Sometimes It Is Hard To Be Civil

https://rhm.podbean.com/e/sometimesits-hard-tobe-civil/

A pastor writes …

I received a message on Instagram from someone I didn’t know. Many people follow me who I don’t really know. And I follow many people who I don’t know hoping to have an opportunity to impact them with the Gospel.

One day he sent me the following message:

So umm… I see that you are following me, but I don’t understand why? I’m like a homosexual Satanist and I don’t believe in fairy tales — *cough, God, * cough

So, um yeah … unless you want something else from me … I would suggest blocking me.

If you had received this message, what would you have done? 

How would you have responded?

I wanted to say something that wouldn’t turn him away.

Something that would keep the conversation going.

I thought for a moment, started to type, and hit enter.

Why do you consider yourself a Satanist??

I just kind of skipped over the homosexual part and got right to the heart of the matter. And he responded by saying:

Just kidding. I’m an atheist.

Then I wrote:

So you are a comedic atheist?

He replied:

I guess … haha!

The next day I received this message from the guy:

What do you get from God? What does He do for you?

Wow, did I answer that question with joy! One of the many things I shared was:

I feel like I’m never alone. That I am blessed by God and that He has a plan, a direction for my life. I look up at the stars and think there must be a Creator; that none of this is an accident. And I just read the Bible, and it rang true. 

And then I challenged him to try to read the Bible. I figured he probably didn’t own a Bible, so I wrote:

Google “James 1” and read it, and you will see how cool it is — and wise.

He wrote back:

I said … I don’t read fairy tales

So then I prayed, “Lord give me the perfect answer to pique his interest,” and I sent him this message:

James is a history book! Try just one chapter. What would it hurt? What if it was a vast treasure just at your fingertips? If … after reading one chapter, you think it’s meaningless, then I’ll understand.

A couple of days went by, and I received a new message in my inbox from him. It read in all caps:

BEST READ OF MY LIFE!

This pastor was working hard to be civil … and it is not always easy

But, often the best way to open the door to sharing Jesus with someone is to begin a civil conversation

This means we maintain a sincere, kind, and respectful tone as we dialogue

Not preach at, not monolog as we share, but discuss and dialogue

It also means praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance about what to say, including when and how to say it

Many Christians fall into one of two categories – two different extremes

1> There are some who don’t engage with nonbelievers at all about spiritual matters because they feel afraid, intimidated, or ill-equipped

2> there are others who do engage with nonbelievers, but it can be in a manner that is obnoxious or argumentative; critical and judgmental

The solution or remedy to both of these extremes is found in 1 Peter 3:15

“… but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (ESV)

“Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.” (MSG)

Our effectiveness for the Gospel begins with a reverence for Jesus as Lord in our hearts

And we are called to always be ready to give an answer to those who ask us the reason why we have hope

This must be done with gentleness and respect – in a civil manner -because it is coming from your heart which, as the verse states, is focused on Jesus

What the world needs now, more than ever before, is for believers to be open, engaging, and available to engage in civil conversations 

Often difficult in a culture where people are becoming more and more hostile to Christianity — and to each other — and there are so many different ‘camps’

Just look at any comments section of a social media post or news article online

It can be the simplest topic to the most controversial — It doesn’t matter

In just about every instance, you will have people who disagree with one another and begin labeling and attacking without a filter

Civil discourse seems to have left the building

Having a civil conversation with someone when you disagree seems almost impossible

And, I admit, “sometimes it is hard to be civil”

And, we Christians are just as guilty of this as nonbelievers

The truth is:

We are not going to win anyone or convince anyone of anything with our harsh and obnoxious Facebook posts over petty differences

We are not going to argue anyone into God’s Kingdom

Instead, we need to engage in civil dialogues and civil conversations with those who do not know Jesus … and those who do, for that matter!

Throughout Scripture, almost every conversion story began with some type of civil conversation

In Acts 8, Philip had a conversation with an Ethiopian who ended up getting baptized

In Acts 10, Peter and a man named Cornelius had a conversation, and the next thing you know, Cornelius and his family surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ

It was in Acts 16:13-14, during a conversation with Paul and his companions, that a woman named Lydia opened her heart to receive Christ as Lord

Jesus peached and taught the people but in His one-on-one conversations we see that He would often take on a different approach by being civil, conversing and asking questions

One of the best examples of this is recorded in the third chapter of John

A man named Nicodemus had an encounter with Jesus — and his life was forever changed.

