Truth hurts enough without our help

I never wore expensive clothes when I worked at the library at Wichita State University. It wasn’t that we were unprofessional. I always looked nice. But we worked with ink daily, and no matter how hard you tried, you always ended up covered in it. So there was no point to spend money on expensive clothes when you were only going to ruin them.

It never failed. I’d help a patron at the desk, and then I’d catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror. Smack dab on the tip of my nose would be a big smudge of ink. The person I was helping could have told me at any time. I wouldn’t have been offended. I would have been grateful. But people don’t like to speak up in those situations because they’re afraid of hurting your feelings or making you feel inferior in some way.

Telling people an uncomfortable truth is never fun, and it’s rarely easy. But truth, unpopular or not, should never be intentionally hurtful. Truth hurts enough by itself; it doesn’t need us to make it worse.

Everyone knows the verse about speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We quote it back and forth to each other all the time, but is it even possible to do?

I’m not an expert. But one thing I’ve learned about confronting someone with Truth is that your motivation matters.

I have known Christ-followers who have beaten me half to death, using Truth as a sledgehammer to pound me into submission. And on the other hand, I’ve known Christians who are willing to overlook the worst sins just to make me feel better about myself. Where’s the middle ground? Can you speak uncompromising Truth without doing lasting damage?

Well, what about the ink incident at the library? Why would you tell me that I had ink on my nose? To make me feel bad or to help me not look like a moron?

If your desire is to help me, you aren’t going to address me with self-righteous bravado. You aren’t going to insult me as you point out the ink on my nose. No, you’ll gently mention to me that I’ve got ink on my nose. And you might even relate a story about when something similar happened to you.

Gentle. Kind. Humble. And still true.

Confronting someone with Truth should never be about you (Philippians 2:3). It shouldn’t be about promoting yourself as an example to follow, and it should never be intended to humiliate them. Even if you’re talking to another Christ-follower, if the language you use doesn’t build them up or encourage them (Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 4:6), you aren’t drawing them back to God. Instead, you’re forcing them away.

Maybe what you’re saying is absolutely true. But if the truth you’re speaking is mixed up with cruel judgments, baseless assumptions, and biting sarcasm, you aren’t being kind. You’re being mean.

God expects us to live justly, yes (Micah 6:8-9), but we’re also supposed to love mercy and walk humbly. That means you look for opportunities to extend grace to people. It doesn’t mean you can compromise what God says is right, but it also doesn’t justify being mean-spirited.

That’s how you speak truth in love. It starts with your attitude toward God and your perspective on yourself. Before you confront anyone, before you take God’s Truth into battle, get those two things on the level. Make sure you and God are on the same page. Otherwise, it’s not about Him. It’s about you.

Any time you make life about yourself, you don’t leave any room for God to work.

But if you make it about Him, He’ll work it out. He’ll bring beauty from ashes. He’ll redeem what you forfeited. But you have to leave it in His hands first.

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God can help an honest person

Some time back, I heard an interview with Brian Williams, the news anchor who exaggerated his adventures as an embedded journalist in the Middle East. I don’t know much about the story. I haven’t followed it, so I don’t know the details. But he did lie. He told stories that weren’t true about things that happened to him. And in the interview he gave, he tried to justify his actions by claiming he didn’t mean to mislead anyone.

Seems kind of weird though, to tell a lie yet claim that you didn’t mean to mislead people. But that’s part of the rationalization we all do when we tell a half-true. I mean, it’s not like you’re even lying. You’re just not sharing the whole truth, and you’re only doing it because the whole story is too complicated. Or it’s too painful. Or it will upset too many people.

No, it’s better to just tell half the facts and let others infer what they want, right? It’s not like you’re willfully deceiving anyone. They’re the ones making up their minds about what you’re saying.

There’s something in our brains that tells us this sort of thinking is okay, but one thing I’ve learned about lies and half-truths, both: You can’t stop with just one.

person-woman-art-creative-smallToday’s verses are 1 Peter 3:10-12.

For the Scriptures say,
“If you want to enjoy life
and see many happy days,
keep your tongue from speaking evil
and your lips from telling lies.
Turn away from evil and do good.
Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right,
and his ears are open to their prayers.
But the Lord turns his face
against those who do evil.”

Lying is easy, especially when you’re trying to cover up something you’ve done that you don’t want to admit. Telling the truth is hard. Telling the truth requires humility, the willingness to accept the fact that you screwed up.

