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.

You don’t have to agree with each other to listen

fools-wisdom-understand-anger_1170x350

I watched an episode of a television show the other night where God played a character on screen. Immediately, I knew I probably wasn’t going to agree with it. And I was right. God was portrayed as an absentee parent who had given up on His children and needed a pep talk, basically.

Needless to say, it made me pretty angry. But I kept watching. And the more I watched, the sadder I became. Because is that how people really see God? Is that the lie people have bought about Him? What a hopeless existence if our Creator gives up on us, if our God struggles with the same things we struggle with.

I watched the whole episode, and I disagreed with everything. But I finished it, and I gained some really interesting insight into how the writers of the show see God. And it gave me the opportunity to really question what I believe and why I believe it.

Yet last week I encountered someone who wouldn’t even finish my novel because he disagreed with something I had written. Which is perfectly fine. People are free to like or dislike what I write, but how can you give an honest review about a story without actually reading it?

Christians are expected to lay down and hang our heads. Oh, no! Our beliefs made someone angry! Alas! But what about when people of other faiths make a Christian angry? How is a Christian supposed to react when that happens?

Ask the culture, and they’ll say we’re too sensitive. Aren’t you supposed to show grace and forgive and let it go? Ask a Christian, and they’ll tell you that you shouldn’t have been reading/watching it anyway.

So which is it? Let it go or bury your head in the sand?

I say neither.

Instead, seek to understand it.

I love Proverbs because it’s so full of good advice, and Proverbs 18:2 is a classic example. “Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions.

Hatred never solves disagreements, and insults rarely make you sound smarter.Too many times we stop reading a story or stop watching a show because we disagree with it. But stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and you can’t always judge the end by the way the story begins. How can you understand a story before you finish it? How can you even know you’ll disagree with it if you don’t even know what happens in the end?

It’s a very personal thing. We all have to make our decision about where (and how) we’re going to stand. And if a book or movie or TV show contains things that you believe will damage you, you should definitely stop. But that line is different for every person.

People really hate Christians now. Openly. That’s new in my lifetime. And, yes, I’m generalizing. Because I have many many friends who don’t believe the same way I do, and I love them, and they love me. But others decide that I’m an idiot without even knowing me. Others decide to hate me and they haven’t even spoken to me.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Since when do we have to agree with each other to be kind to each other?[/su_pullquote]

Since when do we have to agree with each other to be kind to each other, to be civil with each other? I know we get passionate about what we believe, but hatred never solves disagreements. And insults rarely make you sound smarter.

I know where I stand. I stand with Jesus Christ. He is my everything, and the Bible is His Word that tells me how to live. But that’s my choice. That’s my life.

You can stand wherever you want. It’s your choice, and I respect that whole-heartedly. You can write what you want. You can tell whatever story you want to tell. You can believe whatever you want to believe, and I won’t tune out. I won’t shut the TV off or stop reading your book or close my ears to your voice. It matters to you, so it matters to me. I may disagree with you, but I’ll still listen.

And all I ask for in return is the same consideration.

Never underestimate the power in a kind word

Slogging along through life gets really old really fast, especially if you’re stuck in a period of waiting for God to act. You know He’s going to do something, and whatever it is will be amazing and wonderful and life-changing. But until you get there, you’re just stuck. And it’s everything you can do to just keep functioning.

So what happens if someone comes along and notices? What happens when they demonstrate that they care about you or about how hard you’ve been working? how does that make you feel?

For me, it’s energizing. I can have my head down, buried in Word documents, cranking out word count like a fiend, but if someone comes along and mentions how much they enjoy what I’m writing, suddenly it doesn’t feel like work anymore. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like my feet are stuck in the mud. The mud just becomes an obstacle to overcome, and it feels like it’s worth it.

person-woman-hand-rainyToday’s verses are Acts 4:36-37.

For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.

How would you like to have nickname like that? This guy Joseph, who the apostles nicknamed Barnabus, was such a cool, uplifting guy that they called him The Encourager. Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of reputation? The kind of vibe that just cheered people up wherever you went?

The thing people don’t always understand about encouragers is that they aren’t always obliging. They don’t always tell you what you want to hear. Instead, they tell you what you need to hear, whether it’s fun or not. They are kind people, overall, and they care about you, but they care enough about you not to lie to you or coddle you. They love you enough to tell you the truth.

Sometimes that’s not easy to swallow, as the Apostle Paul eventually discovered in his relationship with Barnabus, but it’s what you need to hear to get you back on track with God. If your perspective is off, you need someone to smack you upside the back of the head to help you get straight again.

Who are the encouragers in your life? Yes, there’s a place for the cuddlers and the caretakers. There’s a time when you need someone to hug you and feed you cookies, but those times should be few and far between. More often than not, we need our encouragers to come along and challenge us to pick up our sword and get back into the fight.