John 3:1-15 “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Nicodemus was someone you might meet fo the first time and think, He’ll never become Christian

The guy had political influence and clout

He represented the status quo

He was wealthy

A guardian of the rules

A keeper of the laws

Nicodemus subscribed to all kinds of unwritten laws as a teacher of Israel

He represents the people who believe that by keeping all the rules they are somehow saved or made righteous

And yet Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because he was very intrigued by Him

He wanted to learn more about Him and the things He had been teaching, the healings, the signs and wonders

So, Nicodemus said, “Rabbi,” which means “teacher, “ and the conversation begins.

John 3:2 “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

Some things to note within Jesus’ and Nicodemus’s exchange that will be immensely helpful to you and me as we share our faithshare in a civil manner

1> Straight to the point

Jesus was willing to have a civil conversation with Nicodemus, but He also got straight to the point

John 3:3 “Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

It could have been because it was late at night and Jesus was tired after a long day … and small talk was not something Jesus wanted to engage in

But it most likely had more to do with Jesus’s desire to see Nicodemus saved

He didn’t pull any punches

He did not shy away from this opportunity to speak openly and honestly with one of Israel’s most important and religious leaders

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

That’s pretty direct

“Truly, truly” means “Listen carefully, I’m not lying”

Nicodemus heard this phrase born again and he couldn’t figure it out

He didn’t understand it

So he asked the question:

“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)

Jesus answered, and once again, He did not mince words:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit…”

Of course, we know what this meant but Nicodemus didn’t…

What Jesus meant was that Nicodemus had already been born physically; he needed to be born spiritually

But Nicodemus did not get it

But to fair, consider where we are in history:

Jesus has not died on the cross yet

The Day of Pentecost was still three years away

The Church had not started yet

There were no pastors

No church buildings on the corner of the street

No crosses on church buildings

Jesus was speaking prophetically when He pointed out the truth about being born of water and the Spirit

No wonder Nicodemus didn’t understand

I’m not sure that at this point in the conversation he was suppose to understand

And Jesus might have been thinking ‘You can’t handle the truth!’ … But He laid everything out directly anyways

Sometimes when believers are talking with someone who doesn’t know Christ, we beat around the bush

We use too many words

We preface or sugarcoat or water down the message

Jesus’s civil conversation with Nicodemus teaches us that sometimes we need to get straight to the point.

This does not mean you should be frantic, rude, or abrupt

Jesus was gentle and at ease as He shared the truth

It may not be comfortable to confront someone’s beliefs, but you can learn to do it

As we practice sharing our testimony and the Gospel message, we must learn to cut out all the hemming and hawing and get down to what’s most important

The simple story of Christ’s transforming love

2> The Spirit is there and is always moving (ministering)

Next Jesus says to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

Nicodemus ask, “How can this be?” (John 3:9)

The reason he asked this question is because he was convinced that the law was what saved a person

But since the law cannot save, there was a restlessness in Nicodemus’s soul

Despite the fact that he was a “law man” — and had money, fame, power, position, and religion — he was empty inside

He didn’t know why he was feeling what he was feeling

He was searching

He didn’t know what he was searching for

But, he was searching – or else he would not have come to Jesus in the first place

I think Jesus was trying to quiet all the noise in Nicodemus’s mind and heart by saying,

“Shh, Listen to the sound of the wind. The Holy Spirit of God is drawing you toward something that can save”

And here is the best part:

Even though Nicodemus came searching for Jesus that night, it was actually Jesus via the Holy Spirit who was searching for Nicodemus

Do you remember the story in the Bible about a man named Zacchaeus who was a short little guy?

He climbed a tree to look for Jesus, who was passing through the town of Jericho

Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5)

Let me ask you a question:

Was Zacchaeus searching for Jesus, or was Jesus searching for Zacchaeus?

Even though Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector, a “sinner” by everyone else’s account, he was valuable to the Lord

Jesus was looking for him and wanted to be a guest in his home

After encountering the Lord, Zacchaeus repented of his sins, vowing to give half of what he owned to the poor and to pay restitution to anyone he cheated in the past

If there was any doubt that Jesus was in fact looking for Zacchaeus, what the Lord declared next should clear things up:

Luke 19:9-10 ““Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

The Spirit of God moved in the heart of a wealthy tax collector to climb that tree in Jericho in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world

God’s Spirit also moved in the heart of Nicodemus to seek out Jesus for the answers to his questions

Behind the scenes, this very moment, the Spirit of God is moving!

