Monday, August 23, 2010

When it's full grown...

Last night, I was thinking about relationships and how they sometimes fall apart before you even realize there is a problem. Have you ever had a friend suddenly get angry with you and then you realize it's been building for a long time and you didn't see it coming? Or, have you ever said something that you didn't know was received in the wrong way until months or years later? I've been thinking alot about that lately and last night, a passage of scripture came to mind that I had never before thought about in this context.

When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. - James 1:13-15

Here's where I think this applies in our relationships. I think, sometimes, we get an idea planted in our head about how someone views us. Maybe something they say hurts us. Maybe they forget us on an important day or fail to make time for us. Whether intended or not, sometimes people hurt us and we have a choice what to do with it.

We could choose to address it right away.

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. - Matthew 18:15

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. - Ephesians 4:25-27

Or, we could choose to nurse it. And, that's where I think that passage from James comes in. We are tempted when we are dragged away and enticed by our own evil desires. We think we can trust our heart and our emotions, but we forget that the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9). We let a seed of discontent, hurt, betrayal or whatever else take root in our heart.

"Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin". Once we allow the negative thought or hurt feeling to take root in our heart, it gives birth to sin.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. - Proverbs 18:21

But no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. - James 3:8-9

"And sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death". I realize that in context, James is talking about spiritual death and how we make the progression from temptation to sin to payment for that sin (death). But, I do believe this principle applies to the progression of a relationship. If that initial slight (intended or not) is allowed to settle into the soil of our heart, if we nurse it and allow it to grow into sin (gossip, anger, bitterness), then it will, when it is full grown, lead to the death of the relationship.

Sadly, this happens all too often. There are definitely situations when relationships should end, but too often they end when there is no need. I have experienced this pattern of thinking in my own life at times. I have allowed an incorrect thought or assumption take root in my heart. I have fed it and talked to others who agreed with me and helped me feed it. I've worked myself up into such a state that I thought people who truly love me are actually out to get me. It takes someone with wisdom and compassion speaking the truth in love to me, sometimes, before I realize I've created a wall in a relationship out of absolutely nothing.

The death of a relationship is something I absolutely hate. It always grieves my heart.

So, again, I find myself back at a place of needing accountability and someone who will "sharpen" me (Proverbs 27:17). I need it in my life. I need someone who is willing to correct my focus or perspective when it's off. I need someone who will tell me that truth, even if the truth is that I'm being ridiculous. Fortunately for me, I have a few people who do that well in my life. I'm more grateful than I can even say for those women of God!

The devil is good at his job. He is the father of lies and the master deceiver. He revels in discord among the body of Christ. He rejoices when we are at odds with one another. So, let's "take every thought captive" (II Corinthians 10:5) before they take root in our heart. And, we will have less strife and discontent, and more energy to expend on the things that really matter.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Judge not. But, what about accountability?

It seems I've heard alot of talk lately about how Christians aren't to judge. We are all familiar with passages like Matthew 7:1-5:

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

But, is it possible there is a difference between judging someone and holding someone accountable? I believe that there is, even if that line may sometimes be quite fine. As this question was presented to me recently, I've begun looking for answers in the Scriptures.

It seemed appropriate to start where the statement is found; Matthew 7. I find it interesting that it doesn't stop at verse 4. In verse 5, it talks about removing the plank from your own eye (the sin from your own life) and THEN you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. Never really noticed that before. It doesn't leave off with you dealing with your own sin, but asks that you deal with your own sin first and then you are in the clear to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

I do not believe it's our place to judge each other. In fact, it wasn't even why Christ came to the world (John 3:17). But, the Scriptures seem to be pretty clear that we should hold one another accountable to the high calling set before us. We are called to be imitators of Christ. If you claim the name of Christ, you are part of His body (the church) and have joined yourself to a community in which truth and accountability is expected.

Of course, there are always good and bad ways to go about things. The Apostle Paul addresses the subject of accountability in Galatians 6:1

1Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

I've had this experience. I believe it's important to establish accountability in my life before something happens where it's needed. So, I have a few, close friends who have unfettered access to my life and my heart. These are the people I call when I'm struggling, who know all of my secrets, and who have the unquestioned right to call me on the carpet when something's not right in my life. On more than one occasion, these people have saved me from continuing in a destructive path. I know they come to me in love and because they carry God's word in their hearts. I don't always respond positively right away, but the Spirit always works their words deep into my heart until they breed repentance.

Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. - Proverbs 24:11

These are the sayings of the wise: to show partiality in judging is not good: Whoever says to the guilty, "You are innocent" - people will curse him and nations denounce him. But it will go well with those who convict the guilty, and rich blessing will come upon them. An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips. - Proverbs 24:23-26

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. - Proverbs 27:5-6

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. - Proverbs 27:17

"An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips". "Wounds from a friend can be trusted".

Too often I am guilty of holding back from saying what is right because I fear how I may be perceived. I, too often, don't speak the truth because I am afraid of hurting someone's feelings. How much better would it be, though, to hurt their feelings if it meant saving them the consequences of a sinful road? There is a book by Amy Carmichael that talks about "Calvary Love"; the kind of love that is worthy of the cross of Christ. There are a few quotes from this book that have been chewing on my heart in the area of accountability and speaking the truth.