They’ll do it kindly. They’ll speak truth in love to you. Even if it’s not what you want to hear, it’s probably what you need to hear.

So are you feeling down? Are you tired and weary? Yes, rest, if you need to, but if you don’t? Find an encourager. It may not be the happiest conversation you’ve ever had, but I guarantee it will change you–or at least it will change the way you look at your situation. And really, that’s what most of us need anyway.

If you can’t be kind, just don’t be unkind

Being kind is hard enough when you like the people around you. When the people are mean or dramatic or harsh or difficult, being kind becomes almost impossible. But as Christ-followers, we are always to respond kindly, even in circumstances when we are standing up for ourselves or against something that is wrong.

Today’s verses are Ephesians 4:31-32.

1113096_42782006Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Kindness isn’t something you have to go out of your way to demonstrate. Kindness can be as simple as smiling at someone. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. But what about in those circumstances where you don’t want to be kind? What about the times when people take advantage of you because you’re kind?

Well, it’s true. If you’re kind, people will take advantage of you. You should expect it to a certain extent. But that doesn’t mean we are called to live life as doormats. There is a way to stand up for yourself and be kind at the same time. And what I’ve learned about kindness is sometimes it’s not going out of your way to be nice to people. Sometimes kindness is simply not doing or saying something cruel. Sometimes kindness is not participating in a conversation or not commenting at all. Sometimes kindness is acknowledging someone’s presence politely.

If you don’t know how to start being kind to someone, start by not being unkind.

See that’s where I come from. When someone is mean to me or when someone treats me unfairly, I want to treat them the same way. There’s that part of me that wishes the Golden Rule worked both ways, so that if someone treats me like dirt it gives me the right to treat them like dirt in return. But that’s not what it’s about. And that’s not how a Christ-follower is supposed to live.

If someone is cruel to you or blames you unfairly or just treats you like garbage, don’t reciprocate. That will make it worse. Don’t give them ammunition. Don’t give them a reason to keep picking on you. Sure, if they want to pick on you, they’ll fabricate a reason, but you don’t have to give them one. If you’re giving them the bullets to put in their gun, everybody will think you deserve what you get. But if you don’t give them any reason to hate you, they’ll just be shooting blanks—and people notice things like that.

But you don’t have to buy them chocolate. You don’t have to wash their car. You don’t have to go out of your way to be kind to them. I mean, if you have the kind of personality where you can do that, do it! But to me, it’s more important to start with focusing on not being unkind.

Say hi to the guy who makes you mad when you pass him in the hallway. Acknowledge your coworker when she sends you rude emails. When that guy you work with throws you under the bus, gently respond with facts and figures if you have them. And if you don’t, be gracious. But whatever you do, don’t pin the blame on someone else.

None of that would be called “kindness” if you think about it. But what you’re doing when you choose not to be unkind is putting the people around you before yourself. You’re giving up your “right” to pay back blow for blow, and instead you’re thinking about the whole picture instead of just the place you have in it.

If you’re in a situation where you just can’t be kind, don’t stress yourself out about it. Don’t try to force yourself to play a role. If you can’t be kind, then just don’t be unkind. You might be surprised how your life, your perspective, and your relationships change for the better.

One of the best meals in the world--Pollo con Crema from Las Puertas, Flores, Guatemala

You can afford to be generous

Did you hear the news story the other day about the sports star who left a $.20 tip? I think it was a sports guy. I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention. I just remember thinking that was pretty cheap.

Even if your service is awful in a restaurant, generally I think it’s a good idea to at least leave a 10% tip. I’m pretty sure 15% is standard in Kansas and 20% is expected in other cities. But I’ve never worked in service, so I don’t know for sure. I just know I’m glad someone is bringing me my food and I don’t have to get up and get it.

What I really hate to hear, though, is about some well-meaning Christ follower leaving a measly tip along with an invite to attend services the following week. I mean, I get what they’re doing, but if you’re going to invite a waiter or waitress to attend your church, it’s probably a good idea to make sure you give them a decent tip.

But why is that so hard to do? Why is tipping so difficult? Is it because food prices have gone up so high that adding that extra 10% or 15% or 20% onto the bill will break you? Or is it because you just haven’t received good service?

I can understand in both circumstances. But leaving a tip, especially if you intend to make it a witnessing opportunity, is more than just a tip. It’s a chance to be Christ to someone else.

One of the best meals in the world--Pollo con Crema from Las Puertas, Flores, Guatemala

One of the best meals in the world–Pollo con Crema from Las Puertas, Flores, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Philemon 1:4-7.

I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.

