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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Don’t give power to powerless things

We have a little garden plot here are Safe Haven Farm. It isn’t much, and it’s actually much less now than it used to be. But we get some fresh veggies out of it.

When I was younger, we’d eat out of the garden. We had potatoes and carrots and onions. We had everything to make salsa, except the tortilla chips. I loved the results of gardening. What I didn’t like was the work behind getting those results.

In this part of Kansas, our soil is fertile, but it’s filled with clay, which makes digging difficult. And then there are the weeds.

Weeds, weeds, everywhere, from dandelions to cheat grass and everything in between. Weeds make gardening difficult. They sap the nutrients from the fruit-bearing plants, and sometimes they’re difficult to distinguish too.

And even if you can tell the difference between a weed and a real plant, usually their roots are woven together, so you can’t pull one up without killing the other.

I hate weeds. Everyone does. I think that’s one of the reasons they’re part of the original curse (Genesis 3:17). But weeds don’t just affect our gardens. Weeds can affect our lives too. Weeds can be spiritual.

Idolatry is a spiritual weed. Ever thought about that?

When I think about idols and idolatry, I envision mass groups of people in robes bowing down to bronze statues or singing in foreign languages. Like some twisted church service thousands of years in the past when people didn’t know any better.

Maybe in some cases that’s true. Historically some cultures did bow down before forged statues, but you won’t see that kind of idolatry happening in the United States. American idolatry is much more subversive.

Sports. Artists. Politicians. Performers. Your job. Your friends. Your family. Idols can take the shape of even the most innocent relationships. It’s the power you give them over your life that makes them idols.

Those bronze statues people worshiped in ancient times had no power at all, except what the people who bowed down surrendered (Jeremiah 10:5).

We all have idols. Let’s just admit that right now, because it’s true. We all have something or someone in our lives that is fighting to take precedence over God and His plans. The question is who you’re willing to surrender your life to.

An idol is anything that takes the place of God in your life. So to figure out what idols are in your life, you have to ask yourself what role God should be filling.

God is our comforter. He should be the one who helps us manage our stress. Are you turning to something else other than His Word or His promises to calm you down? That’s an idol.

God is our sufficiency. He should be the one who makes us whole. Are you looking to another relationship to complete you? Are you looking to something you can achieve to make you feel worthwhile? That’s an idol.

God is our security. He should be the one who makes us feel safe, who makes us feel loved. Are you looking to what another person makes you feel to sooth your insecurity? Are you looking to your success personally to make you feel safe? That’s an idol.

Your sports team may be a community, but it shouldn’t be the root of your community. Your job may be how God provides for you, but never forget that it is still God who provides. And you may never be happy with the way you look, but you should always remember that God made you the way you are. And God doesn’t make mistakes.

But identifying idols is only one part of this. And it’s the easiest part. Removing idols from your life is difficult, painful work. Not only does it hurt you, but it hurts the people around you.

You have to dig up your life to expose the roots of the problem. So do the people who care about you.

If you’re blessed (like I am), you have people in your life who love you so deeply that they’re willing to experience the pain of uprooting your idols alongside you. No matter how much it hurts them or inconveniences them, they’ll hang in there right beside you. They’ll walk you through the pain and the heartache of realizing how flawed you actually are, and they’ll love you throughout it all.

But how much better would it be if we didn’t let idols put down roots in our lives? Remember, idols only have the power we give them (Jeremiah 10:5). So wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we didn’t give our idols any power at all?

That job you think matters so much? Instead of trusting your finances, how about you try trusting your faith?

That person whose opinion will make or break you? How about you care less about what they think and more about what God says?

That relationship you think you can’t lose? Ask God what He thinks about you and then reevaluate how the people in your life treat you.

Identify what could become an idol before it puts down roots. It’s like pre-treating your garden plot for weeds before you plant. That way you can pull it out before it damages your life and the lives of those around you. (Matthew 13:24-30)

God has give you the power to choose who will control your life. You can either hand that power over to powerless things, or you can give it back to God, who can actually do something with it.

Which do you think is a better idea?

Don’t rush learning how to follow Jesus

I’m not a patient person. I’m like the least patient person you’ll ever meet. That’s why I marathon television shows. That’s why I rarely read books series until they’re complete. I don’t like waiting for stories to resolve. I want to know what happens right away.