He blows wherever He wants to

As you approach casual conversations with others, take comfort in the fact that God’s Spirit is always moving and wooing — even in folks you think would never be saved

John 14:17 “…He is with you, and will be in you

John16:7-11 “… convict the world (the unsaved) of sin, righteousness, and judgment”

There is a blogger named Russell Moore and he wrote:

“The next Billy Graham might be passed our drunk in a fraternity house right now. The next Charles Spurgeon might be making posters for a Gay Pride March right now. The next Mother Teresa might be managing an abortion clinic right now. But the Spirit of God can turn all that around. And seems to delight to do so.”

Don’t ever doubt whom God can reach and whom God can save!

So, when speaking to anyone and everyone – be civil, polite, gentle, kind, and get to the point so the Holy Spirit can do His work

You share the truth of the Gospel 

The Holy Spirit convicts them of sin and moves in their heart to receive Jesus

Here is what I know is true:

Right now there are people in your life — and perhaps even folks you have not met yet — who are restless in their heart and soul just like Nicodemus and Zacchaeus

They are wondering what it means to be alive – what’s my purpose and reason for living?

There is an emptiness in their hearts that the law, or self-righteousness, or money, or power, or fame, or sex, or relationships, or drugs, or alcohol cannot fill

The Spirit of God could be reaching out to them through you

Let that amazing truth be your confidence as you initiate civil conversations with them about matters of the faith

1> Straight to the point

2> The Spirit is always moving

3> Patience — even when they don’t understand

After Nicodemus asked, “How can this be?” Jesus continued to talk with him and explained Himself is quite some detail

Even though Nicodemus was a teacher of the law and should have been able to grasp these concepts

Even though, by all appearances, the conversation is going nowhere and his conversion is nowhere in sight

And what we learn from Christ’s approach and demeanour is that we must be patient with others, even when they don’t understand

Jesus patiently took Nicodemus back to a familiar story in Numbers, chapter 21 to explain salvation

The people of God were complaining when they should have been rejoicing because God had delivered them from captivity in Egypt and was leading them to the promised land

They questioned Moses’s leadership abilities

They didn’t like the monotonous and dry food God was supplying daily

They began to infect the camp with poisonous words

So the Lord sent real, live snakes into their midst, to do literally the very thing the people were guilty of doing figuratively: poisoning

Many of the Israelites died

Those who were left realized their sin and went to Moses to repent

They knew they were doomed and beyond hope

In recounting this story, Jesus reminded Nicodemus how Moses lifted up a bronze snake on a pole and whoever looked upon that snake would live

Just as He did with His “born again” statement earlier, Jesus was pointing out the spiritual with the physical

In fact, He told Nicodemus that He was speaking of heavenly things:

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Jesus was patient with Nicodemus as He led him to the truth of the Gospel

We are called to do the same in our civil conversations with others

It may look like they don’t understand

It may look like they are never going to receive the message

But God has called us to lift up Jesus so that He can draw all people to Him (John 12:32)

That is our only job

That is all we have to be focused on

More and more every day, our world is becoming so divided and confused and poisoned 

Like the Israelites who had snakes in the midst of their camp, it may seem as though we are all doomed

Our only hope is Jesus Christ

In everything we do

In every conversation we have

We believers must be loving, patient, truthful, and above all, lift up Jesus so that the entire world will believe.

1> Straight to the point

2> The Spirit is always moving

3> Patience — even when they don’t understand

CONCLUSION:

As I attempt to put myself in Nicodemus’s sandals after this fascinating conversation with the Saviour of the world, her is what I imagine Nicodemus saying or thinking:

“Jesus, everything that You’re saying has completely turned my thought process upside down. Everything I have ever been taught since I was a child is that the law is what saves! You come along with these miracles and signs that force me to listen to You. You tell me I have to be born again of water and the Spirit. And that the Son of Man must be lifted up.”

I imagine him continuing, “Jesus, I’m an educated man, but I need You to simplify this for me. I’m very interested — but I don’t understand. I know the Scriptures front and back. I know what the rabbis have taught for thousands of years, but … I have no idea what You are saying.”

Then, in perhaps the greatest verse in John’s entire Gospel, Jesus really did simplify it all for Nicodemus when He declared:

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

People can keep all the laws, but the laws can’t save

They can be leaders among leaders, but fame and recognition can’t save

They can be wealthy, but material possessions cannot save

Only knowing the Son Of God — Jesus — can save a person

Christ went to the Cross and died for the sins of the world

All who believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life!

