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.

God keeps track so I don’t have to

Have you ever been so far behind that you’ve got practically no chance of catching up in your lifetime? Have you ever been so surrounded by chaos and craziness that you can’t keep your head above the waves no matter how good a swimmer you are? Have you ever trusted someone to help you stand up after life has beaten you down only to feel the shock of them kicking you while you’re too tired to defend yourself?

Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt. How about you?

This isn’t a very good blog post.

Since last fall I’ve tried to make these posts deep and rich, full of more than one Bible reference and practical stories from life. But today’s post isn’t going to be like that, simply because I haven’t been able to write that kind of post.

But what’s true in the long, deep, rich posts is true in smaller posts like this one: God is always good, even when your situation isn’t; He never makes mistakes; and He always keeps His promises.

When I reach low points in my life, I run to the Psalms. It’s reassuring to me to read the words of the writers, especially the Psalms of David. David asked God hard questions. “Where are you?” and “How long will you be angry with me?” and “Why are these horrible things happening?” and “Why have my friends turned against me?”

There are no easy answers. God didn’t respond with platitudes or religious verbiage. He didn’t wave the questions away as though they didn’t matter. Instead He granted David (and the other Psalm writers) an understanding of Who He is.

Psalm 56

O God, have mercy on me,
for people are hounding me.
My foes attack me all day long.
I am constantly hounded by those who slander me,
and many are boldly attacking me.
But when I am afraid,
I will put my trust in you.
I praise God for what he has promised.
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
What can mere mortals do to me?

They are always twisting what I say;
they spend their days plotting to harm me.
They come together to spy on me—
watching my every step, eager to kill me.
Don’t let them get away with their wickedness;
in your anger, O God, bring them down.

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.

My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help.
This I know: God is on my side!
I praise God for what he has promised;
yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised.
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
What can mere mortals do to me?

I will fulfill my vows to you, O God,
and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help.
For you have rescued me from death;
you have kept my feet from slipping.
So now I can walk in your presence, O God,
in your life-giving light.

Not an overused religious cliche in sight, right? David doesn’t pull any punches when he’s talking about the state of the world and the kinds of people who want to destroy him. And I don’t know about you, but some of that sounds awfully familiar to me.

Everyone has people in their lives who are hurtful. We all have relationships that aren’t healthy in some way or another. And maybe no one is actively trying to kill you (I hope not, at least), I’d be willing to bet there are several who are trying to hurt your reputation. Maybe they’re even succeeding. But don’t give up. 

God isn’t blind. He isn’t ignoring you. And He isn’t ignoring them either.

But just because they’re getting away with it now doesn’t mean they’ll get away with it forever. Just because your life is rocky and crazy and overwhelming and frustrating right now doesn’t mean it will continue to be that way. Just because there are people and obstacles in your path that are causing destruction and pain right now doesn’t mean they’ll always be there.

Things may be tough right now, but God hasn’t gone anywhere. Instead of being angry and upset at Him for your life going differently than you wanted, spend the time asking Him what He has planned. Trust me, His plan is better anyway. Just trust Him. Do what He says is right. And keep moving forward.

It’s just the way I am

In the last few years, I’ve gotten really interested in the Meyers Briggs Personality Tests. I never used to put a lot of stock in personality quizzes, mainly because I thought they stereotyped people too much. But as I’ve gotten older and met more people, I’ve started to learn the value of having a basic knowledge of the different personality types.

No, you can’t (or at least you shouldn’t) label people. It doesn’t do much good because everyone is different. And putting people in a box limits their potential and can possible stifle your relationship with them (John 7:24). That being said, when it comes to getting to know someone, you have to start somewhere.

Example? I test as an INFJ, although that N is only 50% (because I’m 50% S). If you know MBTI, you understand. But my actual personality is closer to an INFP. But since I was raised by a family of Js, I have a lot of J tendencies that I’ve pushed to the forefront of my personality. The organization. The scheduling. The planning. The punctuality. And the perfectionism.

I don’t fit neatly in the INFP box either. And, honestly, when it comes to personality tests, very few people are perfect matches, and even the ones who do have their own quirks and eccentricities that make them who they are (Psalm 139:14).

But I hear something every now and then when I’m talking personalities with people. The phrase: “It’s just the way I am.” You’ve heard that right? I’m sure you’ve even used it once or twice. I have. And there’s some truth to it.

I have wide shoulders and a broad back. I’m built with a large frame, and even if I ever get down to where my BMI tells me I should be, I won’t be dainty. There’s nothing dainty about me. But that’s just the way I am. That’s the way I’m made. I can’t change that.

Personality wise? I’m an introvert. That doesn’t automatically make me shy, but it means being around crowds of people wears me out. I recharge by being alone. And I’ve always been that way, even from childhood. I like being around people, but I reach a saturation point where I’ve got to get away. That’s just the way I am.

But do I have to stay just the way I am? What if “just the way I am” is an excuse I use to protect myself or to avoid doing something I don’t want to do? Ever thought of it that way?