"If I am afraid to speak the truth, lets I lose affection, or lest the one concerned should say, 'You do not understand,' or because I fear to lose my reputation for kindness; if I put my own good name before the other's highest good, then I know nothing of Calvary love."

"If I am content to heal a hurt slightly, saying 'Peace, peace,' where is no peace; if I forget the poignant word 'Let love be without dissimulation' and blunt the edge of truth, speaking not right things but smooth things, then I know nothing of Calvary love."

"If I fear to hold another to the highest goal because it is so much easier to avoid doing so, then I know nothing of Calvary love."

In truth, aren't many of Paul's letters dedicated to admonishing the Body of Christ and telling us how we should live? In fact, he insists that we live a certain way.

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. - Ephesians 4:17-32

Ephesians is rich with how we are to live as Christians. When we claim that name, we also choose a lifestyle that is of a higher standard. When we choose Christ, we become part of His body, part of the church universal, and no longer are we independent. We are told not to forsake meeting together (Hebrews 10:25) and to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). We are to be interdependent upon one another.

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. - James 5:19-20

So, it seems to me that the answer is clear, if not easy. We are not to judge each other, that is for God alone. But, we are called to hold one another to the high standards to which we are called. We are to speak the truth to one another. We are to love each other enough to have the tough conversations that lead us back to life. We are to work towards restoration to the Lord and within the body so that none of us becomes like the one spoken of in I Corinthians 5 who was cut off from the assembly.

The most important ingredient is love. We are to do all of this because we love God and we love one another. We are to do it with a heart full of compassion and reconciliation. We are to be like Christ in how we approach one another.

Calvary love is tough stuff to be sure. But, what promise awaits us when this life is over and we shall behold Him face to face. We partake in His suffering that we may also partake in His joy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Putting Philippians 4:8 into practice

As I was growing up, my mom’s favorite verse was Philippians 4:8

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

I can remember growing to cringe everytime she responded to our questions with that verse.

“Mom, can we go see this movie?”

“Is it pure and lovely?”

“Well, it’s PG-13, so probably not”

“Then, no”.

AUGH! How frustrating for a teenager! Nothing in the world is pure and lovely! Wait. Maybe that was her point. As I’ve grown up and had the opportunity to look back at my upbringing some, I realize that my mom was teaching us to be discerning about what we let into our minds and hearts. If we couldn’t apply that litmus test to the upcoming activity and come away clean, then it’s something we probably didn’t need to do.

Today, as I was thinking about conflict in relationships and how sometimes we get so far down a road before we realize that it was misunderstandings or assumptions that got us there. Sometimes it’s hiding the truth, not telling the truth, or being afraid to confront with the truth. I then ran across this verse again (which, by the way, has now become one of my favorite verses). And, I wondered what it would be like if I started applying this to my dealings with people.

“Whatever is true…”

“Is it true that she said or meant that? Hmmm….maybe I shouldn’t “think on it” until I know it’s true. Let me ask”

“Whatever is noble…”

“Noble? What does that mean?”

“Having or showing qualities of high moral character, such as courage, generosity, or honor”

“hmmm…If I choose to react this way, will it show qualities of high moral character? When I think of this, will I see it as noble?”

“Whatever is right…”

“Am I in the right? What is right? What would be the godly response?”

“Is there sin involved? In my heart? In the situation?”

“Whatever is pure…”

“Are my intentions pure?”

“Is this action pure?”

“Is this beyond reproach and worthy of the high calling of Christ?”

“Whatever is lovely…”

“Hmmm….when is the last time I’ve heard gossip described as ‘lovely’?”

“Will the words of my mouth be ‘lovely’ to the Lord if I choose to utter what I’m thinking?”

“Are my thoughts ‘lovely’?

“Whatever is admirable…”

“What is to be admired in this situation?”

“In what ways will I be worthy of admiration in the way I handle this person or situation?”

“Excellent or Praiseworthy…”

“Seriously…how will God’s name be lifted up in this?”

We’re all guilty of missteps in relationship. It’s a product of living in a fallen world and allowing ourselves to be tempted. I know I’m guilty of saying things out of spite or with the hope that someone will be hurt. There’s nothing pure or lovely about that. I know I’m guilty of covering the truth or shying away from it because I’m afraid I may lose favor with the other person if I really speak what’s on my heart (or in the Scriptures). There’s nothing right about that. I’ve also been guilty of not giving someone the benefit of the doubt before obsessing over what I heard they said or think they mean. I didn’t focus on the truth at those moments. I have handled things in ways that are certainly less than admirable. And, I’ve grieved over the times when I, not only failed to lift the Savior up, but also managed to do damage to the reputation of His Bride.

So, maybe I’ll take my mom’s words a step farther than I have in the past and let the wisdom of this verse stretch over all areas of my life. What a beautiful thing it would be if this was the filter that was applied to my thoughts and words. I’ve a long way to go, but a promise awaits. (Philippians 4:9)

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”