As Jesus spoke in a very civil and friendly manner with Nicodemus, we can can show others through patient, civil conversations that it was all part of God’s plan

      • God’s story
      • God’s love
      • God’s Spirit
      • God’s calling
      • God’s Son
      • God’s salvation

Any time you see people getting saved, lives being changes, miracles and signs, and people moving from darkness to light — it is all God

Anything good you see is because God is at work around the world to redeem humankind before Jesus returns

Unbelievers may not understand this, but we can help them. However, “Sometimes it is hard to be civil.”

Building Healthy Relationships – Part Five

Within the realm of healthy relationships we have see:

1> You want others to encourage you

2> You want others to appreciate you. 

3> You want others to forgive you

4> You want others to listen to you and respond

5> You want others to understand and accept you

How do you feel when you are misunderstood? What kinds of feelings well up inside you? Loneliness? Frustration?  Disappointment? Resentment? Rejection? These are common feelings when we have been misunderstood.

Peter Drucker, often called the “Father of American Management,” claims that 60 percent of all management problems are a result of faulty communications. A leading marriage counsellor says that at least half of all divorces result from faulty communication between spouses. And criminologists tell us that upwards of 90 percent of all criminals have difficulty communicating with other people. Communicating is fundamental to understanding and acceptance. 

And unless a person truly listens and understands you, you never reach the stage of feeling accepted. Without feeling accepted you will not continue to feel free to share because it will seem to you that others are judging, criticizing, and rejecting you. 

A side note:

When someone shares a feeling you should never say “You shouldn’t feel that way.” That is actually rejecting the person’s feelings and thus rejecting them because the feeling is them at the moment. You may not agree with the feeling or the reason behind the feeling – but it is their feeling. It is neither good or bad as feelings are just feelings. What you do with them and about them determines good or bad. So, when someone is sharing a feeling you should work to accept how they are feeling, and let them know that you accept not only the feeling but them having the feeling. 

In the last week in this series of blogs we have discovered that in relationships you want others to:

      • Encourage you
      • Appreciate you
      • Forgive you
      • Listen to you
      • Understand you

As you think about these qualities, consider how they apply to your own life. Perhaps this short course in human relations can help each of us develop qualities that we admire in others:

  • The least important word: I (gets the least amount done)
  • The most important word: We (gets the most amount done) — relationships
  • The two most important words: Thank you — appreciation
  • The three most important words: All is forgiven — forgiveness
  • The four most important words: What is your opinion? — listening
  • The five most important words: You did a good job — encouragement
  • The six most important words: I want to know you better — understanding. 

In life, you are either going to see people as your adversaries or as your assets. If they are adversaries, you will be continually sparring with them, trying to defend your position. If you see people as assets, you will help them see their potential, and you will become allies in making the most of each other. The happiest day of your life will be the day when you realize “we” really is the most important word in the English language. 

Building Healthy Relationships – Part Two

In building a healthy relationship we want to relate to others who will encourage us (see Part One – July 5, 2021).

Secondly, you want others to appreciate you. So, when looking to build a healthy relationship (marriage, friendship) you are looking to connect with people who appreciate who you are and not just appreciate what you can do. 

William James said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”

Have you heard the story about the young politician’s first campaign speech? He was very eager to make an impression on his audience, but when he arrived at the auditorium, he found only one man sitting there. He waited, hoping more people would show up, but none did. Finally he said to the one man in the audience, “Look, I’m just a young politician starting out. Do you think I ought to deliver this speech or dismiss the meeting?”

The man thought for a moment and replied, “Sir, I’m just a cowhand. All I know is cows. Of course, I do know that if I took a load of hay down to the pasture and only one cow came up, I’d feed it.”

Principle: We cannot underestimate the value of a single person

With the advice from the cowhand, the politician began his speech and talked on and on for two hours as the cowhand sat expressionless. Finally he stopped and asked the cowhand if the speech was all right.

The man said, “Sir, I am just a cowhand and all I know is cows. Of course, I do know that if I took a load of hay down to the pasture and only one cow came up, I surely wouldn’t dump the whole load on him.”

Principle: Don’t take advantage of people 

Surveys have found that the principle causes of unrest among workers were the following, listed in order of their importance:

      • Failure to give credit for suggestions
      • Failure to correct grievances
      • Failure to encourage
      • Criticizing employees in front of other people
      • Failure to ask employees their opinions
      • Failure to inform employees of their progress
      • Favouritism

Notice that every single item has to do with not appreciating others and the failure to recognize the importance of the individual person (employee). We are talking about people needing to be appreciated. I try to do this every time I meet a person. Within the first few minutes of a conversation, I try to say something that shows I appreciate and affirm the person. It sets the tone of the rest of our time together. Even a quick affirmation will give people a sense of value and that you appreciate who they are.

