Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Judge or Rebuke?

We often hear the words, "Don't judge me," in our world today.  People often use the Bible in their defense for this statement, quoting the verse in Matthew 7:1, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged."  Even those who never read the Bible and live as though they don't believe a word of it know this verse and love to quote it when they feel under attack.  Regardless, we are told not to judge.  However, on the flip side, God's Word tells us in several places to rebuke our brothers and sisters in love.  Luke 17:3 states, "If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them."  Matthew 18:15, "If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.  If they listen to you, you have won them over."  So then what conclusion are we to make when the Bible tells us not to judge others but also tells us to rebuke others? What did Jesus really mean when he uttered the words, "Do not judge"...?  Are we truly to never correct others or form opinions about anyone or anything in this world so as not to step on toes? 

First, it is important to clearly define the words," judge," and "rebuke," so that we know what we're talking about when we mention them.  The definitions, which are a compilation from Wikipedia,, and, follow below:

Judge--to form an opinion or evaluation; to determine or declare after consideration or deliberation; to pass sentence on; to condemn; to have an opinion or assumption; to act or decide as a judge; one who estimates as to worth, quality, or fitness; to publicly denounce.

Rebuke--to express sharp disapproval or criticism of (someone) because of their behavior or actions; to criticize or reprove sharply; to reprimand; to admonish; to scold or censure.

In looking at these two definitions it is rather hard to see much difference.  It may even appear to some that the Bible is contradicting itself when we're told it is wrong to judge but okay to rebuke.  So how do we discern the difference?   In further studying related Scriptures, I believe there are a few key differences between judging and rebuking, though both have to do with a certain amount of reprimanding.  When we "judge" someone, we are expressing condemnation (perhaps even publicly).  We are acting as, "judge" (or God), and we are forming our own opinion about someone or something.  Judging is not necessarily based on a factual incident--it is an overall "opinion," and is also not necessarily based on something done directly to us. We can make judgments about others without really knowing and understanding the truths.  However, when we "rebuke" someone, we are recognizing and shedding light on a clear sin or sinful behavior.  The sin is typically affecting us.  This is based on fact, not opinion, and the admonishment is linked stronger to the wrongful action than to the person (we aren't in the position of "judge" to condemn or declare a punishment on them, but instead, we are bringing light to the problem).  I believe "rebuke" has more to do with recognizing and shedding light on the sin rather than judging or condemning the sinner [person] for it.  Based on God's Word, it is also apparent that when we are called to rebuke others, we are not to do so publicly.  Rebuke has to do with the sin, and judgment has to do with the person.

This topic is one of those areas of complexity in God's Word that requires a great deal of prayer, wisdom, and thoughtfulness.  It also requires selflessness, caution, and most importantly, an immense amount of humility.  My favorite definitions for, "humility," are:  "confidence properly placed [in God]," and, "to think higher of others than oneself" (as Romans 12:3 states).  In our natural, sinful state, we as human beings have no trouble being critical or finding faults with others.  So this is why we need to approach our position on this topic with prayer and great humility.  When we think higher of others than we do of ourselves, we become more focused on our own sin issues than on those of others.  Most of us at some point in our lives have been falsely accused or judged. We remember what that felt like and how harmful it was--it can napalm a relationship pretty hastily.  If you've ever faced this, you know firsthand of the piety, selfishness, or jealousy that was at the root--and I believe when someone falsely accuses or judges, it is due to one of those three reasons if not all three.  Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we evaluate and examine ourselves in prayer and humility before going to someone to, "rebuke" or correct them in a matter to be certain we are not being motivated by any of those three evils on even a small level.  Humility must be at the foundation.

Again, at first glance the words, "judging" and "rebuking," seem to be quite similar.  But in looking closer at the contexts with which they are discussed in God's Word, it is clear that there is a difference.  When you read further in Matthew 7 where the, "do not judge," verse is found, Jesus goes on to say in verses 2-5, "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."  When I read this, many things get readily cleared-up for me.  First, we aren't to judge others because we are ALL sinful; therefore, as sinful people we are not qualified to, "play judge."  Secondly, we aren't to judge others because we have ALL sinned and all deserve God's condemnation (as Romans 3:23 states).  So we have no right to, "play judge," or condemn anyone for anything.  If we do, we had better be prepared to take a long look in the mirror and be ready to be judged in turn.  We must make sure there are no splinters or planks of sin in our own lives (and who can honestly make that claim) because none of us is living a perfectly pure existence or life.  Therefore, we need to be much less concerned with what others are doing (or not doing) and more concerned with our own sin.  Judging others is also dangerous because it can be associated with assumptions, or forming opinions about others and their behaviors, that may or may not be based on actual facts or truths.  Judgments also typically have nothing to do with us--the person has not harmed us or our loved ones, or committed any sin against us.  When our "issue" with someone actually has to do with them and God and nothing to do with us, we need to leave it lie and let the Holy Spirit do His work.  Some things are just not our business, and we need to let God be God.