I’m reading Philemon this week, and if you haven’t heard of it, it’s a little bitty book in the back of the New Testament. It’s only one chapter, and it’s jam packed full of awesome.

The back story? It’s basically how Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, encounters this runaway slave named Onesimus. Paul leads Onesimus to Christ in prison, and then he writes a letter to Onesimus’s owner, Philemon, who is a well-known Christ-follower. And Paul begs Philemon to forgive Onesimus for running away and welcome him back not only into his employment as a fellow man but also as a brother in Christ.

It’s a tiny little chapter. Go read it.

And what Paul says in this passage really resonated with me. If you have faith, you’ll be generous. It’s plain and simple. And it’s true if you think about it. The most generous people I’ve ever known have a boatload of faith. Why? Well, they believe that God will bless them when they give their resources away in His name.

I don’t know about sports stars, but Christians should have faith. If you’re a Christ-follower, if you’ve chosen to believe in Christ to save you from your sins so you can have a relationship with God, you have faith. Period. And if you have faith, you should learn how to be generous.

But how do you get there? Well, check out the verse.

You learn to be generous through faith after you understand and experience the goodness of God. Can anyone speak to that? I can. I’ve known God long enough to be stunned speechless when I think about everything He has done for me.

And if God can afford to be so generous with me, why can’t I be generous with other people? No, I don’t have a lot to give financially, but I can give what I can. God will bless it. I don’t have as much time as I used to have either, but what I have, I can give to people and causes that need it. And God will bless it. But most of all, I have what God has given me—and that’s love. And love is the most expensive, free gift in the world, and since the love I can offer others comes from God, my store is unlimited.

So don’t be stingy with the resources God has given you. You’ve had faith He would provide in the past, and He did. So put that faith into action and be generous with the people around you, whether that’s financially or emotionally.

Maybe you can’t afford it, but God can. And it’s His bank you’re pulling from in the first place.

My beautiful latte from Café Nero at Waverly Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

Kindness is more effective than meanness anyday

I was in Starbucks earlier this week, getting a coffee after a very long day. It hadn’t been a bad day necessarily; just crazy and stressful. And the cute little barista girl had this nutty bubbly personality. I thought she was just adorable, and as I was waiting for her to make my coffee, I noticed that she was wearing a set of earrings in the shape of the symbol for the Deathly Hallows. I’m sure they’ve been around for years, but I’d never seen a set like that before. So I told her how much I loved them, and she looked really surprised for a moment. And thanked me because she’d made them herself. She went back to making my coffee, and we continued chatting, just idle talk, and she told me as she handed my coffee over that she wished more people were like me–nice.

That kind of stuck with me (that and the fact that she also likes Doctor Who, which makes her awesome). She was a sweet, cute little barista. Why wouldn’t you be nice to her? But I guess people are people, and working with the public tends to teach you that. I remember the days working behind a counter, at the mercy of whichever customer got there first. And I guess I understand the concept of being rude and mean to make an impression, because it absolutely leaves an impression–it’s just not usually the impression you want to be remembered for.

Given the choice, wouldn’t you rather be remembered as the nice customer?

My beautiful latte from Café Nero at Waverly Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

My beautiful latte from Café Nero at Waverly Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:29.

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.

This is something I think everyone struggles with, especially on bad days. Everyone has bad days. Everyone loses their cool. But I think this verse is talking about more than just the bad days. This verse is referring to a lifestyle. This is the way Christ-followers are supposed to behave. We’re not supposed to cut with our words; we’re supposed to build with our words. Everything we say should be encouraging and inspiring and helpful and kind. Now that doesn’t always mean that the people hearing it will respond in kind. They may get upset at us, but that’s up to them.

I can’t tell you how many times I have encountered unfriendly people who snap and bite and snarl because they want their way only to discover later that they are a professing Christian. That breaks my heart because as Christ followers we’re supposed to live a different kind of life. We’re supposed to know better than that. And I’m talking to myself here too because there are times when I get in a funk because my plans didn’t work out. There are times when I’ve gotten snappy with the lady on the other end of the telephone. But I hope I always try to be kind. I hope I always try to say good things. And when I don’t, I hope I always apologize.

Because there’s no disappointment like discovering a Christian behaving like that. Granted, just because we accept Christ doesn’t make us perfect. We’re still going to screw up, but our outlook should change. Our perspective should change. We shouldn’t use words and hurtful things to manipulate people anymore to get what we want; instead, we should trust that God will work things out the way He wants and it’s up to us to roll with the punches.

If you can walk into a place of business and be kind to everyone around you, you’ll be their biggest fan. I remember those customers when I worked at the WSU Library. I remember the ones who came in, who were kind, who were respectful, who were thoughtful and considerate. I remember them even now, and I haven’t worked there since 2006. But those people made me want to help them. Their kindness spurred me to do more for them than I needed to.