Treat others as you want them to treat you. Treat them as if they are important; they will respond according to the way that you perceive them. Most of us think wonderful things about people, but they never know it. Too many of us tend to be tight-fisted with our praise and appreciation. It’s of no value if all you do is think it; it becomes valuable when you speak it and impart your thoughts and feelings to the person you are building relationally with. 

A side note or two:

What you share does not need to be something deep or amazing. Just something that says you noticed them and appreciate them. I was shopping for a few groceries the other day. At the checkout counter I noticed that the young man who was about to help me was named Dmitriy. As that is a common name in a number of countries where I work I asked him if he was born in Russia or Central Asia. As we chatted I got to know him a little and I also thanked him for his help and for the conversation. He felt appreciated. It is as simple as that. 

You want to be appreciated first for who you are and not just what you do and what you are good at. It is the person you want to appreciate, not the skill or ability, the profession or achievements connected to who they are. Many times people appreciate what I do when I minister to them. That is good and it is always encouraging. But what really helps is when someone wants to get to know me as a person (separate from what I do in ministry). I want to be appreciated for who I am and not just what I can do. That’s ‘person’ and not just ‘profession’. 

We can appreciate a person for who they are and recognize that they are important but still not develop a long term relationship with them. Every individual is important. Not every individual should be a friend or close associate. 

Building Healthy Relationships – Part One

I am a people person and I am an introvert. That may sound like a contradiction but really it is not. As an introvert I need personal time and personal space. I need to be away from others so that I can think, feel, and process. However, I like being with people simply because I enjoy relating and realize that I cannot journey successfully through life – and especially as a believer – alone. But, as an introvert I prefer one-on-one relationships and simply don’t do well in a crowd. 

The basis of life is people and how we relate to one another. Our sense of fulfilment and happiness depends on our ability to relate to others effectively. So, believing that, I have worked at developing the character and the personal characteristics that others are drawn to. I did this by studying the people who I am attracted or drawn to and determining what it was about them that encouraged me to come to know them and relate to them. In other words, I determined the qualities that I found attractive in others and set about to develop those qualities in my own life.

So, we are going to look at the qualities that we need to develop in our lives so that we can relate to others in a healthy and mutually beneficial manner in the process of building lasting, healthy, long-term relationships. 

What is the key to relating to others? It is putting yourself in someone else’s place instead of putting them in their place. Jesus gave us the perfect rule for establishing quality relationships. We call it the Golden Rule, a name it got sometime around the seventeenth century. Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus summed up a series of profound thoughts on human conduct by saying, “Therefore whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them.”               (Matthew 7:12). 

In this brief command, Jesus taught us a couple of things about developing relationships with others. We need to decide how we want to be treated. Then we need to begin treating others in that manner. It is not complicated. The qualities that make for good relationships aren’t complicated at all. Everyone of us needs, likes, and responds to five qualities that touch our hearts and help bond us to others relationally.

1> You want others to encourage you

There is no better exercise for strengthening the heart than reaching down and lifting people up. Think about it: most of your best friends are those who encourage you in one way or another. And, you don’t have very many strong relationships with people who don’t take the time to encourage you for whatever reason. And you certainly do not bother to build relationally with someone who puts you down. In fact, you avoid these people and seek out those who believe in you and lift you up. 

The happiest people are those who have invested their time in others. The unhappiest people are those who wonder how the world is going to make them happy. Karl Menninger, the great psychiatrist, was asked what a lonely, unhappy person should do. He said, “Lock the door behind you, go across the street, find someone who is hurting, and help them.” Forget about yourself to help others. 

A side note: Why is it that people you would like a decent and in-depth relationship with don’t encourage you? 

Well, maybe they never learned how to do that and so simply don’t know how to encourage. This could be the result of the fact that they were never in a relationship growing up that was encouraging. So, they have never had an example to follow. 

Another reason might be that they simply don’t value relationships in the same way that you do and so are not willing to invest the time and the emotional energy that it takes to encourage another person and thus build a healthy relationship. They simply don’t care to even try.

And, a third reason could be that they have simply decided that the relationship with you is not valuable or important enough to respond to you in a way that would encourage you. They like what you do for them but they are not willing to respond on the same level. You think that the relationship could be valuable so your encourage them but they don’t share that outlook and so they don’t encourage you in return. They simply make a decision not to encourage by not responding to what you share and not sharing their thoughts and feelings on a regular basis. 