So what things ARE our business?  If we likewise, look deeper at the context in Scripture where "rebuke" is discussed, we can see several interesting things.  In the two most famous Scriptures on rebuke mentioned earlier, (Luke 17:3 and Matthew 18:15), right off the bat in both we are told, "If your brother or sister sins against you."  To me it is very clear that the only time I have the right to go point out a sin to someone is if they are a brother or sister in Christ and if they have sinned against ME.  I am not to be going around pointing out the sins and flaws of others for sport.  If I am going to go rebuke someone, it better be important, it better be an actual "sin" (not a legalistic issue of grey), and it better be aimed at ME.  Furthermore, Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 18:15, "...go and show him his fault, just between the two of you."  So we aren't to be publicly defaming or lashing out in condemnation toward anyone.  This is private matter and is to be discussed as such.  Jesus goes further on this topic of a brother or sister who sins against us in Matthew 18:16-17, saying, "But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church;  and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."  This scenario begs further thought.  If someone sins against me to the point that I need to involve others and the church, obviously it better be a big sin.  If we have a problem with something someone has done to us that really doesn't warrant involving others or the entire church, we better just suck it up, forgive them, and move on in love.  Christ did not lay down this example for petty matters, and we can trust that God is doing a work in our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, even if it isn't on our timing.

Another item that is our business is that of, "shunning evil."  We are not called to go around playing judge or condemner--those are God's jobs.  But we are not called to go along with the world and give credence to sinful behavior.  We are called to recognize evil and sin, and steer clear of both.  There are literally tons of verses about how we are called to stand for Christ and His ways.  We are also told to be "holy," which means, "set apart." In 1 Peter 1:16 it states, "Be holy, because I am holy," and in Leviticus 20:26 we again read, "You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own."  The world likes to jump to the judgment of us (insert ironic chuckle here) that whenever we do stand for Christ and His ways that we are being judgmental of them.  This is nonsense.  Whenever you as a believer choose to take a stand against sin (without judging or condemning others), you are not only behaving righteously, you are following God's calling on your life.  2 Timothy 3:16 states that, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."  If you are a believer in Christ, and you believe that the Holy Bible is the infallible Word of God, then you have no choice but to stand for righteousness.  Do not let anyone tell you that you are being judgmental when you do.  Shunning evil is not condemnation toward others.  It is taking a personal stand for your own beliefs and actions.  There is a huge difference, and blurring the line is one of the world's greatest manipulative tactics in the life of a believer.  Likewise, if we as believers piously twist the call to, "shun evil" as an excuse to go around judging and condemning others, we, too, are sinning (i.e. Westboro Baptist Church).  But we live in this world and are called to be salt and light.  We are called to be in the world but not of the world.  We cannot be salt and light if we hide in our churches and houses, and never place ourselves in the world.  The key is to be, "set apart" regardless of where we go and to "shun evil" regardless of where we are.

Again, I believe wholeheartedly that the sins of judging and condemnation have to do with one or all of the following three things:  piety (legalism), jealousy, and/or selfishness.  If someone is playing judge or condemning someone else, you can better believe one or all of those three sins are rearing their ugly heads. In the case of piety, the person is founded on playing God, self-righteousness and/or legalism.  They are essentially, "patting themselves on the back" in thinking their choices should be everyone's choices.  They believe they've found the exact path in life to righteous living-- the perfect list of do(s) and don't(s), and deep down, they think they are superior because of it.  We've all fallen prey to these critics.  You know the ones:  those who ridicule you because your child didn't go to Christian school; those who frown upon you for not homeschooling your child; those who act disapproving because you also use your gifts, talents, and abilities outside of the church (ah hem...anyone with a paying job does, and we can't all get paid to work in the church--nor is that our best and only mission field as believers); those who think you shouldn't get paid to do God's work (yet have no problem that their pastor gets paid); those who believe it is their personal decision how many children you have; those who have a different set of rules for different people; those who think that all personal convictions in the grey areas of Christian living should be the same for everyone (or who don't believe in grey areas).   The deeper issue in legalism is control.  People who have a tendency toward legalism are afflicted with the sin of control--I know personally because I lived it for many years.  They seek to be God, play God, and dish-out God's punishment.  Sometimes these people are operating off of fear--fear that they aren't living the right way and so they want everyone else to make their choices so they can feel good about them, too. Or perhaps they want everyone's life to look like theirs so they don't have to compare (which is a sin that is causing discomfort for them).  At times, Christians fall prey to, "martyrdom syndrome," which is a phrase I recently concocted about legalism.  Essentially, it means depriving oneself of things or making life unnecessarily hard on oneself in order to feel or appear to be more "righteous."  Depriving oneself in a quest for holiness or to show love and devotion to God is one thing (for example, during Lent)--this is commendable and personal.  Depriving oneself in order to be able to, "earn salvation," or gain "righteousness," is another--and it is wrong.  God's Word says we can do nothing to earn our salvation or righteousness--Jesus alone did that for us (Eph. 2:8-9; Ro. 5:18; Ro. 3:10).  Even our "righteousness" is like filthy rags compared to God's, and without His grace and mercy (Isaiah 64:6). So legalism and piety are lines that should never be crossed in the body of Christ.  They are unity and grace killers, and they detract from what Jesus did for us.  Christ did not come to set us free to turn around and strap us to a list of "do(s) and don't(s)" like the Pharisees preferred to live.  They wanted benchmarks so they could feel "approved" before God.  Christ came to tear those benchmarks apart.  He came to rock the system and shake the foundation of the law.   So we need to steer clear of the slippery slope of the law and legalism because once we start drawing lines, we better be prepared to draw them for everyone and everything, including ourselves.  There's really no end to it.  Once you begin drawing those lines of legalism within the grey areas of the Christian life, you'll either find yourself boxed-in and in bondage to your list of "no-no(s),"  or you'll risk become hypocritical, pious, and prideful--all of which God hates.

