . . is it wrong to call another Christian on their crap? No. If you know a Christian — someone who professes to follow Christ — and they are living a life that is obviously against God, you as a Christian have a responsibility to step up and talk to them. Christians, we’re family. We are supposed to keep each other honest. We’re supposed to keep each other accountable. And while we can’t see someone’s heart, we can see their actions, and a Christian’s actions should look different than someone who isn’t a Christian. Again, calling another Christian out on repetitive, obvious sin isn’t judging; it’s being obediant to Scripture.

Now . . . is it wrong to see someone sinning and immediately decide that they are not a follower of Christ? Yes.

Is it wrong to speak ill of a person as though you understand their heart and their motivation? Yes.

Is it wrong to see a person’s actions and decide that they aren’t worthy of God? Yes.

Many of us would say we’ve never done those things, but if we say that we’re lying. We do it all the time, whether we mean to or not. Yes, we can see someone’s actions and deem whether or not they are wrong by using the Bible as our moral/ethical compass. But to decide whether or not that person is worthy of being loved? To decide whether or not that person is worthy of being prayed for? To decide whether or not that person is “good” or “bad” person? Wow. Where do we get such egotistical ideas? There’s nobody good. There’s nobody worthy of being loved. Not even us.

So the next time you see someone sinning — whether it’s a little bitty sin or a great big sin — try to remember that while we can judge whether the sin is right or not, the sinner belongs to God. God has already judged. The law already declares us lost. Jesus came to rescue us. And it’s up to us to decide whether or not we want to be saved. And if Christ didn’t come to judge people, why do we think we need to?

Masquerade

Does anyone know why Christians feel the need to maintain a facade of perfection when their lives are actually falling apart? I do this all the time. Even (and especially) if my life is crazy and feeling wildly out of control, I still keep my Good Little Christian Mask in place. And it’s the same when I sin. I sin just like everybody else, but I don’t like to talk about it. Because I don’t want people to think less of me.

Are those the same reasons every other Christian hides behind the mask of the Holier Than Thou? I don’t know. But it seems likely to me.

I don’t like people to know my weaknesses. I don’t like people to think that I’m a bad person. I don’t like people to know that I’m not perfect in every way. Of course, everyone knows all those things already, but there’s something in me that makes me want to put forth an image of perfection in spite of that. But it’s a lie.

So if every Christian is like this, wearing masks to cover up their failures and their flaws, what happens in a church? You end up with a bunch of people who are faking life. They’re fine. Their life is fine. Their family is fine. Everything is fine when it really isn’t. And I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with that . . . until someone who knows they’re not fine walks through the doors.

That’s something that has always fascinated me. Christians have this concept that we’re supposed to be “fine” all the time just because we know Jesus. But people who don’t know Jesus already understand the fact that they’re screwed up . . . and they don’t have a problem with it. Most of the time, they try to be better. Christians cover it up.

So that’s why people who don’t believe in Christ feel like they don’t belong in church. They know that they’re not perfect, and hanging around a bunch of people who are pretending to be perfect is frustrating.

The verse this morning is James 5:16.

16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

We’re supposed to confess our sins to each other. Not to a priest for forgiveness. But to each other for accountability. It’s a lot harder to go back to your specific sin if someone is holding you to your word not to do it anymore.

Christians are people, and all people are flawed. It doesn’t matter what you believe, where you live, how you grew up or who you are; everyone sins. And trying to cover it up not only hurts you as a person, it alienates you from other people. Am I saying we should be proud of our sin? No. That’s kind of funny though. Taking pride in our sin. I know some people who do that, though, but I think those people just don’t understand how serious sin is.

How does covering up our sin help us? Just think about that. Jesus didn’t come to die for us so we can deny the fact that we’re sinners. He came to die for us to make a way for us to escape sin altogether. Covering up, denying the fact that we’re all imperfect, flawed failures, cheapens His sacrifice and it takes glory away from God.

When you get right down to it, denying your own sin is pride.

It’s so odd to me, personally. Because I have no trouble listening to other people confess their sins. I never think ill of them, and I always pray for people to help overcome whatever sin they struggle with. But when it comes to confessing my own sins to others? No. My pride takes over and I don’t want to admit to anyone that I struggle with the same things they do. I have this idea that I’m supposed to be better than everyone else and that everyone expects so much of me that I’m not free to admit any failure of any kind. And that’s wrong. Because I have failed. More times than I like to think about. And the beautiful part of my failure is that God has always been there to pick me up again. He’s never given up on me. Not once. And when I act like nothing’s wrong — when I act like I’m fine and everything is going perfectly in my life and in my relationship with Christ — I take all the credit for anything good in my life, and I don’t deserve it.

Masks are only appropriate in a place where you don’t want to show your face, where you don’t want to admit who you are or where you want to make people guess. People wear masks at masquerade balls with dresses covered in feathers and sequins and weird stuff like that. And while masquerades are fun to attend on special occasions, life was never meant to be like that. But that’s what we turn it into. We hide our faces — our real selves — from the world because we want people to like us, but all we accomplish is pushing the world away because we are hypocrites.

No one is perfect. Everyone has fallen short of the goal. It’s time we stop acting like we haven’t. And once we are free enough to let everyone in the world know that we have all failed, God will be able to show the world that He never has.