Of course, it could be a combination of all three reasons. But the bottom line is they are not willing to learn and to try. They are not willing to invest in the relationship at a meaningful level. They are not willing to put the needed effort into having a healthy relationship even after you express to them what you are looking for and needing from the relationship. 

If this is the case then you need to either limit your time with that person knowing it is never going to improve or simply end the relationship. Of course, you communicate with them as you think through your decision and resulting actions. Why? Because you still value them as a [person even if the relationship never becomes what it could have been.   

Two books that are helpful in this regard:

“Never Go Back – Ten Things You’ll Never Do Again” by Dr. Henry Cloud

“Necessary Endings” by Dr. Henry Cloud

SOMETIMES THE FIRE DIES

Sometimes The Fire Dies

 

The Scriptures frequently comment on living the Christian faith with passion

It is very clear that as believers we cannot be passive

We must embrace the truth and engage with the world for that truth

Jude 3b “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” 

TPT “(I) felt the need … to challenge you to vigorously defend and contend for the beliefs that we cherish. For God, through the apostles, has once for all entrusted these truths to his holy believers.”

“vigorously defend and contend…”

My personal favourite Scripture regarding living the faith with passion – serving Jesus with my heart and soul 

God spoke it to me … planted it deeply in my heart in July of 2007

Romans 12:11 “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” Read more

Retire? You Must Be Joking! – Part Two

We are to run the race and cross the finish line. The key to running the race well, to finishing well: Don’t finish. Always be looking forward to what the Lord has for you next.

It doesn’t take a deep dive into secular history or the Bible to discover that many great things are accomplished by people past the age of retirement.

Pianist-comedian Victor Borge, “the Clown Prince of Denmark,” continued to delight huge audiences until his death at age ninety-one. Tony Bennett, singer and performer, was still singing at ninety-three and left his heart not only in San Francisco but also in many other cities where he performed.

At ninety years old master cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he kept practicing eight hours a day. He replied, “I think I’m improving.”

The apostle Paul was over sixty when he made his gruelling voyage to Rome, where he preached, wrote, and taught until his execution four years later. He had no intention of slowing down, much less retiring to rest on his laurels. At his miraculous conversion thirty years earlier, Paul had found his life’s passion. He was doing exactly what he was called to do, what he loved to do, and it absorbed him completely.

Pearl Buck, the famous writer and the daughter of missionaries to China, said, “I have reached an honourable position in life because I am old and no longer young. I am a far more useful person than I was fifty years ago, or forty years ago, or thirty, twenty, or even ten. I have learned so much since I was seventy.”

So, don’t give up on yourself too early. Don’t deprive yourself of the many blessings God wants to bestow upon you in what the world would call your post-retirement years. Change what you do if you must, but don’t stop serving the Lord. 

Nine times in the Bible (ESV) we find the words old and advanced in years. I’ve always thought this phrase was an illustration of unnecessary redundancy. If you say someone is old, you shouldn’t have to add the words advanced in years. That seems like piling on.

But every word in the Bible is important, and one day I noticed something fascinating. Many of the times when that redundant phrase appears in the Bible, it’s a description of a person who is about to experience something astonishing. For example:

      • Abraham (100 years old) and Sarah (90 years old) were “old, well advanced in age” as they  are about to become the parents of Isaac (Genesis 18:11).
      • Zacharias and Elizabeth were “old and advanced in years” before they gave birth to John the Baptist (Luke 1:18).
      • Joshua is also described this way before he received his marching orders to enter the land of God’s promise: “Now Joshua was old, advanced in years. And the Lord said to him: ‘You are old, advanced in years, and there remains very much yet to be possessed’” (Joshua 13:1).

Here are some verses to encourage you to keep on keeping on. They were given to us by our gracious God to keep us faithful throughout our lives. These verses show us: “If you’re not dead, you’re not done!”

      • Psalm 92:12-14 (NCV) “But good people will grow like palm trees; they will be tall like the cedars of Lebanon. Like trees planted in the Temple of the LORD, they will grow strong in the courtyards of our God. When they are old, they will still produce fruit; they will be healthy and fresh.”
      • Isaiah 46:4 (NKJ) “Even to your old age, I am He, And even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; Even I will carry, and will deliver you.”
      • Psalm 71:18 (NKJ) “ Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.”

Preach To Yourself!

Sometimes we have no one to encourage us at the break of day, so we have to speak to ourselves, saying something like: “This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). Try saying that aloud with enthusiasm upon rising each day. It will make a difference to the way your day unfolds because you are looking at your day in a positive light.