Unfortunately that lack of patience seeps into other areas of my life. It’s one of the reasons why I didn’t do well in music lessons. My mom is a crazy accomplished classical musician, but she didn’t get there overnight. It took 45 years for her to get to that place. I wanted to pick up a musical instrument and be perfect right away. I didn’t want to work at it. I didn’t want to make mistakes and have to learn from them. I wanted the benefit of the skill without the drudgery of the discipline required to achieve it.

Sound familiar to anyone? We all have our sticking points when it comes to patience and discipline. Ironically, I had to learn that I had a lot to learn, regardless of what career path I chose. I settled on writing because I thought I was a great writer when I was little.

Yeah. Wow. Looking back, I knew nothing. And all I’ve learned in 25 years of writing (yes, I wrote my first story in kindergarten) is that I still know nothing, and that I have a lot more to learn. I’ve learned that I’ll never stop learning. But learning isn’t about filling your head with information. I mean, that’s part of it. The greater part of learning is patience. It’s hard work to learn. It’s trying and difficult, but the more you work at it, the stronger you get.

S059QDGBOG_1549x1037Today’s verses are Hebrews 10:32-36.

Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

Following Jesus takes discipline. Sorry to burst the bubbles of anyone who signed on expecting an easy ride. Think of following Jesus like two magnets with opposite poles being pressed together. On one side, you’re drawn to Him because you belong to Him, but on the other side you’re repelled because you still have a dark nature that wants your own way. You have to fight yourself every step of the way if you want to follow Jesus.

And then add in the trouble our enemy throws at us. We have an enemy who hates us because Jesus loves us, and our enemy will do everything in his power to distract us, stop us, hurt us, discourage us, and slow us down. But instead of seeing all those obstacles as barriers to following Jesus, try to see them as opportunities to grow.

Don’t rush following Jesus. Enjoy it. It takes time. It takes years. Learn to see the trouble as opportunities for God to show His power. Learn to see people as family members who just don’t know Jesus yet. But the more you seize opportunities to follow Jesus, the stronger you’ll become.

Jesus says to love your enemies. That’s not easy, but that’s part of following Him. You won’t want to do it, and Satan won’t want you to either. But Jesus says it, so we do it. Loving an enemy is an obstacle because they don’t want your love, but if you treat it as an opportunity, your faith will grow. Every time you extend love or kindness or forgiveness to someone who wants to hurt you (and you get nothing in return), it demonstrates to everyone around you and even to yourself that what Jesus says matters more to you than what is commonly or popularly accepted. And God blesses an attitude like that.

 

Even in the darkness, you never walk alone

Have you ever been in a situation that goes from bad to worse? I mean, before you even have a chance to wrap you brain around the first problem, another one pops up? It’s like trying to catch waves on the beach. Just when you think you’ve stopped one in its tracks, it slips away, only to knock you over with a bigger one.

Everybody knows that life is like that, but there’s this idea that following Jesus isn’t. And that’s a lie. If anything, following Jesus just makes life feel harder sometimes. Because you know what’s wrong with the world, but you can’t do anything to fix it. You even know what’s wrong with yourself, but you have the same problem. And regardless of how sad you feel or how alone you feel or how useless you feel, you’re not supposed to let on, right? You’re just supposed to keep that happy face plastered on so nobody will think your faith is weak.

Well, friends, just being honest here … that’s silly.

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 1:8-10.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us.

This is Paul talking. The Paul. This man had an encounter with Jesus Himself. He’s responsible for penning most of the New Testament. And this is him talking about his great achievements, right? How he always faced difficulty with a stiff upper lip and a spring in his step?

If you got that out of the passage above, I suggest reading it again.

Paul was always honest about what He was feeling. He wasn’t the emotional type, like Peter, but he never hesitated to let people know what was on his heart. This man was a leader of the Early Church, and right here he’s admitting that he nearly gave up! He expected that he was going to die.

But….

I love that word but. It means that the story isn’t over. It means that there’s something better coming.

But … Paul said when he realized the situation was beyond his control, he learned to rely on God. Oh, if only I could learn that lesson too. In those moments when life is too much for me (they come frequently), if I could just remember to trust God, I think I would see my situation much differently.