In the case of jealousy, the person lashing-out in wrongful judgment or condemnation clearly has deep-seated envy toward you and/or your life.  They make accusational remarks or arguments toward you or your personal choices with no real basis (or with incorrect presumptions or unverified proofs).  Essentially, they wish they had those options and want to steal a little joy from your blessings or life by attempting to find fault (and if given the same opportunity or blessing, they'd be doing the same thing)!  I heard a great quote the other day about jealousy.  It said, "Don't compare your beginning to someone else's middle."  In other words, we all have different seasons of life, different blessings, different callings, and different challenges. So we must stop expecting that others' lives should look like ours.  We must stop all the comparing, controlling manipulation, and envying--they are squelching love and unity.

Last, in the case of selfishness, the person wrongfully attacking you or your life choices has an, "it's all about me," attitude.  Essentially, your life and/or life choices aren't giving them what they want.  So they use religion and "God's Word" to try to manipulate getting what they want from you or how they think your life should look for their benefit.  Godly, honest rebuke has no manipulation behind it whatsoever.  It is when you've clearly committed a sin against the person and they are calling you out for it.  Or, it is when you are clearly sinning and a fellow believer is speaking the truth in love of it to you out of their humble concern and wise counsel.  There won't ever be a question involved in the motivation behind Godly rebuke.  We can wisely give the litmus test to rebukes both given and received by considering all these things and examining our own hearts in humility and honesty.

In closing, another passage that follows suit with this topic is that of Luke 13:1-5:  "Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  This passage is a great example of how we shouldn't judge others as being, "more sinful," or "more deserving" of God's punishments (shout out to Westboro Baptist, again).  We are all sinful and deserving of God's judgments and punishments.  No one is above anyone else.  Planks and specks, people.  Planks and specks.

Additional Supporting Scriptures:

Romans 12:3, "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:  Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you."

Romans 8:33-34, "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us."

Titus 3:10-11, "Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned."

Job 28:28, "And he said to the human race, 'The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.'"

Proverbs 3:7, "Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil." 

Leviticus 19:17, "'Do not hate your brother in your heart.  Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt."

Proverbs 28:23, "He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue."

Proverbs 9:8-9, "Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you.  Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning."

Proverbs 1:7, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction."

Proverbs 18:2, "Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions."

Proverbs 14:9, "Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright."

Psalm 1:1-6, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish." 

Ephesians 4:2-6, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is One Body and One Spirit, just as you were called to One Hope when you were called;  One Lord, one faith, one baptism; One God and Father of all, Who is over all and through all and in all."

Ephesians 4:14-16, "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him Who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."