That’s what kindness does. It’s more effective than cruel manipulation any day, and it helps you build better relationships. And, what’s more, it helps you have a better day too.

So when you have the chance to get snappy today, don’t. When you’re faced with someone who you think is lazy and incompetent behind a counter and they’re not giving you the customer service you deserve, don’t get angry at them. Don’t take out your frustrations on them. You have no idea what’s going on in their lives. You have no idea what terrible troubles they’re facing right now. Be kind. Say something nice to them. Say something uplifting to them.

You’ll make their day, and I’m willing to bet that your day will probably get better too.

Wheat beginning to ripen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Kindness that meets real needs

Whenever I think of being kind, I always think of rewinding rented VHS tapes after the movie is over. I know. I’m dating myself. I fully believe DVDs were invented so people didn’t have to waste time rewinding video tapes at the end of the movie. But imagine how irritating that had to be for people who worked in rental places–having to rewind tapes constantly when it should have been the job of the people who rented the movie.

In my mind, kindness is action. It’s sort of like love. We’re commanded to be kind, so it’s a lifestyle choice. But what is it exactly? I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit this month. Again, I don’t know Greek, but I can read a definition. And kindness (χρηστότης) kind of threw me for a loop because it doesn’t really mean what I thought I thought it meant.

Wheat beginning to ripen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat beginning to ripen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:12

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

This is one of the ten or so occurrences of the word kindness (χρηστότης) in the New Testament. According to this word study I’m doing, this word actually means “useful kindness,” referring to “meeting real needs, in God’s way, in His timing or fashion.”

See? Not what I thought it meant. I thought kindness was just being nice to people, whether they deserve it or not. Another definition of this type of kindness is “Spirit-produced goodness which meets the need and avoids human harshness or cruelty.” When it comes right down to it, the English language doesn’t have a word to define this idea of being both kind and good.

So where does that leave us? This kindness is a gift that God gives us when we choose to accept Christ into our lives. It’s something the Holy Spirit will produce in our lives if we let Him, but what does it look like?

I actually had a conversation with my best friend yesterday over Skype. Not the video chat but the texting kind of Skype. (Just saying, Skype has saved my sanity while she’s been on her year-long adventure in England because trying to function on a day-to-day basis without the other half of my brain has been very difficult.) But she was asking me how I was doing, and answering honestly I have to say I’m frustated because I’m at a point in my life where everything around me seems to be going wrong but I only have the time to help with parts of it.

Right now, I have major projects at work that I have to focus on. I have trips to plan for. I have responsibilities at church for ministries. I have major storm damage at my house. My mother is sick. My parents’ house has termites. I have all these friends who are graduating from college or getting married. And some of my closest friends–my sisters even–have experienced loss in their lives. And I want to fix all of it, but I can’t.

To me, in my mind, kindness is killing myself to provide for all of these problems. I want to run around and fix everyone’s issues. But I can’t. Even if I could do that, there’s too much. But the kindness that is a Fruit of the Spirit isn’t killing myself to be kind. It’s not kindness at the expense of my sanity. It’s helping people the way God helps people. It’s meeting the real needs the way God cuts through the clutter of our lives and deals with the real problems. And let’s be honest about this: None of us can do that on our own.

I’m a fixer, and I don’t like to think that there’s something that I can’t fix. But this is an unavoidable truth of being a follower of Christ. Being a follower of Christ means you accept there are some things you can’t fix. Some things you have to rely on God to fix.

Am I saying don’t even try? Am I saying to stop trying to help people? Absolutely not. We are here to support each other and help each other through life. But this type of kindness isn’t about running around like a crazy person, killing yourself to do good for people. This type of kindness meets real need. It cuts to the core of the problem.

Maybe in some instances it’s obvious. Maybe in some instances you already know what the real need is. But sometimes I don’t think we know until God reveals it to us, and when He reveals what the core problem is, then He will equip us to meet that need. And if He doesn’t, maybe you’re not the one who needs to barge in with your two cents. As a person who often barges in where angels fear to tread, that’s something for me to think about.

If you see a child getting ready to be run over by a car, go get the child. If you know someone has run out of gas, take them to the gas station so they can fill up their car. Meet needs. In most circumstances it feel like we try to fix external issues instead of the root of the problem. We try to control behavior instead of fixing the heart, and that’s where the problem is. It’s our hearts that need to be healed, and God is the only one who can do that. So if all we are able to do in our lives is point someone else to Christ, then we’ve done our job.

If you see a real need, meet it. But meet it the way God would and make sure you’re clear on why you’re doing it, because otherwise the person you’re helping may not understand that you’re acting on behalf of God.