Let’s face it. We all screw up. And the more we try to be perfect, the more we screw up because we’re depending on our own strength rather than God’s. When you lie, you’re trusting yourself to find the answer for your problems. When you choose to lie, you’re telling God you don’t want His help, and He’ll honor that. If you’re intent on doing things your own way, He’ll let you.

I love the Bible. It’s practical and simple. Want to know the secret to a happy life you can enjoy? Don’t speak evil, don’t lie, and do good. Notice it says to turn away from evil, meaning that you have a choice. When you encounter evil, regardless of what it may be, you have the option to not give into it. You can seek peace. You can do right. You can look for the Lord.

And that also tells me that even if you’ve done evil in the past, if you turn away from it today, God will hear you. It doesn’t say that God watches over people who’ve never done wrong. It says God watched over people who do right. Present tense. Yesterday doesn’t matter.

We live in a culture of blame and semantics. We point fingers like it’s an Olympic sport. It’s never my fault. It’s always someone else’s. And it may feel easier to let a little white lie slip, thinking you’ll get away with it, but you won’t. Lies and half-truths have a way of coming back to bite you just when you least expect it. And when they come back around, they’re much bigger than the little white lie you let slip. And if you’re a Christ-follower? (Yes, Christ-followers lie sometimes too.) Oh, you know better than to choose to go against what God says is right.

And, yes, lying may be easier at first, but give it time. And a few years down the road, you’ll be in consequences so deep you’ll desperately wish for the chance to make a different choice.

Telling the truth today means you have to own up to your failures. It means you have to admit you’ve done wrong. It might even mean you have to disappoint someone you love. But honesty truly is always the best policy, because God can help an honest person. And other people can too.

No, it won’t be fun, but that’s the result when you screw up. There are consequences. Better to face them now rather than ten years down the road when they’ve turned into a tidal wave threatening to pound you into a pulp.

And the good news? God knows. He knows your heart. And He’s never turned anyone who came to Him seeking away.

Egyptian statue's head at the British Museum, London, England, UK

Do the license plates match the driver?

I did something yesterday that I’ve never done before. I rented a car and drove to Colorado Springs. When I woke up yesterday morning, I hadn’t planned to do it. When I posted yesterday’s blog, I didn’t realize I’d be writing today’s blog at the St. Francis Hospital in Colorado Springs.

But my life is just kind of funny like that.

To make a very long story short, my parents were vacationing in Colorado and my mom ended up having a problem with one of her fingers. Basically, she had to go in for emergency surgery. And I waited around home as long as I could, but when things started getting (more) complicated, I couldn’t stand it any longer. And I jumped.

One rented car. Most of my desk work from the office. An awesome boss who understands. Seriously…. the whole thing just ran really smoothly and I made it safely to Colorado Springs in about eight hours.

What was interesting to me, though, is that my rental car had Missouri plates. It was a little dark blue Nissan Altima. Really nice car. Did the job very well.

But as I was driving along the highway, another car pulled up beside me. A couple in the front seat looked at me and then drove on past, and I realized they had Missouri plates too. Maybe they knew someone with a dark blue Nissan Altima from Missouri? Maybe they thought they knew me? (or maybe they were just being weird)

Either way, they were obviously disappointed when they drove by and saw me inside. Not from Missouri. A Transplanted Texan who calls Kansas home.

They saw my rented car and expected to see someone they knew inside, but when they got a look at the inside, it wasn’t what they thought.

And I couldn’t help but think about how that relates to other aspects of life, especially in my study about attitude.

Egyptian statue's head at the British Museum, London, England, UK

Egyptian statue’s head at the British Museum, London, England, UK

Today’s verses are Matthew 23:25-26.

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

How many times do you meet someone who presents the image of a “Good Christian,” the consummate Christ-follower, the role model believer? I’ve known a lot of them. But once I really got to know them, once I peeled back the layers and the masks and peeked inside the car windows, I got to see them for who they really were. And I was disappointed.

No, nobody is perfect, and we shouldn’t expect people to be perfect. We shouldn’t judge people for not meeting expectations. We shouldn’t judge people at all because we don’t know their hearts or their situations. But if you encounter a “good Christian” it’s normal to assume that their character will match their appearance. And that’s not always the case.

Those types of Christians have done more damage to the faith than anyone else. I’ve run into so many people who have chosen not to follow God because they’ve met Christians who don’t act like Christians.