Ephesians 4:17-24, "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, and they are full of greed.  That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ 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."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Not Who I Once Was

The other day while checking out music websites and upcoming concerts, I happened upon an old video interview of my all-time favorite singer, James Taylor.  I couldn't ascertain the date of the video, but James was very young--I would guess in his early twenties. I grew up listening to his music, so it is strange for me to realize that at the time of this interview, I would have either been an infant or perhaps not even born yet.  It feels like I grew up with him, though in actuality, he'd been around a while.  I had never seen this particular interview, and it stunned me how totally different James seemed in it compared to how he appears in current-day interviews and shows.  The young man in this video was no one I have ever encountered in concert or any other form of media.  In it, his insecurity as a person and a musician are palpable.  He seems painfully unsure of nearly every question posed to him.  He speaks with uncertainty of his success and whether it would even be fully realized. His humility is endearing in the video, but it is actually rather hard to watch.  You just want to grab this young man, shake him lovingly, and say, "Don't you know how wonderfully talented and valuable you are to God and humankind?"  You can see the depression and deeply-hidden pain there, as well.  The few times he smiles in it, it feels forced as he exhibits such a lack of confidence.  He also acts extremely uncomfortable and mistrusting of the interviewer.  He is oddly somewhat withdrawn at times in the interview, and appears fearful and even sad.  The James Taylor I have seen in concerts too numerous to count, and whom I have watched on television every chance I get, is nothing like the person I watched in this old video.  It is so cool to see what an amazing, confident, grateful, cheerful person he is today, and be able to look back on who he was and see all the amazing things God did for him throughout his life and career (and is still doing).

I recall many years ago talking about James Taylor with my husband's aunt, who I adore, and who has also been a huge, lifelong fan of James.  She is a generation older than I, and attended U.C. Berkeley in the Sixties.  Throughout his entire ascension to fame and well beyond, she has watched James as a loyal, devoted supporter.  Over twenty years ago, she copied articles from the Sixties about him that she had saved, and gave them to me (I still have them).  I remember reading the articles and lapping up every word like a curious dog.  In many of them, James shared of his battle with serious depression and his drug abuse in coping with it.  He spoke honestly and in detail of the day he checked himself into a mental hospital.  I remember being totally captivated with these old articles and thinking, "What an amazing guy--to share of his life so transparently with the fearlessly."  As I watched this young man in this old video, I recalled the history I had read about him so many years ago.  Being the colossal weeper I can be, I shed a few tears watching it and seeing his pain in action.  It's much different to view something like that than to just read about it.  It saddened me to recall all the misery through which he walked due to doubting himself, lacking faith, and lacking trust in God.  Having the hindsight to know that it all works out for the best makes it even more difficult to watch.  It feels so unnecessary that he had to walk through life for a time feeling no real assurance, purpose, or joy.  All the negative, hurtful things with which he was dealing and facing may have been warranted at the time, but when you look at how his life turned out, it seems like such a waste.  I wept thinking about how that is really the story of all of us, too.  We start out our lives (and each day, for that matter) not knowing how it's all going to play-out.  We either believe and trust God, or we don't.  And God looks down on us and sees our pain and doubts. He feels it all and longs to shake us, because He knows how it all turns out.  He sees us for so much more than we appear to be, and He longs for us to see and know Him for Who He really is--a God that can be trusted.  We all make life so much harder than it has to be at different points in our own journeys.  But we all have to walk our own paths and work through our individual struggles, and sometimes life just hurts.  God understands this and He doesn't condemn us for it.  In fact, the Bible says that, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit," (Ps. 34:18).  I personally have found this to be nothing but true.  In my moments of deep pain and loss of hope, God always shows up--maybe not on my time-frame, but He shows up when it is absolutely necessary.  If only we could trust Him all the while knowing that He has the plan all worked out for us.  How much easier life would be!  We must always remember that He knows us better than we do, and He loves us more than we could ever hope to love others or ourselves.  He is so intimately acquainted and concerned with us, even the hairs on our heads are numbered with Him.  That is some serious love, care, and concern.  And that is some major sovereignty. 

So I stopped for a moment and I gave praise to God while watching that old interview of my beloved JT.   I praised Him for using James' pain to prompt wonderful songs of healing, love, joy, and peace that have passed down through generations and given great delight and peace to millions of people.  It amazes me how God loves us so very much that He even brings purpose to painful things (Ro. 8:28).  I praised God for what He has done to bless James' life. I praised Him for how monumental his music has been in mine--how it taught me to harmonize when I was only three years old.  I praised Him for all the joy and special memories that I have attached to James' music throughout my life with my husband, Matt, and our daughter, Allie.  To this day I can't ski down a mountain without having my favorite JT songs playing over and over in my head through my ear buds. I can envision my little girl blazing ski trails ahead of me down the mountain in time to those songs.  They just suit the occasion of that sport, with its vast beauty and serene moments.  I praised God for seeing James through all his hardships and proving Himself to him.  I prayed that James would know God and Christ personally, if he doesn't already, and that one day, he'd be leading praise and worship in heaven where I could hear that unique, pure, crystal clear voice forever (and perhaps, be his backup singer from time to time--pleeeaasssse, Father?!)!

