Category: How We Grow

Let’s NOT go to the replay

I looked out my window at the snowy hillside on a bright windy early March day during the isolation of the COVID pandemic. Starting to read Psalm 90, I found this amazing request:

Make us rejoice for as many days as you have humbled us,
for as many years as we have seen adversity.
(Psalm 90:15 CSB)  

When we remember our own times of affliction and trouble, how do we react? Do our memories cause anxiety, annoyance and grief as they repeat endlessly?

Today’s opening verse reminds us that affliction is only temporary. Indeed, if I keep re-experiencing or re-feeling troublesome past things, then I am ripping myself off of God’s righteousness and peace. It’s helpful to think of the meaning of resentment: it means to re-feel something. So resentment is a re-play of past negative feelings.

I remember a time when I underwent a sharp and prolonged rebuke by a boss and I felt my face turning bright red and staying red. Yet today when I recall that incident, instead of re-feeling the humiliation, I view the job loss that followed as God’s way of bringing a key turning point in my life.  Sure, at the time it seemed sharp and unexpected — who likes being fired? But God used it in leading me to a new career and in setting the stage for exactly where he has me in life in 2021.

Seeing how God used that past humiliation to bring me into a new career reminds me that God has a way of turning adversity to joy.   

 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
(Psalm 90:14)  

I don’t claim that this joy-replacement is instant and 24 by 7. There are other humiliations I have had that God is still applying his restoring grace to! But even though I have not been instantly cured of the pull of old bad memories and experiences, I am glad that their grip is shrinking and that I can keep 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. (Philippians 1:6)

Is Paul another Dale Carnegie?

Paul begins several of his letters by being very complimentary to the recipients….and then later, subjecting them to sharp correction. Does this mean that Paul is simply following the principles for giving a corporate performance review, where you must say positive things before you come forth with a negative?

No, Paul is not trying to “win friends and influence people.” Instead, we are seeing something profound about how Christian love works. Paul’s compliments are not saying what fine upstanding people the recipients are, but rather they express how thrilled he is that that the risen and glorified Christ is alive and at work in their lives.

At the start of Colossians, Paul says:
In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. (Colossians 1:6)

This wonderful truth of Christ-in-them is so powerful that it vastly outweighs their negatives that need correction. Paul’s compliment is honest, even though he is fully aware that many in the congregation are not living up to their calling the way they should be.

So later, Paul turns loose with a sharp rebuke of the Colossians:
 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules (Colossians 2:20). He’s yelling at them for obeying a bunch of bogus rules that have nothing to do with being a Christian.

The same pattern repeats in 1 Corinthians. Early on, Paul says:
I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:4)

But then later he has a sharp rebuke:
Your boasting is not good. (1 Corinthians 5:6a) Here, he’s furious at them for bragging about overlooking some raunchy misbehavior within their congregation.

These examples help us as we look at our fellow Christians today. The pastor of my church is not lying when he says we have a healthy church, while yet being aware that some of our people are struggling or even are in rebellion. We can be fully aware of each other’s flaws and faults — yet rejoice that we are all touched by God’s grace. And when we do have to correct each other, we keep in mind that we are all Christ’s people, not adversaries to pummel!

Our rebukes are given with hope that they will guide people to change.  Our flaws are tiny compared to the gloriousness of Christ! Together, we know that God is at work and the gospel is spreading.

Softened Hearts

My wife and I live in northwest New Jersey where the water is extremely hard, so we need a water softener. We don’t want our pipes to get calcified.

But another kind of calcification is a much greater danger. We need to be on guard because we don’t want our hearts to get calcified.

The original warning about having a hard heart was to the Israelites who were whining and complaining in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to the promised land. Listening in, you would hear them say “This journey is taking too long! The food is lousy!”

Centuries later, God renewed the exact same warning for Christians in the New Testament — because they still needed it. And two thousand years after that, we still need it!

So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice,
 do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
    during the time of testing in the wilderness
(Hebrews 3:7-8)

Thankfully, when we are threatened with hardness of heart, God provides heart softeners. Let’s look at one key softener today: The value of encouragement.

 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:12-13)

Our water softener has periodic cycles of recharging and regeneration. Otherwise it loses all its effectiveness. Just so with us. We might think we can do really well on our own, but we need our own recharging from mutual encouragement.  And this encouragement is needed daily to avoid getting hardened.

Almost all the wanderers in the wilderness were so hard-hearted that they did not make it to the promised land. But today, as we encourage each other, we trust that we can arrive at God’s destination for us: To be complete in Christ.

Who Built That Business?

“You didn’t build that business” Barack Obama.

Do you remember when President Obama caused controversy with today’s opening quote? Free enterprise individualists were very offended by it, but he was not totally denigrating their entrepreneurial efforts.  Rather, he was saying that we are greatly helped by factors we indeed did not create on our own, like the excellent infrastructure in our country and the supply of competent educated skillful people available for hire.

Today’s scripture shows a deeper meaning than the Obama quote. For here we are warned that when we take credit for what we have made, we are taking credit for what belongs to God.  

We will never again say ‘Our gods’
    to what our own hands have made,
    for in you the fatherless find compassion
(Hosea 14:3b)

I love how today’s verse tells us not only what not to do, but it shows something wonderful we receive as a replacement. As we renounce our idolatrous self-credit and give God the glory instead, we find and enjoy the fullness of his compassion.  

Some of us have an overpowering obsession with being a success. Our dads may have driven us hard towards achievement, and we thought that accomplishments would prove our worth.  But   valuing our achievements so highly makes them like a god — they become a modern-day idol.

Yes, our default mode is to want the credit, saying that our success is due to our own fine outstanding efforts and talents. Yet when we do turn and learn to give God the credit, we really do find that agreeing with “You didn’t build that business” gives us a taste of the lovingkindness of God.