So I don’t want to be like that. Not ever. I want my inside self, my character, my thoughts, my everything to be genuine, to be real, and to be 100% sold out to Christ.

It’s difficult, though. When you’ve grown up in the church, when you’ve lived so much of your life around church people, it’s so easy to put on a face. It’s so easy to put the mask on and act like a super Christian. And I’m not talking about teaching. I’m not talking about sharing the Bible with people. I’m not talking about trying to live a life and make choices that honor God.

But what about if someone asks how you’re doing? What about if you’re struggling with your faith? What about if you’re struggling in general? It’s so much easier to put a mask on and pretend like everything is okay, but that’s not healthy. And it’s not helpful.

No, I’m not going to be perfect, but I can be honest about not being perfect. I’m going to make mistakes, absolutely, but I can take responsibility for them and try never to make them again.

That way, my plates will match the person driving. What shows up on the outside won’t identify me as something I’m not.

Stone bridge at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Nothing perfect about us–except Christ

I’m a people pleaser to the nth degree. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been working in customer service for so long or if I got into customer service to begin with because I’m a people pleaser. Either way, that was the first thing I had to learn when I started working a marketing job; I wasn’t in customer service anymore. So I couldn’t work like I was.

But I suspect I was just born that way. What about you? Have you got any hang ups or habits that you were born with or that you developed over time and just haven’t been able to break? Assuming that your personality quirks aren’t dangerous to yourself or others, there’s nothing really wrong with them.

So why are we afraid to be who we are? I’ve had a couple of conversations this week with people who hide their real selves away for fear of rejection by others.

Now, when people say you should just be who you are, a lot of the time they’re talking about doing what you want or behaving in a way that doesn’t accept accountability or responsibility. But that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about being real, being genuine with people regardless of what they think about you. Because the only Person who matters in that situation is God, and He’s already told us what He thinks about us.

Stone bridge at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Stone bridge at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Romans 5:8.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Think about that. What does God think about us? He loved us enough to send Jesus to die for us while we were sinners. Read that: while we were His enemies.

He loved us enough as His enemies to die for us so that we could become His family.

He loved you, the real you buried underneath all the posturing and posing and faking and words, enough to die for you. God knows the real you, and He loves the real you. He loved you before you were born. He died for you before you were born.

So why are you afraid to be you in front of other people? Why are you afraid to be yourself?

I’m talking to myself here. I have hidden away for so long because I didn’t want to bother people with my problems. I didn’t want to worry people or upset people. I was afraid to share my doubts and my failures and my flaws because I didn’t want people to think the wrong thing about me.

But people can think the wrong thing about you whether you put on a perfect face or not. It’s so much better to live life without secrets and be genuinely yourself. There aren’t any skeletons in the closet to find if you carry them around in the open.

So the next time you’re tempted to answer the dreaded question: “How are you?” with a lame: “Fine,” think about it. Are you saying you’re fine when you really aren’t? Who cares if they didn’t really want you to tell them what’s really going on? If you answer them honestly and they didn’t want an honest answer, that’s not your fault.

Just be truthful. Just be genuine. Don’t hide your problems. We’re all flawed people. We’re all failures. We’re all forgiven. Not one of us is good enough to make it without God’s grace, and not one of us is strong enough to walk through life alone.

Let’s start sharing our loads. Let’s start being open and honest with each other, and maybe the world will realize that there’s nothing perfect about Christianity except Christ.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves

I’m really hard on myself. Any other performance-driven perfectionists out there? When you start out living life that way, it can be awesome because people who aren’t perfectionists love people who are. Maybe they get on each other’s nerves, but every boss wants to hire a performance-driven perfectionist because they will kill themselves getting it right. And no discipline is ever needed because they’ll be harder on themselves than a boss ever could be. They never take vacations. And they’re always on time.

That’s how it starts out. But as life gets busier and busier, maintaining your status of perfection gets more and more difficult. You can’t just pick and choose perfection, right? Everything has to be perfect. So life at home must be perfect, with everything clean and neat and in order. Life at work must be perfect, with projects on time and people’s opinions of you high. Life at church must be perfect, with all your different ministries under control. Your social life has to be perfect too. And so do your hobbies. And so on and so forth.

“Perfection” is hard work. Truly, perfection is unattainable, but we strive for it anyway.  And when we don’t achieve it, we rip ourselves to bits.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 12:3.