But I also praised God that just as James is not the man he used to be, I, too, am not who I once was.  When you look back over the course of your life at all the things God has brought you through, and who you were as a young, dumb kid, it is truly humbling to realize that He has been there the entire time.  Even in the times when you thought He wasn't.  Even in the times when you didn't want Him there due to pride or shame alike.  I thought about the quote by Joyce Meyer that states: 

“I may not be where I need to be, but I thank God I am not where I used to be.” 

I love that quote. It reminds me to trust God with everything in life because He was there in the past, He is here with me in the present, and He knows my future.  He sees me for who I was, all that I am, and who I will become--and He loves me in spite of it all.  With His mercy, grace, and strength, and If we know Him as our Lord and Savior, we can trust that He is there, changing us for the better--every single day.  Even when it seems nothing is changing, He is there working. So there really is no place for fear, hopelessness, or depression in our lives if and when we fully believe, love, and trust God.  If you find yourself in the desert at this point in your journey, don't despair.  God is with you.  He sees the future and He knows it's all going to be okay, if you'll only trust in Him and rely on Him.  Even in death, He will be there.  God said it; I believe it; that settles it.  Praise be to God.  

Corroborating Scripture (many of these are my personal faves and have brought great comfort and encouragement to me in tough times):

Psalm 139:16, "You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in Your book!" (Great verse versus abortion, in my view~timely with the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade this week)!
Isaiah 46:10, [God said,] "I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.'"
Lamentations 3:21-23, "This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord's loving-kindness indeed never ceases, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness."
Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." 
Philippians 4:6-7, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."  
Psalm 121:1-3, "I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip …" (Great snow skiing verse)! 
Psalm 139:8, "If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there."
Psalm 143:8, "Let me hear Your loving-kindness in the morning; for I trust in You; teach me the way in which I should walk; for to You I lift up my soul."
Psalm 27:14, "Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord."
Psalm 71:8, "All day long I'll praise and honor You, O God, for all that You have done for me."
Romans 8:18, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." 
Philippians 1:6, "Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
Psalm 48:14, "For this God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death."

Again, God said it; I believe it; that settles it. Amen!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Resolute Resolutions

With the New Year comes the prompting (or temptation) to consider new resolutions or, "goals," for ourselves.  Much discussion has taken place in the past two weeks via all media outlets regarding New Year's resolutions.  If you're like me, it becomes wearisome listening to all the talk and advice given about how to stick to resolutions and stay motivated.  It becomes very trite to constantly hear how we, as obese Americans, need to make, "weight-loss," our top priority (tell us something we don't know).  They go on and on about what the most typical resolutions and failures are--and we aren't surprised that, "weight-loss," is number one for both accounts (especially when the New Year comes after Thanksgiving and Christmas--ah hem).  However, I was surprised to see in a recent poll that 65% of Americans claim they did not make any resolutions for 2013.  I would have guessed that the majority of us did (or perhaps we're just not admitting it for fear of the admission of failure)! 

This got me thinking about my own resolutions--those from 2012, as well as those I've made for 2013.   It was both interesting and sad to me that my resolutions for this year aren't much different than those from last year.  I've concocted some typical, "surface" goals and some deeper, personal ones, as well:  I want to read my Bible more;  I want to be a light and witness for Christ more;  I want to love others more;  I want to lose a few pounds from all my Christmas gluttony;  I want to be less afraid of everything;  I want to keep up with my running and train for a few races;  I want to purge my home from unneeded clutter and tend to some DIY projects;  I want to stop being so self-deprecating and "supplicant," in order to view and speak of myself as a daughter of The King (a wise, true friend recently informed me of this needed change);  in line with that, I want to only seek to please God--not people;  and, I want to continue to work on my music and hopefully find myself in a satisfactory situation with it.  Not a great deal different than last year.  This realization was a depressing one at first.  I felt a bit defeated that most of those same resolutions were held for 2012, and that I once again find myself needing to reiterate them.  Then the really negative thoughts came:  no wonder the majority of people don't make resolutions.  It's the same old thing--over and over.  We just keep failing anyway, so what's the point?!