Physically speaking, I can’t change the way I look. God built me this way, and I’m perfectly content to stay this way (Isaiah 64:8). But my personality (I think) is a different issue. No, I can’t change who I am as a person, and that’s not what God asks of me (Jeremiah 1:4-5). But I also don’t think I should hide behind it either.

Let’s say God tells me that I need to go talk to someone I don’t know. It would be so easy to remind God that I’m an introvert, and I don’t like talking to people I don’t know. And that’s true. Some days I would rather put my own eye out than walk over to a stranger and strike up a conversation. But if God tells me to do it, shouldn’t I do it? If God tells me to do it, won’t He give me what I need to make it happen? (Psalm 107:28-30)

That’s what’s He’s promised. Over and over again, He tells us that we can do things we think are impossible. And if it’s just us trying to do them, they are impossible. But with God, we can do it. (Matthew 19:26)

No, your personality isn’t something to overcome. Understanding your personality is a vital step in learning who God made you and what you can do for Him. But if you turn your personality into an excuse or use it to avoid obeying God, you’re asking for trouble.

So, yes. Take the tests and quizzes. Get to know what it means to be you. Understand why you operate the way you do, why you think the way you do, and embrace it. You’re unique and individual, and God made you that way because He has a plan for you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t rise above your personality and its limitations.

You may be an introvert, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to strangers. You may be a hardcore S, but that doesn’t mean you must lack empathy. And if you’re a full-on J, that doesn’t mean the sky will fall if you’re late for a meeting because you stopped to help someone. And so on and so forth.

Labeling our personalities is helpful, but when we start using them as reasons why we aren’t doing what God has called us to do or living how God has called us to live, all we’re doing is offering excuses. And that never flies with God.

God invented personalities. He knows what you’re capable of doing, and—what’s more—He knows what He can do through you.

Do you trust God or not?

A spider monkey hanging in a tree outside the Mayan Ruins of Tikal in Guatemala

The locals call it “the tour the monkeys take.” The canopy zip line near the Mayan ruins of Tikal is a series of cables strung from platform to platform in the thick of the Guatemalan jungle. It’s not uncommon to spot spider monkeys and bright-feathered birds as you sail from tree to tree.

I’ve never been on it, and I’m not planning to go anytime soon. But I know loads of folks who’ve done it. And I admire their fearlessness. They’ll strap themselves into the harness, hook themselves on the cable, and fling their bodies into the open air of the jungle.

If it were me standing on that platform with nothing but a slim cable to support my flight from tree to tree, leaping into the air like some kind of Superman would be the last desire in my heart. But while I haven’t done it physically, I’ve done it in other ways.

I walked away from my high-paying job to start my own business. I elected to write a novel that would challenge the way people see Christ-followers. I traveled alone to dangerous parts of the world. I climbed behind the wheel of a car after surviving a terrible wreck.

No, it’s not the same as riding a zip line through a jungle canopy. But it was just as crazy.

Facing the future can be terrifying. With everything we know is happening today, it’s hard to see the future as anything less than bleak. Yet some people still walk toward it with their heads held high. They charge toward the unknown without a hint of fear, risking life and limb as they fling themselves into the air.

How can you embrace the terror of the future without collapsing under the weight of everything you don’t know? How is it possible to be brave when all you have to go on is how much failure hurts?

Well, do you trust God or not?

That’s really the only question that matters. But it’s the one of the most difficult questions you’ll ever answer.

Trusting God can be difficult. God is perfect. That’s one of the things that makes Him so scary. Because He’s right all the time.

So what happens when you trust God for something, and you don’t get it? It happens more often than not. You think you know what He’s calling you to do. You’re sure you’re on the right track. You believe it with all your heart, and then BAM! The world changes. You lose that person you love. You lose that relationship you needed. You lose the job you had to have.

So much for trusting God, right? All it gets you is more pain, more heartache, more trouble, more stress. You trust Him to take care of things, and all you get is more difficulty and struggle.

But doesn’t it make sense that part of trusting God is trusting that He’s not done yet? If we say we trust Him, why do we give up when life gets tough?

The truth is, God never promised you wouldn’t get hurt. He never promised that you’d get to keep everything you have, relationships or possessions or positions included.

So many times I think we project our own wants and desires onto God’s promises. So when we hear Him promise to protect us, we think that means He’ll prevent heartache or that He’ll stop anything from happening that will hurt us. And that’s not the case.

The Bible doesn’t say trust God and you’ll never be hurt. The Bible says to trust God because He knows what He’s doing. Trust Him because even when you get hurt, He’ll stay by your side (Isaiah 43:1-2).

Your life isn’t what you expected. So what? Do you really want to limit yourself to what you expect? Why not believe that God has something bigger and better in store?

Your boyfriend or girlfriend left. I’m truly sorry, but maybe that’s not who God had in mind for you.

You lost a business deal or an election or a relationship. Do you really think God is so small that He can only work within the boundaries of your expectations?

I have trust issues. Everyone does. And God knows that. But He’s done so much to prove Himself. How much more does He have to do to demonstrate that He is good, that He is faithful, and that He is worthy of trust?