Because of the privilege and authorityGod has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

This verse is part of Paul’s talk about how the different areas of the Church are like different parts of the body. One part of our body can’t say to the other part that they’re not important (unless it’s an appendix, but even that must have a purpose or we wouldn’t have one, even if it’s just job security for surgeons). The church is the same way. Different people are gifted in different areas, so you can’t pick and choose what parts are more important. If you esteem the mouth and forget the big toe, you’ll have lots to say, but you can’t stand up.

But that’s not what struck me about this verse today. The statement, “be honest in your evaluation of yourselves” is what really hit me this morning.

Be honest in your evaluation.

What does that mean? In the context that Paul is using here, he means that you shouldn’t think you’re all that because you have certain gifts. It’s a pride issue. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought to.

But it works in both directions. Don’t think too highly of yourself, but also don’t rip yourself apart because you aren’t perfect. Be honest about it. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t let your emotions or your feelings dictate your perspective about yourself. Don’t let your life situation or circumstances tell you who you are.

Be honest.

How? The first step comes from knowing what God thinks about you.

God thinks you’re awesome. He thinks you’re brilliant and funny. He thinks you’re a great mom. He thinks you’re a great dad. And the plain truth is that nothing you can do or say will ever convince God to love you less (or even more) than He already does. He loves you too much already. So put that perspective in place the next time you start tearing yourself up, you insecure perfectionist you.

You may not understand His love, but you can accept it. Accepting it will change your life.

The second part is finding a way to look at yourself realistically. Don’t let your emotions drive your view on things. Emotions aren’t trustworthy because they’re broken.

As you might imagine, I love to write. I write all the time. Even when I don’t have a pen, I’m still writing in my head. But the biggest problem with my writing is me. I hate everything I write. I cringe at the thought of inflicting my ridiculous sentence structures on people. This blog only became public after people begged with me to share my thoughts online. The truth about this blog is that it’s not about me. I’m just posting what God is teaching me on a daily basis and if someone gets something out it, it’s through His grace and not my talent (especially at this time in the morning).

But, that being said, people have made it abundantly clear to me that I have a gift for writing. And that’s what it is, a gift. Granted, it’s a gift that I have worked very hard to refine, even if I do interject dangling participle every now and then or end a sentence with a preposition (on purpose).

Yes, I hate most everything I write, and nothing I get down ever meets my expectations. But to look at my work and declare that I am a horrible writer (which I do all the time) isn’t honest. It’s a lie, and it’s damaging.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever been trapped in the cycle of self-criticism that stunts your growth and tears you up inside?

Take a step back and be honest in your evaluation. Everyone has gifts. Everyone has talents. Nobody is more important than anyone else, but you’ve got something that God has given you to do that only you can do.  Don’t let self-doubt and perfectionism get in the way of accomplishing your God-given purpose.

Chill out. Give yourself a break. God loves you, and He gave you a gift. You’re not perfect, but He is. So He can use you even when you don’t always get it right.

Kite over Jamaica Beach - Galveston, TX

Why are you discouraged?

Last week was one of those weeks that makes you want to crawl into a corner and cry your eyes out. Have you ever had a week like that? Where just about everything goes wrong? And even in the moments where things go right, you’re afraid to trust it because you’re just waiting for the bottom to drop out from under you? Yeah. It was that kind of week. And, honestly, this week isn’t shaping up to be much better. I hope it is, but I’m not expecting much improvement.

So what do you do when you’re already discouraged and you’re trapped in disheartening circumstances? What do you do when none of it seems to make sense and every time you try to fix your life, you just seem to make it worse? What do you do?

Stop and praise God for it. 

Kite over Jamaica Beach - Galveston, TX

Kite over Jamaica Beach – Galveston, TX

Psalm 42 

As the deer longs for streams of water,
    so I long for you, O God.
I thirst for God, the living God.
    When can I go and stand before him?
Day and night I have only tears for food,
    while my enemies continually taunt me, saying,
    “Where is this God of yours?”

My heart is breaking
    as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers,
    leading a great procession to the house of God,
singing for joy and giving thanks
    amid the sound of a great celebration!

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!

Now I am deeply discouraged,
    but I will remember you—
even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan,
    from the land of Mount Mizar.
I hear the tumult of the raging seas
    as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.
But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me,
    and through each night I sing his songs,
    praying to God who gives me life.

“O God my rock,” I cry,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I wander around in grief,
    oppressed by my enemies?”
Their taunts break my bones.
    They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?”

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!