Outside of praying, your most important words are the ones you say to yourself. These words are most often silent but significant. Pop psychologists call this positive self-talk, but I’m going to skip the trends and go straight to Scripture. Did Paul, the apostle who wrote over 1/3 of the New Testament, ever talk to himself?

He said he strove to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV). He said, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law” (Romans 7:22 NIV). He said, “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12). And, he also was the one who said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

One of my mentors long ago preached a sermon on how to handle negative thoughts, and I still remember the outline (and can actually locate my notes): Don’t curse them; Don’t nurse them; Don’t rehearse them; Disperse them. That’s still a good formula! Push out your negative thoughts — worry, anxiety, fear, pessimism — by filling your mind with God’s Word, the Scriptures, especially His promises. And then preach those promises to yourself. 

A medical doctor who is also a world-class athlete was asked how he accomplished all that he did even when approaching the age of 60 (including running triathlons). He said, “I’ve learned to talk to myself instead of listening to myself. If I listen to myself, I hear all the reasons why I should give up. I hear that I’m too tired, too old, too weak to make it. But if I talk to myself, I can give myself the encouragement and words I need to hear to keep running and finish the race.”

In Psalm 42 the psalmist said to himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (verse 11).

We don’t know the author of Psalm 42, but it might have been King David, because he knew how to preach to himself when needed. As a younger man, a series of disastrous problems had befallen David in a town called Ziklag. His family and the families of his men had been kidnapped, and even his own men we’re turning on him and talking about stoning him to death. 

What did David do? He preached to himself. He “strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6). And in that strength he rose up to tackle his problems with a positive spirit that came from his belief in God’s watchful care of his life. 

Jeremiah did the same. After watching his city go up in flames and his nation go down in defeat, he said in Lamentations 3:21-23: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

This is what we must do. If we listen to the negative tapes looping around in our thoughts, we’ll sink into the pessimism of the devil. How could I have been so stupid? What’s wrong with me? Everything is falling apart. This is a disaster. Why is this happening to me? 

Stop the tape! Here’s a better one: I know in Whom I believe, and I am persuaded He is able to keep what I have entrusted to Him. Why are you cast down? Hope in God. I’ll soon be praising Him again, for He is the health of my countenance. I’m going to recall something and keep it in mind — the Lord is merciful, and His compassions won’t fail me. They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

We are constantly processing thoughts. Depending on how active your mind is, you may produce more than 45,000 thoughts a day. Whew! It might be compared to a flock of birds flying in and out of your mind.

To complicate our minds more, not all these are conscious thoughts, and sometimes they pass so fleetingly we barely notice them. However, every time you have a thought, it triggers an electrochemical reaction in your body … Each thought sets of a biological process — about 400 billion at once. Because of that thought, chemicals surge through the body, producing electromagnetic waves. These set off emotions, which affect how we behave. Science simply confirms what Scripture has been saying all along: we are shaped, in large part, by our thoughts. 

So, you should be careful what you think and what “preach to yourself.” As Ephesians 4:29 NLT advises: “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” This, of course, includes the words that only you hear as you speak to yourself. 

  Sometimes I am Not Thankful (Grateful)

Sometimes I am Not Thankful

 

I am bothered by a response that you now hear when you say “thank you” to someone

Instead of “You’re welcome” we now mostly hear “No problem!”

As I checked out with two turkeys yesterday I wanted to scream – “Of course it’s no problem. I am a gentle person, I am not angry, what I have caused you to become involved in is part of your job for which you are paid and is not really that taxing on your abilities….”

But, the real issue is how seldom you even hear people say “thank you”

As I was thinking about this all week – mostly because we were approaching Thanksgiving – God said that this was true even in my relationship with Him

That I am not expressing thanks to Him for who He is and all that He does for me

When I do something for someone I always appreciate it when they thank me for my time, my work, my concern… Read more

In Love – Encourage One Another

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

The New Testament word most often translated “encouragement” is parakaleo. This term comes from two Greek words: para, meaning “alongside of”; and kale, meaning “to call.” When people come alongside us during difficult times to give us renewed courage, a renewed spirit, and renewed hope — that’s encouragement. That is love, pure and refined.