You can’t half-trust Him. Half-trusting is putting on the harness and staying on the ground. It’s writing your book and never telling anyone about it.

So decide. Ask yourself. Do you trust God or not? If you don’t, that’s fine. That’s your choice. And you have the right to make that decision for yourself.

But if you do trust Him, then it’s time to start living like it. Stop wallowing in the what-ifs and might-have-beens. Stop clinging to the life you expected. Stop pining for the dreams that didn’t come true. Open your eyes and see the world for what it is, see God for who He is, and remember that He isn’t finished yet. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Do you trust God?

Yes, you’ll probably be afraid. But that’s what bravery is—action in the face of fear, boldness in the face of danger (Proverbs 28:1).

You can stay on the ground if you want. But God has so much more for you. If you trust Him, He’ll take you places you never dreamed you could go, and He’ll do more through you than you ever thought possible.

When you only want half of Jesus

Imagine you walk into the grocery store and fill your shopping cart with essentials. Not the name brand products either. Just what you need to get by. Then, when you go to pay for your cart of groceries, you present the sales clerk with half a credit card. Do you think you’ll get to go home with your groceries?

Instead, what if you gave her half the amount of money you owe the store. Your groceries would cost $50, but you only have $25. Do you think you’d be able to take home the entire cart of groceries? No, of course not.

In the case of the half of a credit card, you wouldn’t get to take anything home. In the case of half the cash, you’d have to take home half of what you wanted to purchase. And that’s a silly example maybe, but why do we think that following Jesus is different? Why do we expect to get all the benefit of belonging to Him if we only want half of Him?

Everybody loves Jesus, right?

He was a great teacher, an amazing role model, and he stood up to the oppressive religious leaders. He encouraged His followers to forgive their enemies and turn the other cheek and be patient with each other.

All of that is true. But it’s only one side of the coin. And trying to force this politically correct portrait of Jesus into the mold of human society is like trying to pay for your groceries with half a credit card. It doesn’t work.

Because, no, not everybody loves Jesus. Not everybody is supposed to. And if you’re truly a follower of Jesus, not everyone will love you either (Matthew 10:22).

Jesus is a paradox. He’s impossible. He came both to unite people with God (Romans 8:15-17) yet divide people from each other (Luke 12:51). He came to offer a way to salvation (John 3:16), but that means facing the truth that the world is condemned without Him (John 3:17). He is God. He is Man. He died. He lives today. He is. And if you think you can explain Him with a few quaint platitudes that fit your definition of Christianity, you’re wrong.

You can’t have half of Jesus. You can’t follow half of Jesus. If you try it, you’ll always be confused and at odds with the Bible. Because Jesus didn’t come to discredit the Bible (Matthew 5:17). He came to complete what’s already there.

Yes, Jesus loves everyone, but no one deserves to be loved.

Yes, Jesus saves everyone who comes to Him, but not everyone will choose to be saved.

Yes, Jesus forgives anyone, but you can’t be forgiven if you don’t ask for it and admit that you are wrong.

Jesus isn’t this pale-hearted milktoast literary figure who blesses people in flowery language and always smiles with a shining halo around his head. Nor is He a religious zealot intent on tearing down the government or protesting every action of a country’s leaders just for spite.

You can’t label Him. You can’t stereotype Him. And if you think you can, you don’t know Him.

During His life on earth, Jesus was the most compassionate, most loving, most tender-hearted man alive. But that didn’t mean He refused to stand up against tyranny, against oppression and persecution. But He didn’t riot and damage property. He stood for truth and justice peacefully, calmly, meekly. He asked questions instead of demanding answers, and He gained a reputation for being someone who spoke with authority instead of someone who demanded what He was owed.

American Christians could learn a lot about how to handle life from Jesus. Ironic, isn’t it?

You can’t separate Jesus’ love from His righteousness. You can’t separate His mercy and His justice. You can’t separate His compassion from His holiness. You can’t separate Jesus from God because They are the same Person.

Does that make you uncomfortable? It should. Jesus has always made people uncomfortable, and the day He stops, is the day we’ve truly forgotten who He is. He should always make us think about what we believe and why we believe it. He should always make us realize how unworthy we are, yet how valuable we are to Him.

So where does that leave us? How do we press forward in this exhausting, emotional, conflicted existence when we don’t understand? How do we decide what is right and what is wrong and how to live?

It’s not as complicated as people make it seem. It’s cliched, but what did Jesus do? How did He live?

He loved everyone, yes, but he didn’t make excuses for them. (That’s not love, by the way.) He accepted everyone, but that didn’t mean He dismissed what was true. He spent time with people who disagreed with Him, but He never compromised what was right. He lived sacrificially to serve other people, but even He still paid His taxes (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25).

If you ask the world about a lifestyle like that, they won’t know what to do with it. It makes no sense to them, and if you don’t know Jesus, it won’t make sense to you either.

Don’t accept the world’s view about Jesus. Don’t even accept the Church’s view on Jesus. Read about Him for yourself. And then spend some time with Him. Get to know Him personally. I promise, you won’t ever be the same. And that, my friends, is the point.