It’s not easy, because you keep thinking there’s something you ought to be doing. And maybe there is, but most of the time what needs to happen is beyond your control anyway. You need to let go, and you need to trust that God will bring a solution when it’s time.

I love what Paul says. That God rescued them from mortal danger, and that He would do it again. That rescuing them was something God would continue to do. Not just something He did once or twice. Not just something He did in the past. He would always come to their rescue when they needed Him.

There’s no shame in admitting you feel lost and confused. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about if you’re lonely or angry or sad. We all feel that way. We all want to give up. We all experience that moment of balancing on the brink, where one wrong move might send us toppling over. But God’s pretty good at rescuing people. He’s been doing it for a long time. He’s good at putting pieces back together again too.

The world is a dark place. It’s full of hurt and hurting people and broken dreams and sorrow, but you don’t have to walk it alone. God is strong enough to get us through it. He’ll come alongside us and walk with us and help us. No matter how dark the darkness gets, you don’t have to face it by yourself.

Nobody needed that roof anyway

When was the last time you had faith that something would happen? It doesn’t have to be something miraculous. Maybe it’s something as simple as having faith that there would be a movie ticket left to buy when you went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron this past weekend (rockin’ awesome show, by the way). Or maybe it was faith that God would answer a prayer.

Everybody has faith in something. It’s an essential fact of life. But it’s been proven over and over again through history that only faith in Christ is truly life-changing. It’s easy to grasp the fact that faith changes you, but did you realize that your faith can change other people too?

hole-in-roof-2-big.jpgToday’s verses are Mark 2:2-5.

Soon the house where he [Jesus] was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”

I hope to meet these four gentlemen someday. I’d love to talk to them, hear about this experience from their own perspective. I mean, it had to be terrifying. Trusting Jesus so completely for the well-being of someone they all cared about.

That’s my sticking place. I don’t have a problem trusting Him with me. It’s trusting Him to take care of the people I love that I struggle with the most.

But these four guys were out of options. Jesus was their only hope, and they were determined to do whatever was necessary to get their friend at His feet. But what I love about this story isn’t that the paralyzed man had faith that Jesus would heal him. It’s that his friends had faith that Jesus would heal him. And it was because of the friends’ faith that Jesus responded.

And I don’t know if that resonates with you like it does with me today, but it’s something I need to remind myself of frequently. I don’t know if you recognize this, but we live in a really screwed-up world. Nothing is as it should be. People hurt each other. Families self-destruct. Friends tear each other to bits.

Trapped in the middle of all of it, helpless and useless, I watch. There’s nothing I can do. I have no words of comfort to speak. I have no wisdom to share or encouragement to offer. What can you say in the face of so much brokenness? When people you love are hurting so badly, what can you do?

And then I remember the four friends. What did they do? They brought their friend to Jesus. Whether their friend believed Jesus could make a difference or not was irrelevant. They believed it. And that’s where I’m trying to stand in our world today.

Regardless of what happens, I believe that whatever God does will be something beautiful. Maybe it won’t start off feeling that way, but He’ll turn even the darkest moments into shining light. I believe that with all my heart. But beyond clinging to the vague, ethereal hope that everything will be okay eventually, I’m not afraid to ask Him to fix what’s wrong in our world right now.

I know what some end-times scholars will say. The way the world is just means Jesus is coming back sooner. The world is supposed to be this way. And maybe they’re right, but they don’t know.

Yes, eventually everything will be okay. But what would have happened if those four friends took that perspective? Sure, their paralyzed buddy might have suffered in this life, but when he dies, he’ll be in paradise. I’m sure their friend was thankful afterward that they hadn’t thought that way.

And just like them, I don’t want to give in to the “eventually” club. Yes, God will make everything right in the end, but it’s not the end. Not yet. We’re close, but we’re still here. And as long as we’re here, why not ask for a miracle? Why not believe He can do the impossible?

Who cares if you’re the only one who believes it? What does it matter if you have to dig a hole and get your hands dirty? What does it matter if people look at you funny? If you believe Jesus is what your friends need, then wouldn’t you do everything in your power to get them to Him?

So drop everything right now and bring your friends to Jesus. Just lay them at His feet. Maybe you can’t do it physically, but you can do it emotionally and spiritually. And don’t just ask Him to help because you feel like you have to. Ask Him for help because you know He can, because He’s the only one who can.

Maybe it’s your faith that’s the key.