I prayed about this and my stinky attitude fervently that day.  Shed a few tears of frustration even.  After doing so, and just sitting and pondering it all in silence, I felt my Lord and Father, the Best Friend I've ever had, remind me of this truth:  that in our lives, diligence, maintenance, and repetitive faithfulness are attributes and requirements for success and true joy of any kind.  He reminded me that no one ever truly, "arrives" in life.  Even those at the top [of whatever their particular game] have to continually step-it-up and maintain their pace, determination, and focus or they will slip.  Things always need realigned in our lives and require repeated attention.  Some stuff we need to just give over to Him and get rid of it.  Anything good in life has to be maintained and given conscious hard work and effort.  No matter what our unique goals and personal needs are, we all have to "keep on keepin'-on" or the slippery slope will ensue.  Therefore, it became apparent to me that my resolutions for 2014 will more than likely consist of all those from 2013--and this is not only necessary, it is good.  We are basically given choices every day--we can be a fighter or a quitter; we can be a cheerful worker or a slothful sluggard; we can be consumed with joyfulness or fall prey to bitterness; we can be trusting or doubtful; we can be lovingly merciful or coldly unforgiving; we can have a heart of thankfulness or a jealous, ungrateful spirit; we can bask in hope or be ruled by fear; we can possess faith or be paralyzed by worry; we can pray with endurance for a dream or we can give-up in meaningless existence; we can look back with sorry regret or we can look forward with a renewed vision and purpose; we can look down or around at the difficult struggles or we can look up to our Father, recognizing His steadfast Sovereignty; we can be reconcilers or we can be dividers; we can hold-on to familiar hurts or we can let go and be finally free.  We have to make good and wise choices every day, every year, in order to avoid that slippery slope.

I am reminded of a funny quote I once heard. I cannot recall who said it, but I do remember that it was a famous female on a talk show.  She was discussing how easy it is to get up each day and be instantly defeated with her negative thoughts.  She said she has overcome this perpetual problem in her life by asking herself, as soon as her feet hit the floor each morning, "Okay.  It's a new day.  Am I gonna be a hot dog or a weenie today?!"  Love it.  That's essentially our choice.  Are we going to believe that our lives have purpose and act on that belief, or will we succumb to faithless fear?  Will we believe that even the monotonous, tedious tasks, from which none of us our exempt, truly do have value and meaning in our lives?  Will we choose to hear and believe the still small voice of God telling us of His love for us and of our great need for Him each day, or will we choose to do it our own way and in our own limited strength?  It never ceases to amaze me how much louder the negative lies in our ears are than the positive truths.  Why does the enemy [and the world] have to speak to us in a scream and the Lord speaks to us in quiet stillness?  I guess I know the answer to that:  truth and light don't come easily.  Nothing of eternal, real value does.  That's yet another daily resolution or mission that God gives us--seeking His truth and light.  And it, too, requires repetitive, hard effort.  

I also love the following quote:  Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning, the devil says, 'Oh crap.  She's up.'  Great stuff.  Another wonderful quote, which I have used in a prior blog but that's worth mentioning here, is the one written supposedly by a man named, Frank Outlaw (however, it is often attributed to Gandhi):  Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions.  Watch your actions, they become habits.  Watch your habits, they become your character.  Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.  To be the kind of woman who the enemy fears, and who arrives at her destiny with a noble character, requires resolved repetition, diligence, and faithfulness.  To be the kind of Christian, wife, mother, daughter, and friend that I want to be is going to require resolute endurance and repeated hard work toward the same purposes, over and over.  It necessitates an accurate perception of the fact that we never "arrive" here on earth, because when we honestly think the day will come when we can stop working at things of value, we'll find ourselves disappointed and disillusioned.  We'll be inclined to give-up.  In looking up the meaning of the word, "resolute," I read, "Admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering."  What a perfect way to view our resolutions in order to be the people we desire to be at our true, "day of arrival"--our only day of arrival.  The day we meet our Maker...the day we meet Christ. 

Great Scriptures for Resolute Resolutions (taken from the NIV):

Galatians 6:9, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."
Ephesians 6:16-19, "In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.  Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the Gospel"...
Romans 5:2-5, "Through Whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, Who has been given to us."
James 1:2-4, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
James 1:12, "Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him."
Revelation 3:10, "Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth."
Hebrews 6:11-15, "We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. When God made His promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for Him to swear by, He swore by Himself, saying, 'I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.' And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised."

Waiting on the Lord...
Psalm 37:7, "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes."
Isaiah 40:31, "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
Psalm 27:14, "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord."

God's Timing is Perfect...
Ecclesiastes 3:11, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."
Colossians 1:11-12, "Being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, Who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of His holy people in the kingdom of light."

Forgetting the Past...
Philippians 3:13-14, "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
Hebrews 12:1-2, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of Faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Romans 8:37-39, "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Monday, January 7, 2013

Marital Milestones

My husband and I just celebrated our Silver Anniversary on Dec. 26, 2012.  It was a momentous occasion for us and a milestone we were delighted to reach.  People always remark about how fast time goes and how milestones such as these sort of sneak up on a person.  It is absolutely true.  When I look back over the past quarter of a century, it truly doesn't seem possible that we've reached this juncture in our life together already.  It feels as if it was just yesterday that we had our 10th anniversary and were soaking up sun and sand in Cancun, Mexico to celebrate.