Perspective is one of the most important parts of living a Christian life. If you don’t keep a true perspective of who God is and who you are and what your purpose is, it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to get tripped up. And once you start tripping, it’s not too long before you take a tumble. But even if you have the right perspective, you can still end up in a place where all you can see is darkness. But even then, if you can keep your perspective and recognize it for what it is, you’ll still have joy, even if you aren’t necessarily happy about it.

Verses 5 and 11 out of Psalm 42 say the same thing:

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!

It’s also repeated in Psalm 43:5. The Bible doesn’t just repeat things for lyrical value. Yes, the Psalms are songs, and this makes a wonderful little tune (remember the song “Why So Downcast, O My Soul”? Guess where that came from). But practically speaking, whenever you see something repeated in Scripture, you need to pay attention.

So when you start trying to get your perspective right, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself why you’re discouraged. Try to identify what it is that’s got you down. And then, once you’ve figured out, put your hope in God to straighten it out. Do what you can and let it go.

I love how the Message says this:

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
    Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
    soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
    He’s my God.

It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s okay to feel down. But it’s not okay to let your perspective slip.

When everything is going wrong, that’s the time to praise louder than before. When it feels like your world is falling apart, that’s the time to put your whole focus on God and what He is doing and what He can do and what He has done. When you’re so discouraged that you can barely function, that’s the moment to thank God for everything He has done for you. And if you can do all that, you’ll find something amazing happens.

Even though your circumstances haven’t necessarily changed, even though you still have all the same problems as before, you’ll be smiling about it. Not because you’re in denial and not because you’re childishly ignoring the facts, but because your heart will remember who God is and that no circumstance is bigger than He is.

If you’re going to say or write anything today, you’d better check this out.

Words are dangerous. They are powerful weapons that can build up or tear down people, organizations, families, companies, and relationships. And anyone who has the capability to wield words, spoken or written, has a great responsibility to use them in a way that is beneficial.

As a writer, I am always amazed at what words can do. English to me is one of the most fascinating languages in the world, mainly because it’s so weird. It has rules to follow that it only follows half the time. Its only standard of pronunciation is that there is no standard. Spelling is no less strange. And between denotation and connotation, it’s no wonder that native speakers have as much trouble understanding its depth and breadth as those who learn it later in life (those folks who have learned English as a second language, I applaud your efforts; it’s one of the hardest languages out there to learn to speak).

Anyone who speaks or writes, whether professionally or just for fun, should realize how powerful words are. In a single sentence–sometimes even a single word–you can either encourage or you can discourage. You can enrich or you can rob. You can heal or you can hurt. And before you wield the power of a word, you need to think it through very carefully.

In this modern age of Tweets and Facebook statuses and blogging and comment posting, people have become accustomed to writing or saying whatever they want whenever they want without the fear of repercussions. The Internet is the great equalizer, a source of anonymity where anyone can voice his or her opinion, no matter how hurtful, and have a captive audience.

That only means that today’s verse is truer than ever. Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:29.

29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

 As a Christ Follower who is also a writer, it’s my reponsibility to make sure that everything I write will be encouraging and enriching to others. Now, we need to make sure we understand what encouraging means there because it doesn’t mean to just say nice, sweet, feel-good things all the time. Encourage means to give someone courage. It means to tell the truth in love but not to pull punches when someone needs a good smack in the head.

The Amplified Version calls it speech that is “good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion.”

So I need to make sure that what I’m writing is true, first. And then I need to make sure that I’m presenting it in a way that will help people grow spiritually. I do believe that a blog is a good place to air out opinions, but at the same time just because I can use a blog as a place to say what I want to say doesn’t alleviate the responsibility I have to make sure what I’m writing is true and communicated in love.

But the responsibility to write and speak this way isn’t just for writers and speakers. It’s for everyone. Because everyone is going to speak today, and even those who don’t speak often are still going to write something. And in a culture where it’s so easy to be critical and even easier to say mean things to each other (even if they’re true), those who follow Christ need to live to a different standard. Even if what you have to say to others won’t make them happy, you can still communicate it in a way that is positive. If they take it negatively, that’s up to them, but you can still do your part and try to speak truth in love.

If it were impossible to do, God wouldn’t have told us to do it. Nothing is impossible with His help. Granted, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. And, boy, is it easy to say mean things. Easy and fulfilling sometimes, especially when someone else has been mean to you — but that road never pans out.

When you’re tempted to say or write something cruel, don’t. Say or write something encouraging instead. You never know where it might take you and you never know how you might help someone you didn’t even know was watching.