William Barclay tells us that parakaleo is a call to arms, a rallying cry from a sergeant leading us into battle. The encourager sees hesitation and fear and he comes alongside and says, “Follow me.” He exhorts ordinary people to perform noble deeds. Life, Barclay says, “is always calling us into battle.” And for us, it is parakletos, the Holy Spirit, who leads and encourages us to move from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

The most powerful source of encouragement is the Bible. Paul tells us that those ancient chapters of the Old Testament inspire and encourage us for today’s living. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). The New Testament also is jam-packed with inspiration and encouragement for Christians. It contains a number of passages exhorting us to encourage other. For example:

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

“But exhort [encourage] one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). 

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

We are to soak up God’s Word in order to maintain our own courage and keep in step with the Spirit. And we are to be diligent in passing on that encouragement to others.

In his book, A Simple Blessing, singer Michael W. Smith tells of Justin, a high school freshman who was walking home from school one day when he saw a group of students bullying a smaller boy. They knocked him to the ground, scattering his books, sending his glasses flying. Justin started to walk on, but when he saw the hurt in the boy’s eyes, he stopped, found his glasses, and helped him pick up his books. The boy was so overloaded with books that Justin offered to help him carry them home. On the way, he learned that the boy, Kyle, was a recent transfer to the school, had no friends, and was often harassed by those bullies. 

Out of sheer pity, Justin invited Kyle to come over and toss a football with him. The two became fast friends, and at the end of his senior year Kyle emerged as valedictorian of the graduating class. As he began his valedictory speech, Justin was stunned. Kyle told of his early misery. Uprooted, friendless, bullied, and hopeless, he had decided to end his life and was taking his books home so his mother would not have to clean out his locker. But this time when the bullies attacked, Justin came along with kindness and encouragement, which turned Kyle away from despair and gave him a new grip on life and hope. 

Encouraging words carry a special power, and it’s a power you can exercise every day. Think of those around you who may have a deep need for one word of positive inspiration that you, in the service of God, could provide. How many of these opportunities do we tragically overlook every day? I am constantly thankful for those who encourage me in my life. I can think of many times when someone sent me a note or called me to offer a word of loving encouragement precisely when my spirit was dragging and I was down and almost out. Their words lifted me from drudgery, fueled me in the Spirit, and spurred me onward. Encouragement puts the wind in our sails.

Wouldn’t you like to be that person for someone? Enlist today. Simply tell God you are ready for service, and I guarantee that He will show you the when and the where. Be a blessing, and He will bless you. 

In Love – Build Each Other Up

The Bible states that we love one another by edifying one another. Ephesians 4:29 “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

We can better understand the word edification if we take it apart and put it back together again. In Greek the word is oikodome, which is a combination of two words: oikos, meaning “house”; and dome, meaning “to build.” So to edify means “to build the house.”

Paul took this common Greek term and applied it metaphorically. We are called to edify, to build up one another just as a house is built brick by brick. We are called to promote spiritual development in other believers.

Along the roads of our culture we encounter decrepit, decaying lives. They can’t fix themselves; they need people filled with the love of Christ to come along side and perform the ministry of holy renovation. Sadly, I have seen too many churches filled with demolishers instead of renovators. They judge, they exclude, they condemn. Like residents of exclusive neighbourhoods, they tolerate no substandard structures within their boarders. Tearing things down requires no thought, no skills, no care. A few angry vandals can do it. We who have received the love of Christ must be builders and not demolishers.

Even believers who have been renovated need continual repair. The building that is my life needs your hammer and nails, and the building that is yours needs mine. We must help each other simply because God designed the church to work that way.

We flourish when we are under the loving care of each other and we wither away when we try to go it alone. We must be about the intention business of renovating one another. As Paul said, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding …  So also you seek to abound for the edification (building up)  of the church.”

Erwin McManus observes that we seem to have lost sight of this core value of the church, allowing the self-absorption of the world to infiltrate the body of Christ. People want to talk only about themselves, and they’re interested only in the parts of the church experience that do something for them. They seek tingling sensations in worship, classes that help them cope with their problems, and sermons that make them feel good about themselves. It’s a consumer mentality based on what’s in it for me. Though we are sheep needing to be fed, we must also learn to be shepherds who feed others.

McManus pleads for us to get away from the “meet my needs” mentality, stop church-shopping, and start looking for ways to minister to others. Our battle cry should be, “We are the church, here to serve a lost and broken world” and not “What can your church do for me?” Just as we are a physically obese society, we may also be a spiritually gluttonous one fixated on consuming rather than serving.”

The ultimate tool for building one another up is the unchanging Word of God. The immortal book has changed lives for thousands of years, and it has lost none of its power. When we feel ineffective and fear that we have no encouragement to offer those whose heads are down and hearts are broken, maybe the problem is that our Bibles are closed.