A few people have recently asked me about our anniversary and what I believe are the main reasons Matt and I have stayed together and made our marriage work happily.  I always immediately give God all the credit and glory for it, and for obvious and good reasons.  It doesn't take a brilliant mind to realize and understand that marriage is a risky business and a pretty difficult investment in which many do not succeed.  Those who do profit and succeed know it is by the grace of God that they have (or at least, they should know).  But if I had to actually list the top three reasons we've "made it" to this destination, I would say it is for the following:  compromise, forgiveness, and love.  Many would have a different list, but after pondering it for a while, this list seems to cover the main components of marriage pretty broadly yet concisely.

To further extrapolate on those three items, let me begin by discussing the first--compromise.  This one is by far the most complex of the three because it encompasses many things, such as: communication, selflessness, understanding, listening, generosity, and honesty, to name just a few.  Successful compromise requires that a lot of relational skills be harnessed and practiced on a regular basis.  It takes years to get good at it, and I believe this is where any problems in marriage always begin.  This is the area where forgiveness and love get challenged.  If you've got compromise issues in your marriage, eventually the facilitation of forgiveness and love likewise starts to suffer.  Compromise requires an immense amount of work.  It is necessary in the small areas of your marriage, as well as the big ones.  It also doesn't work without the other two components of forgiveness and love.  No one can truly compromise on any matter without forgiving or letting go of their own "stuff" and without loving someone else enough to want to meet their desires or needs above their own.  So compromise flat out won't work without the other two items being utilized.  All three are extremely interrelated.

Forgiveness has been a crucial facet in our marriage, too.  Regardless of whether a full compromise has been reached, Matt and I have had to just forgive stuff over the years--little stuff and big stuff alike.  Sometimes therein is where the compromise has occurred.  You just make the choice to let it go and leave it.  Many times this is simply because of your love for one another.  Other times, it is in direct submission to God and what He says about marriage and how to make it work.  But nevertheless, forgiveness is essential no matter what your reason for giving it is.  Since no one is perfect and we are all flawed, mistake-capable people, forgiveness is obviously going to be something you have to get used to doling out in large quantities if you're going to keep your marriage together. A refusal to forgive will get you at least one of two things in your marriage:  it will deteriorate the happiness of the marriage, or it will end it (and it's important to mention that, "happiness," in marriage should be expected to ebb and flow pretty regularly--anyone who expects otherwise is setting them self up for great disappointment). It is interesting to just look at the word, "forgive."  It is basically a compound word that connotates that you are letting go of something and giving something to someone else.  The online Merriam-Webster dictionary states that, "forgive," means, "to give up resentment of or claim to requital for." states that, "forgive," means, "to grant pardon for or remission of."  So sure enough--forgiving means to let go of your issue, and simultaneously, give an excuse and pardon to someone else.  It's a two-fold deal, which makes it a tricky, hard one.  You aren't just letting go of something, you're giving something.

Last on the list, is love.  I like to think of it as the good stuff in marriage--the fun stuff.  This is the icing on the cake.  It is what makes all the hard work and gritty, monotonous, self-depriving effort in marriage seem worthwhile and look beautiful as a whole--even if it doesn't at the time.  It is also the basis for why you do all that hard work.  Love should be at the foundation of all the other stuff we do for our spouse and our marriage--it is the motivation for compromising and forgiving.  If you think about a layered cake, the icing between each layer and over the top can hide a multitude of sins and issues with the cake itself. Perhaps one layer was too thin or too thick. Maybe it is lop-sided in a couple of places.  Perhaps it is hiding a crack.  The icing covers it all and makes it look unified.  It holds it all together with flare and even creative, distinct beauty.  This is what love does on the cake of marriage and on the layers of your life together with your spouse. It covers all the issues and holds it together.  I think of the verse in 1 Peter 4:8, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins."  So true.  Without love, all you'll see in your spouse (or anyone else, for that matter), are the flaws.  Without love, all you'll want is what you want. 

As we reach this distinct, special point in our marriage, it has never become more apparent to me how much we need God in order to do any of those three aforementioned things (compromise, forgive, and love).  There is nothing compromising, forgiving, or loving about us when we are in our natural, raw state as human beings.  God is the One who teaches us and gives us those attributes so that we can live beyond ourselves and for others.  You may say, "No, my mother or father taught me how to do those things."  Well, if anyone taught you how to be compromising, forgiving, or loving, I guarantee you they learned it directly or indirectly from God and His Word, or from someone else who did!  If you don't know God, and haven't accepted His free gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, my first advice to you for a successful marriage is to take care of that business first.  Going it alone isn't going to be an easy path.  Matt and I would both tell you this is the real first step to a happy marriage.  God has to be there and He has to be number one in your life.  Without His help, wisdom, and the power He gives upon our recognition for His grace and salvation, you will be going it alone. 

As Matt and I face the next 25 years of marriage together, I know we will have trying times just as we have already had.  We will have great ones, too.  But the trying ones are important to our growth and strengthening as a couple.  Just as Zechariah 13:9 states, "I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on My Name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'These are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.'"  Being put through the fires of life is no fun--it can be a painful, faith-rocking experience.  But the product and end results are beautiful.  We can honestly say that God has tried us as, "silver," as we celebrate this Silver Anniversary.  Now, we pray He will purify us as gold, and that we will have the joy of one day reaching our Golden 50th Anniversary. Amen.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Auld Lang Syne

"Happy New Year," and, "Happy, 'Auld Lang Syne,'" to you all!  A few nights ago on New Year's Eve, I enjoyed a fun, late night out with my husband in celebration.  We partook of our usual enjoyments--dinner out (with the borderline gluttonous consumption of beef, of course) and live music.  At midnight, the traditional song, "Auld Lang Syne," was not played, but I was reminded of it due to the occasion.  Being a devout film-lover, I also recalled a scene from the old movie, "When Harry Met Sally."  At the end of the flick, while standing in the middle of an extravagant New Year's Eve party, Harry (Billy Crystal), tells Sally (Meg Ryan), of his love for her in a grand and romantic climax.  If I'm remembering accurately, Sally breaks down in tears, admits her love in return, and they seal the conversation with a passionate kiss in true, "Rom Com" form.  It's all very predictable and cliche`, but who are we kidding?  We love it and it sells.  The scene ends with the song, "Auld Lang Syne," playing cheerfully in the background.  Harry comments comically to Sally that he doesn't know what the song means, and for his entire life he has never known!  She agrees, but says she knows it has something to do with, "old friends."  Again, tear-jerker moment for those of us who cry at sappy commercials and sentimental greeting cards. 

Why I pulled this scene out of the archives of my mind I do not know--haven't watched it in years.  But it hit me that I, too, have no idea what all the words to that old song are or what they truly mean.  In doing some quick research, I discovered that the song was mostly written by a Scotsman named, Robert Burns, in 1788 (apparently some of the lyrics, namely verse one, were "collected" or borrowed from James Watson's version in 1711).  But Burns was a famous, beloved poet and lyricist who has long been named, "the national poet of Scotland."  His poetry is regarded worldwide, and many have said that in homes where good literature is in small quantity, even a copy of Burns' poetry sits on a shelf with The Bible.  The title, "Auld Lang Syne," when translated to English, means, "old long since," or "days gone by."  It is loosely translated as, "for old times."  The complete words to the traditional old tune are as follows:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind,
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne...
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup,
and surely I’ll buy mine,
And we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine,
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,  
from morning sun till dine,
But seas between us broad have roared,

since auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend,
and give us a hand of thine,
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

On New Year's Eve at midnight, you typically only hear verse one and the chorus.  But in reading all of the song's lyrics, clearly the tune is about, old times, old friends, good times, hard times, and remembering it all.  My husband, Matt, and I, have a tradition on New Year's Eve (or sometime around the New Year) of sharing what our greatest memories of the passing year were, as well as, the most difficult memories.  I think the reason we have always done that has a great deal to do with the lyrics to this old song.  There is something special and important about, "remembering."  It is also a very healing and good thing to share and recognize the good and the bad through which God has brought you in a given year.  It gives you a great deal of joy and thankfulness, as well as, a realization that time goes by very quickly.  It is also a great trust and faith-builder to look back and see what God has done in your life.  Recalling even the trying times through which He has brought you gives you a great sense of His trustworthiness and faithfulness.  Many say that New Year's Eve is just another day.  This is true when you look at it from a basic calendar perspective.   However, the passing from one year to the next is an important time-stamp, in my view.  The way I see it, if the Good Lord has seen fit to let me see another year, that's a pretty big deal.  It warrants some celebration, reflection, and gratitude.

As I look back over the past year and the friendships and memories with which God has richly blessed me, I marvel at His generosity.  It is easy to see the negative in our lives when you're in the threshold of daily living and the ritualistic grind.  We all have struggles and prayer items for which we are still, "in waiting."  But when we take the time to honestly focus on the blessings, the positive, and the overall hand of God in our lives over the course of a given year, it's impossible to not lift up praise to Him.  Furthermore, and most importantly, when we ponder the life-altering truth of what Christ did for us on the cross in His, "Auld Lang Syne," it becomes easy to sing with cheer, "We'll take a cup of kindness yet, for Auld Lang Syne."  Happy 2013 to old friends and new! And may God bless and keep you always in His will until we meet again!

Great verses for the New Year:

1 Peter 1:3, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead..."

Jeremiah 29:11, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old has gone, the new is here!"

Lamentations 3:22-23, "Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness."