Creating Your Best Life By Honoring Others

Do you want to live longer and better? There’s a secret God hides in plain sight in the Bible, the concept of honoring him and others.

My darling Grandma, Charlotte Skinkle, lingered between heaven and earth for several weeks while cancer slowly shut down her body.  Every evening, my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins gathered with my grandfather around her hospital bed to sing her favorite hymns in four-part harmonies. Schedules were altered, sitters found, and other things set aside to honor her in a way meaningful to her.

Grandma didn’t respond much of the time. My family might have stopped their evening gatherings rationalizing, “She can’t hear us anyway.” They didn’t. They kept coming. They kept singing. This is honor.

When I brushed off Malachi, for my series on the book this month, I discovered sermon notes from twenty years ago. They come from my former pastor, Wayne Benson, an extraordinary Word teacher. Reading them again, I know his ideas are even more relevant now as our culture continues to sink to lower and lower levels of dishonor. So, here they are, with my own comments and applications.

Honor is a foundational concept in God’s kingdom. Ancient Israelites knew this yet chose to ignore it. In Malachi 1:6-14 you can read a feisty butt-kicking Malachi delivers to Judah from God. His anger is inflamed because they are careless with holy things. They sacrificed blemished, sickly animals to him, instead of perfect ones. They became flippant about temple worship. He is so fed up, he tells Malachi to send someone to nail the temple doors shut. Ancient Israel forgot how important honor is.

  • Honor elevates everything around it.

When my husband Ken and I observed increasing levels of disrespect shown to police officers and first responders, we wanted to do something pro-active. Through a partnership with our adult and servant evangelism ministries at our church, we began to drop off snacks and thank-you notes at our local public safety stations. The first few times I brought in the snack baskets, the duty officers greeted me suspiciously and insisted I hand baskets through guarded windows.

 

After a few months, smiles and welcomes greeted my monthly drop offs. When we started catering in a quarterly lunch to all the stations, many barriers dropped and Ken and I, along with our volunteers, are now invited back into the secure areas of station houses to engage with officers and fire personnel. Hugs, laughs and conversation flow easily. Honoring these men and women lifted us all into a higher level of relationship and encouragement.

 

Honor changes an environment, whether it’s a house of worship, a classroom or a fire station. What environments are you changing through honor?

 

  • Honor draws attention to greatness.

Israel failed to acknowledge God’s awesomeness. He made them a nation, gifted them with land, protected them, and yet they couldn’t be bothered to worship him correctly. They kept the best produce and livestock for themselves and gave God leftovers. They knew better. I wish Americans knew better.

 

We elevate Hollywood stars with minimal talent and maximum egos to dizzying heights of cultural greatness while our military veterans struggle to find jobs and afford homes. This speaks so poorly of my country’s attitudes about honor. Yes, many of us go out of our way to honor and care for veterans. (See note at end of post for a fresh idea on that) Nevertheless, a country with godly priorities and right concepts of honor would never treat our veterans, or our elderly, the way many are shamefully treated in veteran and nursing homes.

 

People who understand honor will always draw attention to those who live sacrificially, whether they are military, missionaries or the elderly neighbor next door who knits blankets for children entering foster care. Who are you honoring who is worthy of honor? How?

 

  • Honor wars against familiarity.

Where was it Jesus couldn’t do miracles? Oh right, in his hometown, with his family. What lives might have been changed forever if only they had honored Christ in their midst instead of dissing Jesus, James weird older brother.

 

I am cautious in how I treat familiar folk when they are elevated. Maybe I did change that youth pastor’s diaper in nursery or teach that worship leader during their squirrely middle school years. Now, I speak to them and treat them with the respect that position deserves. Too many times I’ve overheard people trash talking their friends and family who achieved status, position or honor. Dishonoring people God chooses to elevate, whether they are believers or not, is not a nice look. Our role in that person’s previous history, does not grant us license to diminish their current position. Even when people are observably not deserving of honor bestowed, I leave that with God. He lifted them up and he will bring them down if they don’t embrace humility. Remember Pharaoh, King Saul and Nebuchadnezzar. I will also point at God’s harvest principle,;sow dishonor and you will reap it.

 

  • God promises long life to those who honor their parents.

In Exodus 20:27 God issues a command with a promise; honor your parents and live long. What that looks like is for you and the Holy Spirit to decide. Your family may be highly dysfunctional.  Don’t trash talk them. Ask God for ways to honor parents who may be very challenging to respect.

 

Ken and I enjoyed loving relationships with our parents and worked hard to honor them and do things that mattered to them. We still do with the one parent we’ve got left, my Dad. I love hosting Thanksgiving, but it’s become increasingly harder for him to travel so we will celebrate at he and my stepmother’s home instead.

Ken and I also did our best to meet many needs of his parents in their last years on earth. Sometimes that involved cleaning up horrific messes and giving up vacation time to care for them. We are left with no regrets and no thoughts of “I wish we had….”  Many I know are doing far more than that to care for aging parents.

 

However weird you might think your parents are, remember, God chose them for you. The command didn’t come with clauses or conditions but it does come with a promise.

Honoring God starts with foundation stones like faithful, frequent church attendance, volunteer ministry, tithing and consistency in quality Bible study and prayer. After that, we build our houses of honor brick by brick with each act of love and respect we show to others. Inside those walls, life is better.

Veteran’s Note:  If you are a Twitter of Facebook user, I recommend following and supporting Gretchen Smith founder of Code of Vets. Her Twitter handle is @Codeofvets.   Every single day this godly woman  processes needs requests from veterans then uses social media to mobilize folks to meet those needs whether it’s prayer for a despondent, suicidal vet or one with a hole in the roof.  Check her out if you’d like to be more pro-active in honoring those who sacrificed the best years of their lives for our safety and security.

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing With Your Critics

Special note: This is a chapter excerpted from a book I’m working on entitled, “Mountains and Minefields- Survival Stories from Veterans of the Trenches of Ministry.”  I thought my blog followers might also enjoy reading it.

Dancing with Your Critics

My Test

Early in our ministry, elders from a church we served called my husband, Ken, in for a special meeting. They presented him with a list of “observations” brought to them by disgruntled church members. The anonymous items ranged from petty criticisms to character attacks. Ken did not dress appropriately, speak correctly, preach the “right” books of the Bible (are there wrong ones?) and so on.

When Ken asked for specifics, none were given. Asking about the people behind the complaints generated a solemn declaration. “It doesn’t matter who they are. You need to make changes.” Ken came home stunned and decided he did not hear correctly from the Lord concerning his ministry call.

There are different ways of dancing with your critics. The scriptural pattern in Matthew 18, is that you work through forgiveness and reconciliation and move forward together like ballroom dancing partners. My reaction to the meeting more closely resembled two boxers in a ring. Not only did I want to toss a few left hooks at the elders, I verbally punched Ken a few times, disappointed that he hadn’t stood up for himself. Today, we are united on how to handle such things Biblically. Back then, we lost our footing. Ken disappeared into a re-tooling of himself to meet other’s expectations, becoming withdrawn and cautious. I thought about the elder’s behavior and started a list of my own, about them.

Did these elders and church members handle this in the wrong way? Absolutely. Did I respond rightly? No. God tested me, and I flunked. From then on, I nurtured bitterness towards anyone I imagined to be list contributors or any other critic. Every interaction with church members, I tried to determine if they were part of the merry band of character assassins. I knew that refusing to forgive is sin, but I justified my emotions as righteous indignation. I nurtured sin in my heart, no differently than Ken’s critics.

Some items on the list contained sharp words that slashed deep wounds into us. A few folks found everything about me and Ken to be wrong. Neither of us understood that all leaders encounter critics, sometimes haters. My rage lasered into a single point; people assaulted my man’s ministry. Simmering anger felt reasonable.

My bitter spirit became entrenched. I kept a mental “A” list and a “B” list, of supporters and detractors. Faultfinders received polite treatment when I couldn’t avoid them. Growing up in a confrontive culture, I applauded my self-control. The fact that I didn’t behave outwardly ugly toward certain members, I deemed a victory.

The irony is that during this time, we experienced successes and growth in our ministry. Most of our congregation supported Ken’s leadership. Many worked tirelessly, side by side with us. Despite that, I dedicated too much mental real estate to the opposition. Since we knew little about scriptural conflict and resolution, this emboldened sinful behavior amongst a few.

I mulled over every hurtful word and deed and carried on imaginary conversations with their perpetrators.  Thank God, he kept me from speaking any of that nonsense out loud.

My Training

Without God’s grace, I might still maintain lists. Eventually, I became aware of a heaviness around me. It haunted my dreams at night. Daily, I carried the weight in my soul and sometimes it felt like a physical sensation.  After attempts to ignore it for several months, I knew I needed help. I called a seasoned pastor that we’d recently met at a conference.

He listened while I described the situation.  After I spilled it all, in his Texas drawl, he said, “Well, darlin’……… let me just ask you this. Is there anyone you need to forgive or anyone that you maybe hate, even just a little?”

“Yes, there’s a list,” I said.

“A list?  Like a hit list?”

I assured him I lacked mafia connections. “I keep a running tally in my head,” I mumbled.

“What did these rascals do?” he questioned. I shared.

“So, if I hear you rightly,” he reasoned, “There’s a list of injustices in your head, and you keep that information handy.  Honey, you done opened a door of unforgiveness and put out a welcome mat of bitterness for Satan to mess with your life. You need to repent and forgive.”

After he prayed for me, he shared key verses and assured me that all leaders encounter conflict. I chuckled when he said in closing, “Every church has some fruits and nuts. I know mine surely does.”

The sorrow I felt for harboring sin, made verses like 1 John 1:9 fresh. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (NIV). Other verses prodded my guilty conscience. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:1 NLT).  I understood I’d grieved God deeply.

I asked God to teach me, change me. During times of honest prayer, he reminded me of occasions when I’d judged people, with no thought to grace. I needed to confess and renounce my critical spirit. This I did, many times. Some criticism I experienced, probably came as a harvest from nasty seed I’d sown in my own fields. Undoing a negative habit is a process. I devoured teachings about forgiveness and became desperate to learn the nuts and bolts of how to go forward in truth and grace (John 1:14) when people attacked my character and motives.

Ken and I continued to experience divisive behavior in our churches, as all leaders do, but with diligence and time, I learned to respond to criticism instead of reacting to it. Here are some strategies I learned.

My Toolbox

  1. Be prepared

People will oppose and criticize. Memorize pertinent scripture. Satan will be nearby to entice you to sin. Resist him with the Word. Here are two of my favorites:

– “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:1 NIV).

– “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (I Peter 2:23 NIV).

 

  1. Feel what you’re feeling.

Don’t pretend words can’t hurt. They possess the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). A wise pastor once told me, “Feelings are what they are, it’s what we do with them that matters.” Acknowledge emotions and deal with them so you can move on.

 

  1. Turn to God first.

We tend to run to others when we feel besieged. Sympathy doesn’t mature us. In fact, it can handicap us and cause us to develop a victim mentality. I recall retreating to closets or restrooms to be alone with God and recover from verbal attacks that occurred between worship services. Those quiet moments empowered me far more than a friend saying, “You poor thing.”

We should only share specifics about a conflict with someone who possesses the authority or skill to be part of reconciliation. Sharing the ugliness with anyone else is gossip. Let your circle of folks know you are struggling and ask them to pray for wisdom, grace and resolution. No more detail is necessary.  God is the only One who will think no less of someone because of your words.

 

  1. Ask God for truth.

Once you are past the initial shock, it’s time to consider whether there’s any validity in your critic’s words, regardless of attitude behind them. Under assault, we instinctively give our attackers zero credibility. Writing folks off as contrary sheep is easier than examining ourselves. We need to own our failings and missteps. God may use a mouthy sheep to get a shepherd’s attention.

Sometimes, there is no truth in criticism. One couple accused Ken of stealing. Although it was false, we needed to know the truth behind this accusation. This couple did not want our church to grow. The influx of new members rankled them, and they blamed Ken for “ruining their church.”  Their goal was to run Ken and me off.

I recall other times when someone launched on me due to stress in their personal lives. When life goes sideways, people might misdirect their anger. However, what’s in our hearts comes out of our mouth. Even though someone may apologize and explain their backstory, it’s wise to investigate whether there is a seed of negativity there.

 

  1. Work for reconciliation.

When a fellow believer attacks you, it creates brokenness in the body of Christ.  Matthew 18: 15-17 is clear as to our responsibility. We need to go to that person and initiate reconciliation. If your critic agrees to meet, use “I” language. Avoid starting sentences with “You.” They will feel attacked and defensive. Try phrases like, “I feel hurt and confused by what happened between us recently.  If I’ve offended you or hurt you, I want to make that right.”

Often, this attitude opens doors, sometimes not. Occasionally, critics lack interest in reconciliation and will instead use the conversation to chew us out further without taking any ownership of their own behavior. If this occurs, I suggest step six.

Sometimes people explode because they feel powerless. Restoring a relationship with them doesn’t mean that you abandon your God-given vision for ministry. Ask the Lord for insight as to how to bring this person on board with the leadership’s vision. Can you turn an adversary into an advocate?  As a high school teacher and as a ministry director, I watched people change from opponents in the ring to partners on the dance floor, when I used this approach.

Be honest. Ask forgiveness for ways you caused pain for the other person, even if they don’t initially ask you to forgive them. You cannot make someone be at peace with you.  All you can do is obey God’s Word and offer an olive branch.

Sadly, some people will use the branch to smack you on the head.  They don’t want peace; they want you gone. So, what is to be done when people refuse reconciliation?

  1. Seek out higher authority.

That will vary according to your situation.  In ours, it involved our denomination’s ruling body. Chronic sin cannot be allowed to go unchecked. Paul uses yeast, as an illustration, in Galatians 5:9, of what can happen when we don’t deal with situations forthrightly and Biblically. Sin becomes a poison in the bloodstream of a ministry. Ultimately, people who simply opposed Ken and me at every turn received instruction from higher authorities, to reconcile with us. When they refused, they were asked to leave our church and find one where they could support the pastor.  Sadly, they left, and carried their pain along to the next church.

God wants us to forgive, release and bless the people who sin against us.  (Luke 6:28) Ultimately, I began to view critics as God’s refining tools. Qualities like humility, patience and compassion, can grow in a trial, if you handle it rightly. I learned to see the pain behind harsh words. I developed tougher skin and stopped feeling like I’d been kicked in the stomach every time someone opposed me.

To be a faithful Christ-follower, involves rejection and sorrow. Jesus knows, intimately, the pain of false accusations. He sees your pain, and he cares deeply.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Find Strength for Hard Situations by Partnering With the Holy Spirit

Do you ever feel helpless and weak in certain situations? Whether you’re up against a life-threatening disease, served divorce papers, contending with an unreasonable boss or agonizing over rebellious children, nobody likes to feel powerless. What if I told you those are precisely the places where God loves to demonstrate his strength?

Teaching in an inner-city school, I experienced the power of the Holy Spirit strengthen me to do and say right things boldly, even though my jelly knees and icy hands told a different story. One time, the Spirit empowered me to stand fast when a student hurled a chair towards me, screaming obscenities and challenging my authority. In the silence that followed the crash of the chair on the linoleum, something supernatural happened. I remained unmoved, looked at the student sadly, handed her a detention slip then asked her to remove herself to the hall. She did. Quietly, in fact.

I experienced many incidents like this with troubled students from families living on the edges of society. Each encounter tested my reliance on God and ultimately demonstrated his strength in my weakness. One of the greatest displays of the Holy Spirit’s partnering power I ever witnessed at this school though, occurred with my husband, after a choir concert.

Some of the students’ family members belonged to local gangs. Before the concert, I noticed some disturbing body language exchanged between two groups of folks seated across the aisle from one another. I suspected that rival gang members unwittingly sat too close to one another or wore the wrong colors, or who knows.

I prayed for Christ’s peace to fill the auditorium and allow the choir to present the music we worked so hard to prepare. After the concert, I became caught up talking with various parents, completely forgetting about my uneasy feelings of earlier until a student’s voice rang out, “Mrs. Stults, Mrs. Stults you better come see what your man is up to!” Simultaneously, I noticed much of the remaining crowd running over to the auditorium windows which overlooked a parking lot.

Two groups of men clustered in opposite corners of the lot, clearly hostile and gearing up for a brawl. Worse yet, my husband, stood alone in the middle of the two groups of Goliath-sized, angry men. Three stories up, I watched, amazed, as it appeared that average-sized Ken spoke to both groups. Within a few minutes, the men dispersed and left the lot.

I asked Ken why he went out there and what in the world he said. “I saw what was about to happen and felt like I was supposed to intervene and share a few facts, he said. “I pointed out the working security cameras in the parking lot and the group of witnesses up in the windows. I guess they decided it wasn’t worth it,” he finished.

That, friends, is what it looks like when our weakness partners with the Holy Spirit’s power. Ken was smaller than most of the men. They didn’t know him, nor did he possess any authority as a teacher or administrator. There was no good reason they allowed him to walk into the middle of their conflict, but they did, because the Holy Spirit partnered with Ken and brought peace into strife.

In Zechariah 4:6, Zerubbabel, the governor of Judea, feels weak in his God-ordered task to rebuild the temple. His small group of laborers are overwhelmed by the massive piles of rubble and chaos created when invaders destroyed the building. When Zechariah prophesied, these guys had been working for twenty years and yet, tons and tons of broken stone and metal sat on the temple site. When God saw Zerubbabel’s discouragement, he spoke these beautiful words through the prophet,

“Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain” Zechariah 4:6-7.

In other words, God said to Zerubbabel, “This temple isn’t going to rise because of the strength of your workforce. The power will come from my Holy Spirit who is so strong, these mountains of wreckage will become like flat plains.” As Dr. Thomas Constable says in his expository notes on Zechariah, “If success is to be gained in the achievements of the people of God it will not be secured by what man can do but by the Spirit’s work.”

The prophet Hosea echoes this same thought.

“But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God.  I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen” Hosea 1:7.

Paul the Apostle says it this way.

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak then I am strong,” 2 Corinthians 12:10. 

Dear brother and sister, whatever the situation is that’s confronting you, making you feel defeated and kicked down, it will not be overcome by your willpower or determination. What does partnering with the Holy Spirit to become an overcomer look like?

  • Admit that we are powerless to change people or situations with human strength alone and stop making ourselves crazy trying to do that.
  • Yield to the Holy Spirit and ask him for understanding and insight as to what our role is. Just, as he did with Ken, he will tell the listening heart what to do or say. Sometimes he wants us to do or say nothing and leave things be for a bit so he can work on moving some mountains and softening some hearts.
  • Obey whatever he tells you to do, even if it seems goofy.
  • Trust God for results remembering his timeline is usually different from ours.
  • Study and memorize Scripture. When I faced tough financial strain, I memorized verses about God’s provision and goodness and spoke them out loud every time I felt powerless about money. God’s Word changes environments and brings hope into hopeless situations.

Let feelings of weakness be a trigger reminder going forward, like the Apostle Paul. Recognize those times as opportunities for God to manifest his glory and power through you and around you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decluttering Our Hearts and Spaces

Yesterday, I said good-bye to four large boxes of Santa Claus figurines, which I’d collected over 30 years. God nudged me about them last Christmas as I struggled again with where and how to display all of them. I used to find joy in placing them around our home. The past three years I noticed a distinct lack of joy and a mechanical approach to putting them out.

All summer I struggled with those Santa’s. Their twinkling little eyes stared back at me every time I turned the light on in the storeroom and I wavered a bit, but I knew my season with them was over. Please don’t misunderstand, there’s nothing wrong with hunting for and collecting special items then displaying them. I simply had too much of a good thing.

I appreciate all that Marie Kondo and others did to awaken people about decluttering their lives, in this last decade or so, but God has been dealing with me about this for many years. This isn’t the first collection I’ve given away.

In different ways, God keeps teaching me the same lesson about living uncluttered, peacefully. I am to manage well the homes, yards, cars and possessions he allows me to own but they should never hinder me from achieving God’s purposes for me because they use up too much of my resources. My current season of life doesn’t allow for dozens of hours for Christmas decorating without robbing time from other things with higher eternal priority.

Every day, in small ways, we must make the choices for the best over the good. Honestly, I felt joy about all my Santa’s one last time, when I dropped them off at the mission thrift store. The delighted looks on the faces of the volunteers, used to sorting through a lot of donated junk, made me grin.

Too much of anything of this world, no matter how good or valuable, can sidetrack us away from higher callings and obeying God. Modern civilization didn’t invent this problem. Fallen human nature did. Even in ancient times, God’s people messed up their priorities and valued temporal things more than the eternal. This is what happened to the people of Judah, to whom the prophet Haggai prophesied.

Haggai holds the unique distinction, among all the minor prophets, of being the only one Israelites listened to enough to change their ways. The prophet wrote the book shortly after the people of Judah returned home from their humbling, sixty some years in Babylonian captivity. God commanded them, before they even arrived home, to rebuild his temple. The people obeyed for awhile but then became caught up in their own pursuits and abandoned the project, according to Ezra 4:24. Sixteen years passed, and Haggai delivered this message from God.

 “Then the Lord sent this message through the prophet Haggai: “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!” Haggai 1:3-6

Can you make out the picture of these people? In a short time, they restored themselves to beautiful homes and surroundings but apparently did not enjoy their lives. Why? I believe the Lord became angry with their stewardship and disrespect for his priorities and so removed his blessing from their crops and incomes. The people of Judah loved their homes and stuff too much and ignored God’s direction to rebuild his temple first.

God’s agenda hasn’t changed. The temple in Judah was to function in the center of a society that God created to be a light to the rest of the ancient world. In the same way, he will always prioritize our primary 21st century mission, to bring souls to the saving knowledge of Jesus and teach them to be disciples, over anything else. We are designed to be world changers. Can we use beautiful church facilities, lovely homes, cottages and even Christmas decorations to accomplish that mission? Yes! Of course! We are to be ambassadors of God, in every way, in this darkened world, and that includes representing his love of beauty in all things.

Beauty is diminished though, in the presence of clutter, whether it’s in the physical realm or in our hearts and minds. Whether it’s too many Santa’s or too many activities, I’ve learned that de-cluttering my life is an ongoing process for me. I used to live amidst too much stuff, with a too-full schedule, trying to maintain too many hobbies and relationships. My ability to hear from God, obey him and to live peacefully, yet powerfully, became elusive. Here’s some suggestions I followed that helped me to change:

My “Why”

Read the following scripture then ask God where he wants you to start. Without a biblical, Christ-centered “Why,” decluttering anything is just a nasty chore, not a life change.  1 Corinthians 14: 33 and 40, Ecclesiastes 3:6, Matthew 6:19, Mark 4:19, Matthew 19:22, Matthew 6:21, 1 John 2:15, Matthew 6:33, 2 Corinthians 5:9, Philippians 1:21, Colossians 1:10

My “Where”

  • Start with whatever God impresses on your heart. Whether it’s home, job, relationships or schedule, begin with only one area. Don’t try to change everything at once. You’ll simply create more stress.
  • . If you have a spouse and/or child, you need to share your thoughts before you start canceling dinner dates and giving away Santa’s. Share the above scriptures with them and talk about your desire to live a more balanced, available-to-God existence.

My “How”

There are so many wonderful books and podcasts available to help you declutter everything from your mind to your kitchen cabinets. Look on my Facebook page,” The Pastor’s Feisty Wife,” for some helpful book recommendations. There is no need for you to feel overwhelmed by the how, if you take things step by step, day by day. It takes time for us to set unhealthy life patterns and time to undo them. This post is merely a kick start to get you moving in a right direction.

Whoever is following behind you, whether it’s a church, a family, a group of friends or co-workers, you are intentionally or unintentionally teaching by example. What is your life communicating about priorities, peaceful living and God’s kingdom values? If people imitate your everyday life, what will that look like?  I know I need more of Jesus radiating in my choices, speech and behavior, and a lot less of me. His supremely focused, obedient and sacrificial life inspires me to allow him to change me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Connection Between Holiness and Happiness

“What makes a people holy, will make them happy.” When I encountered this statement in Mathew Henry’s commentary on Zephaniah 3: 14-20, my first response was, “Huh.” I’d never heard that equation before, that a state of holiness and a state of happiness are shared ground. Past seasons of unhappiness paraded through my mind like:

  • The years when I longed for a teaching job but could not find one
  • Some long-term conflict situations in churches where my husband and I served
  • Sitting home with pneumonia several winters in a row

Henry’s statement caused me to view those times with fresh eyes. I wondered how I stepped away from holy ground and its privileges, which Henry says include happiness. Digging deeper into the chapter, I found clues in verses 1-6 where the prophet compares the sinful behavior of God’s people in Jerusalem and the righteous actions of God. Look at the contrast between verse 2 and verse 6.

(Speaking of Jerusalem) “She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God” Zeph. 3:2 NIV

“The Lord within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice and every new day he does not fail…” Zeph. 3:6 NIV

Verse two rang with conviction as I considered my behavior during those unhappy seasons. I used the failing of the Israelites as a personal checklist.

  • Obedience

Truthfully, I didn’t comply with God’s commands about several things. For example, I didn’t fix my mind on all the lovely and true things God graced into my life (Philippians 4:8-9).  Instead, I focused on troubles and disappointments. Rather than counting trials as joy and character builders (James 1:2), I fumed, fussed and moped, not all the time, but too much.

  • Accepting Correction

When the Holy Spirit or a family member pointed out an ungodly attitude about my situation, I often justified it instead of repenting.

  • Trusting God

I knew many verses, like Jeremiah 29:11 and Psalm 84:11, plainly told me that God’s hand is generous toward me and that he will never keep good things from his children.  I questioned the truth of those promises being specifically for me. I felt jealousy when God granted the things I desired, to others, but not me. I wanted answers but God wanted my unwavering trust.

  • Drawing Near to God

Typically, I spent more time talking to people about my troubles and sorrows then communing with God, listening carefully for his voice and insights.  Times of pain are the times when we should pull our chairs in closer to God than ever. Sometimes I did that, but not consistently.

My conclusion?  I was the architect of my own unhappiness, not my circumstances, health or other people. Me. God made tables for me in the wilderness (Psalm 78:19) but I didn’t dine with him nearly enough.

Dear one, if you find yourself in a place of great unhappiness right now, use Zephaniah’s yardstick as a measure of your own attitudes and responses to life. God wants your feet planted firmly on holy ground, in His presence, where there is fullness of joy. Ask yourself the following:

  1. Am I breaking one of God’s commands by action or inaction?
  2. Am I receptive to suggestions or criticisms about my behavior and attitudes?
  3. Am I trusting God completely, regardless of the loneliness of the desert of disappointments, or the choppiness of the sea of troubles?
  4. Am I deliberately drawing nearer to him, spending more time in prayer in the Word?

What makes you holy, will make you happy. Can you see it? Ask God to create a clean heart and renew a right spirit in you. (Psalm 51) Jesus promised us troubles in this world but in the same breath assured us that he overcame them. I don’t think he equated overcoming with instantaneous problem resolution. Instead, I think he meant that our spirits can soar above whatever circumstances attempt to drag us off the high, narrow road down into the pits.

That’s why I love Psalm 103 and often say it out loud when I sense I’m being tempted into an unhappy state. I encourage you to use this one or another similar verse attesting to God’s goodness. Use your mighty sword of the Spirit, as soon as you find yourself slipping off the holy ground.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

 

 

Trying To Love God With A Divided Heart

Growing up Baptist in the 1960’s and 70’s meant no movies, dancing, playing cards, smoking or drinking. Externally, I obeyed these rules, but internally, I chomped at the bit, certain I missed out on great times. On my own in college, I followed friends to bars and nightclubs and learned to enjoy different forms of alcohol.  I never took up smoking (it tasted horrible!) and I never once became intoxicated. I formed a new set of morals that seemed to be very high road compared to the low road on which many of my college friends lived.

Sundays, I attended a church near the college, logging extra spiritual points for getting up early and going, even when I stayed out late the night before. Although I didn’t consciously think this at the time, I believe that I thought I lived the best of both worlds. I enjoyed all the security of knowing my heart belonged to Christ while still kicking up my heels with some of the world’s pleasures.

What fruit did I produce during that season of life? I earned a bachelor’s degree. That’s it. Unlike high school, I led no one to Christ, nor did I disciple anyone.  I dare say, many college folks who intersected with me didn’t know I was a God-follower.  How would they?  I was home from church on Sundays before most of them rolled out of bed and never once invited a soul to attend with me.

The illusion that we can live with one foot in the presence of God and the other dancing with the world, is just that, an illusion. The prophet Zephaniah dealt with people in Judah, much farther down the road with this divided kind of lifestyle than myself, yet who knows how far I might have gone had the Holy Spirit not grabbed onto me like a tenacious Rottweiler?  They still worshiped in the Jewish temple while offering their children in the fires of Moloch and Baal.  I doubt that’s where they started, but it’s certainly where they ended up.

Maybe it began with a house god on the kitchen window by the herbs. Or perhaps their entrance to evil living started as a spectator at one of the many pagan festivals the godless nations around Judah hosted. Small sins grew to large ones over time until they became as perverse as their pagan neighbors.

I’m not endorsing legalism. That’s a different sin in which we adhere to rules more stridently than we passionately seek God. There is, however, a call on the life of all who profess Jesus as Savior and Lord, to love God best, before anyone or anything. Then, our obedience to him flows out of love and gratitude, not obligation. Honestly, it’s not as complicated as we make it. I spend time with God in scripture and prayer then listen. After that, I do what he says and stop doing what he dislikes. Ancient Judah forgot how to do that.

Zephaniah is the last prophet, in a series of nine, that warns God’s people of impending doom if they do not repent.

“I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests,  those who bow down on the roofs
to the host of the heavens, those who bow down and swear to the Lord
and yet swear by Milcom (the king of Judah) those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him”
Zephaniah 1:3-5.

Like me, I think those folks thought they could ride the fence between God and the world, but that’s an untenable life. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on Zephaniah 1 says, “If Satan have half, he will have all; if the Lord have but half, he will have none. Neglect of God shows impiety and contempt.”

Obedience to God is an all or nothing thing and will look different for you than it does for me.  This is the problem with rule-oriented living. One set of rules does not fit all. For example, playing card games with face cards doesn’t lead me into sin. For my grandfather, a reformed gambler, those cards had completely different meaning.  This is why the Pharisees had like a bajillion rules, covering all bases for all people all the time. That’s some crazy living.

On occasion, I dip my toes in sin’s pool with poor media choices, but I found that I recognize quickly now when I’m grieving God and step out. There’s a sensitivity to the Spirit of God I want to develop even more deeply where I won’t stick my toes in at all.

Zephaniah’s first chapter is not just a prophecy against wicked Judah, it is a call to assess our walks of holiness, as 21st century believers. The pagan culture around Judah perceived THE God of heaven and earth as just another god because of the behavior of his people. What are the godless in our society understanding about our God by watching you and me? What are the people following behind us in the body of Christ learning about being a God-follower  by observing me and you?

 

 

Trusting Our Righteous Judge

Receiving a summons to appear in court, is a knee-quaking moment. The sheriff at my door seemed jaded and looked at me as if he believed me to be guilty of the crime represented in the envelope. I felt like a criminal.

Years ago, we unknowingly hired an unscrupulous lawyer to take care of some legal business for us. He handled the business satisfactorily, but his disorganization concerning billing and contracts led him to believe that we signed a contract for him to do further work for us. When he tried to bill us for work, we didn’t agree to, and he hadn’t done, we called repeatedly and explained to his part-time secretary that he was mistaken, and no such contract existed.

The foolish man insisted on suing us, and we appeared in court. As defendants. Suspected criminals.  Our assigned judge asked if we minded him handling a couple bail cases before he proceeded with ours. Like we would say no? This provided more time to try to stop our hands from shaking.

Beefy sheriff’s deputies escorted two ridiculously large prisoners into the courtroom, both in hand and leg shackles, and seated them five feet away from us. All the movies and stories I knew about jailbreaks, prison shanks and such ran through my mind. I silently prayed while trying to appear unfazed by this terrifying development. We didn’t find this turn of events calming.

At that time, we felt no peace to spend more money on lawyers and Ken represented us himself before the judge. The smug look across the aisle, on the face of the lawyer representing our dishonest lawyer, made us question that decision. Truth isn’t always enough to prove innocence.

Quickly, it became clear how disorganized and mistaken our lawyer proved to be.  No documents could be produced proving his case and we possessed many that proved ours. The judge scolded the representing lawyer and we enjoyed a David beats Goliath moment, as the judge ordered us to pay only our agreed-upon fee.

I recalled those feelings of terror in the courtroom, when I read through the book of Micah.  A prophet to both Judah and Israel, Micah carried the message of God’s anger and impending judgement to sinful Jews.  Chapter two reminded me of our plight as defendants along with all the stories I’ve encountered about people who’ve lost homes, businesses and savings through fraud.

Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them.  They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance” (Micah 2:1-2)

Our dishonest lawyer caused us weeks of stress and many hours of time as Ken organized our case. God observed similar scenes in Judah and Israel, and his rage boiled. Wicked Hebrews stole houses, lands and fortunes from their own people, apparently with forethought and glee.

Just as in ancient Israel, fraudulent behavior is not limited to the world but sometimes crops up amongst believers also. Churches and relationships are fractured as a result. This type of behavior is contemptible to God. He expects better of his children.  To the evildoers of Judah and Israel he said,

I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves” (Micah 2:3).

God’s nature and character are unchanging.  What angered him three thousand years ago still lights him up today. Delayed judgement sometimes leads people to think it will never come. God’s laws of sowing and reaping will always apply however, and as Hosea said, “They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).

If you are a victim of fraud, cheating, being lied to, etc., God sees it all.  He’s recorded every penny, relationship, possession and job taken from you. You may be living in reduced circumstances due to the sin of others.  Although our case with the disorganized lawyer ended well, at another time, a large corporation our business affiliated with, cheated us and other agents, out of significant sums of money through illegal business practices. The loss of revenue forced us to reduce our staff and move to smaller offices.  Years later, when a case came before a judge, on behalf of agents, he ruled for the corporation, unjustly.

Remember, your heavenly Father, who sees the fall of every sparrow, cares deeply. Confronted with the choice between forgiveness and bitterness, with God’s grace, Ken and I chose the process of forgiveness. Please note I said process. As a result, we maintained our peace and intimacy with God and made room for him to work restoration in our lives.  You can choose the same.  Pray for those who wronged you. They are walking in unawareness of impending judgement, which never turns out well.  Read any of the minor prophets for confirmation of that.

When my heart is right and clean before God, it’s easy to hear his voice. He shares wisdom and insight with me concerning instances where I’ve been wronged.  Sometimes he tells me to let it go and assures me that he will deal with those individuals. The other agents, in the situation above, paid big dollars to take their case to court. God did not give Ken and I a green light on that because he knew the outcome and didn’t want us to waste our money. Bitterness might have led us into a case God didn’t want us involved in.

Other times, God directs me to confront people and hold them accountable for wrongdoing, like the unscrupulous lawyer. We could have paid his dishonest fee, and he would have dropped the court case. In that instance God told us to stand and fight.

I’ve discovered there are no simple formulas for responding to those who sin against me. Only intimacy with God empowers me to forgive and go forward in knowledge and discernment concerning those who wrong me.  I encourage you to start every day with God speaking to you through His word and prayer. I trust my Righteous Judge to empower me to deal with every complex, unfair circumstance that intersects with my life, and you can too.

Lamp and Sword

****Further resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

If you are currently dealing with or trying to recover from circumstances in which you were wronged, I encourage you to read the following Bible accounts. Understanding how God directed these folks to behave towards their enemies helps me understand His ways and methods in these types of situations.

  • David, God’s chosen king for Israel, runs from King Saul’s murderous rage for many years. Check out his attitude in these portions of his story found in I Samuel, chapters 24 and 26.
  • Joseph’s journey to ruler of Egypt involved treachery and deceit from those closest around him. Read Genesis 37 and then 39-41 and observe Joseph’s demeanor and behavior.
  • Caleb and Joshua were ready to take the promised land as soon as they spied on it. Instead they were defrauded of living there for forty long years because the other ten, cowardly spies spread evil reports amongst the Israelites. Read Joshua 14:6 to the end concerning Caleb’s reward.  Joshua was not only given the honor of replacing Moses, read Joshua 19:49-50 to learn about his reward. Why did God bless them so generously?

What kind of attitude do you think they both maintained during those endless years in the desert?

 

 

At Odds With God

Being at loggerheads with God is a tough row to hoe. I hate being in that place and yet, recall times when my attitude and agenda positioned themselves perpendicular to God, instead of parallel. When we set our hearts towards a specific outcome and God does the unexpected, we don’t always adjust well. Once such time for me occurred when I re-entered the teaching field after many years of absence.

In my forties, I returned to college and added an English degree to my existing Music and Communication degree.  My goal to become an English teacher, seemed quite attainable.  God led me to add that certification, so I felt certain he’d reward me with the position I desired.  My passion for directing choirs and plays became eclipsed by my desire to teach literature and composition.

No matter how I kept re-working my resume, the only job interviews I could land were for music teachers. I felt angry and frustrated with God that I kept my end of the deal, and he didn’t come through on his.  Spending all the time, effort and money on that English degree seemed like a waste, and so I reluctantly accepted another job in Vocal Music. God clearly opened the door, as the school asked me to come interview before I ever applied.  I set my heart to teach direct choirs again, heartily unto the Lord, and trusted him to heal the disappointment of not teaching English.

Jonah behaved horribly when things didn’t go as he hoped, and the people of Nineveh repented. After initially running away, Jonah preached his judgement message in Nineveh. I can only imagine the dangers and ridicule he faced delivering that news. Judging by his reaction to the city’s massive move towards humility and repentance, we conclude that he didn’t rejoice in that outcome at all.

His outburst to God is both tragic and hilarious.

“He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you were a compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live’” Jonah 4:2-3.

As I paraphrase this passage, here’s what it sounds like to me.

“God, I never wanted to go to Nineveh in the first place. Those people are perverse and wicked and deserve to be destroyed.  I just knew that they’d probably repent if I went there and preached and then you wouldn’t judge them, like you really should.  Just kill me now.”   Jonah didn’t think Nineveh deserved mercy and thought there should be a different outcome for his efforts.

God answers back. He grows a leafy plant to shade Jonah from the desert sun then sends a worm to destroy the plant.  Jonah repeats his request to die, and God explains his object lesson.

“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, thought you did not tend it or make it grow.  It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than hundred and twenty thousand people (children in the Hebrew) who cannot tell their right hand from their left-and also many animals?’” Jonah 4:10-11

The above verses abruptly end the book of Jonah.  We don’t know if the prophet ever walked parallel with God again.

When we are in a perpendicular place with God, he asks us the same question, “Why are you so upset about this thing over here, that didn’t go your way, instead of seeing heaven’s vantage point on this matter?”

When we find ourselves at odds with God, we need to acknowledge that we are the odd man out.  We think we deserve explanations about stuff that goes sideways, but God is not beholden to our limited thinking abilities.  He’s under no obligation to answer all our questions. God is looking for people of faith who can say, “This makes no sense to me, but I’m going to obey God heartily and cheerfully and walk through the doors he opens for me and not bang my fists against the ones he closes.”

That last vocal music job I took turned into an English job during the second year. God delayed my dream, but he did not deny it because it originated with him just as Jonah’s call did.  I wonder if we might have heard from Jonah again in the Old Testament if he hadn’t gone off on such an angry bent.

Stop overthinking every situation that goes a different direction than you expected.  If you keep your heart pure and humble before God, he will cause even your honest mistakes to be part of your destiny journey.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time”

 I Peter 5:6.

If you are on the outs with God right now, please don’t stay there.  Accept that he is weaving a complex tapestry with your life. You can only see a small portion in any given moment.  Trust the One who sees the entire work from beginning to end.  Don’t be a Jonah.

 

 

God’s Reckless Mercy

Who needs your mercy and forgiveness instead of judgement? How quickly do faces come to mind?  How often do their sins float through your thoughts? Your reasons for judgement may be well founded and maybe these people aren’t remotely sorry. God understands. This is how things stood between him and the people of Nineveh.  In a surprising move, instead of wiping them out, he sent Jonah with a simple message, repent or be destroyed. God didn’t owe the sinful Ninevites the courtesy of a warning. I think his desire for repentance and relationship, carried more weight than his absolute right to judge and condemn them.

I love stories of repentant sinners and prodigals. They give me hope for my own lost and wayward soul prayer list. So, why didn’t Jonah break into a happy dance when Nineveh repented? Instead of enjoying the thrill of being used by God to save an entire city, he exploded with anger. Who knows that without Jonah’s message and Nineveh’s repentance, another Sodom and Gomorrah event was scheduled to occur? Why couldn’t Jonah celebrate that, even for the sake of innocent children?

The people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5 ESV).

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry” (Jonah 4:1)

To find an answer, let’s transport this scenario into the present day, so we can better understand Jonah’s response and God’s forgiving nature.

 Recently, I attended a service featuring a group of men from our local Teen Challenge Ministry. Men and women in the Teen Challenge Recovery program often enter with criminal records and  substance abuse  problems. When they commit to enter the program, they kick addictions cold turkey, and enter a new life of discipleship in Christ. Many of their testimonies are harrowing.

One young man stood out because he did not come from a broken home, abuse and neglect like the others. His background included a stable, Christ-centered family and a dynamic church.  After a college education, he started a career in money management, married and fathered two children. An experiment with cocaine became a love affair that cost him his job, his family and his faith. He left his parents and wife on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt. Finally, his criminal activity left him with nothing except the choice to enter Teen Challenge for a year or spend eighteen months in jail.

Listening to his story, I wondered how his extended family responded to his repentance? What does forgiveness of such acts look like, as this family struggled for years to resolve the consequences and damage this young man generated? Did  they lose or re-finance their homes to pay debts? Drain savings? How did his wife, suddenly thrust into single parenthood and one income, provide for herself and her children?

My thoughts drifted to Luke 15, Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. I looked at the older brother’s feelings with fresh eyes. Consider what happened in this family because of the prodigal’s selfishness and sin. First, he broke his family’s hearts, wondering and worrying about him.  Secondly, when he finally came home, he came with nothing. He spent his entire inheritance.  What did this mean for the entire family going forward, financially? Is he trusted with more money, at the risk of him squandering it?  Is he made to work in his father’s business and pay him back, displacing another sibling or employee? Did he also leave behind unpaid debts?  Lots of questions here.

As the prodigal’s sister, I’d need extra doses of God’s grace to believe his story of repentance and forgive him for hurting my parents deeply.  Second, I’d feel mixed up about spending money on a dinner party to welcome him home considering how he squandered everything he’d been given. Finally, I’d be deeply concerned about my flakey brother re-entering the family business.

As I pondered all of this, I came to a revelation when I examined the responses of God to Nineveh and the father to his prodigal son.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10 ESV).

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20 ESV).

God’s forgiveness and mercy will never make sense to the natural mind. Mercy is risky and forgiveness is often not deserved, at least that’s how humans see it. The stink of Nineveh’s sin made it to God’s nose. The prodigal son wasted his entire inheritance on immorality. Yet, in both stories, God sees potential and boom; judgement plans are canceled, and mercy’s showers start to pour.  Jonah didn’t approve. The older brother didn’t approve. Sometimes, neither do we.

 God views prodigals and sinners differently from us. He longs for us to adjust our paradigms and see people’s value as he does. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He’s profoundly serious when he expects us to balance hatred for sin with love for the sinner.  Jonah never did, as far as we know. The stench of Nineveh’s sin, which Jonah experienced first-hand, overpowered the reason God called him to the city, to save humans from destruction.

God’s highest priority is to redeem people from hell and hellish living. The mess of that redemptive process can be overwhelming to us, when we engage with sinners. God understands intimately. His entire creation ended up sideways, due to sin. Instead of irreversible judgement, his only child endured a brutal death to make a path of forgiveness and restoration for us. He will grant us eyes to see potential in the worst offenders, if we ask him.

Lamp and Sword

****Further resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

  • If you are struggling to forgive someone, particularly when there is no sign of remorse, I suggest a read-through with these verses. When you are a victim of someone’s sin, be it great or small, your inner sense of justice is disturbed. Only God can set it right. Sometimes we can receive justice in the natural, but there are times when we don’t. These are the places where God completes the picture for us and gives rest to our souls.

Romans 5:8, Matthew 6:14-15, 5:43-44, Psalm 7:11, Amos 5:15, Ephesians 5:2, 1John 4:8

 

  • Sometimes our thirst for judgement is directed towards people we’ve never met. We are aware of their sins on a national and international level. Liars, cheats, murderers, thieves, abusers and such can stir up great anger and we cross the line, rejoicing in their downfalls and misfortunes, forgetting that they too are souls God loves, and for whom Christ died. If you find yourself brimming with unrighteous anger when you are confronted with evil current events, I suggest you ponder these verses. Ask God to help you pray for justice, victims of evil while also praying for the repentance of wicked perpetrators.

Romans 5:6-8, I Timothy 2:11, Romans 12:20-21, Romans 2:1-4, I John 4:20

  • A Divine Revelation of Hell,” is a book written by Mary K. Baxter, based on thirty days of visions God sent her as to what hell might be like for those condemned to its fires. If your heart needs a jumpstart to care about and pray for the wicked and lost, this will do it. The book is easily available used and new on several different online sites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obadiah- Sowing and Reaping

As a minister of music, I hated being the deliverer of bad news to folks who ached to be on worship team but lacked the right skills. Kristy (not her real name) never made the cut for any vocal group she auditioned for in her high school, yet she and her mother pleaded for an audition.  They both felt certain God “called” her to be on our worship team.  As she sang the same way which I presumed kept her out of school vocal groups, my heart sunk. Her heart clearly burned with passion, but she possessed not a single skill or natural ability to match.

When I first began to speak, my tone of voice and my heart emanated kindness and compassion. Unfortunately, Kristy came at me with pride, denial, anger and hurt. I confess, my peace shoes fell off, my cloak of humility slipped off my shoulders and grace fled my heart.  I became defensive and terse once she attacked my authority and judgement and it ended poorly between us.  She and her mother glared at me from the pews for several years after that.

A dozen years later, as a lay person in a large church, I auditioned for a 1st soprano opening on the worship team.  The team informed me that although they enjoyed my voice, the slot would be given to  another sister, whose audition sounded quite out of tune to me.  I struggled to hide my shock. (Turns out, she was a former member of the team who stepped down for a while. The auditions were a bit of a set-up.)

To add further insult the worship leader asked, “There’s a tenor opening? Interested?”  I stammered that I’d think about it and get back to them and beat feet out of there. Angry retorts about my years of training and my previous position as minister of music bubbled in my mind while I fled to my car. Then Kristy’s face popped up in my mind.  It occurred to me that God allowed that humbling moment so that the next time I faced a Kristy (which I did many times in the years to come as a high school vocal teacher) I’d hold onto my peace and kindness regardless of how others behaved.  I’m certain that experience was a lesson in God’s harvesting law class.

I walked back in the building and took the tenor slot, humbly.  Within six weeks, two first sopranos left, and I filled one of the slots joyfully for many years.  I think God used my humbling and my response, as good seed that reaped my desired harvest.

God’s laws of sowing and reaping are irrefutable.  You can find a trail of them all throughout Scripture, from literal laws about crop-growing to spiritual laws about our attitudes and works.   In Obadiah, verse 15, we find an ominous warning.

As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.”

All the evil acts of the Edomites towards Israel, from blocking their flight away from Pharaoh, during the Exodus, to cutting them down while they fled Jerusalem from the Assyrians centuries later, eventually rain down on this bitter nation. The law of sowing and reaping finds them, and they are wiped out permanently, as a nation.  There are people who live in their former lands, but they are not descendants.  The history of the Edomites becomes so sketchy that no one can lay claim to this day that they are a direct descendant.  Quite a contrast to Israel’s descendants.  What if the Edomites stood side by side with their brother Israelites, instead of toe to toe?   I expect their history and descendants would be entirely different.

The apostle Paul echoes this warning to sinners in the Galatian church in Galatians 6:7-8.

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

Then, he flips the equation in verse nine, and speaks to those who are sowing good seed but aren’t seeing their desired harvest.

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”

To the Corinthian church, Paul speaks about the quality and amount of what we sow in 1 Corinthians 9:6.

“He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

Every day, believers sow seed.  Our words and actions go forth to others and into the supernatural fields God has ordained as either good seed or bad seed.  What we do and say will bring a harvest in God’s perfect time.  What kind of harvest are you experiencing right now?  If some of it is bitter, nasty and weak, ask God if you are reaping some seed you’ve forgotten you sowed.  I’m not saying every negative thing that comes our way is our own harvest.  Weed seeds can blow in on the wind or be carried by birds.  We know God allows us to face these trials and challenges, but it is important to our sanctification to discern whether our weed beds are of our own making, like the Edomites.

Additionally, when we do face tribulations, not created out of our own poor choices, we can still reap a harvest of goodness, grace and mercy. How?  When we show compassion and love in action towards others experiencing illness, setbacks, crisis and all manner of evil, we are sowing seeds that will be a much-needed harvest for ourselves in our own day of trouble.  I wonder if the Edomites ever sorted that out?

So, here’s a few general items from my list of deliberate seed that I’m sowing.  How about you?

  • I’m giving generously, out of love and gratitude to God, of my time, money, skills and all other physical resources, with full confidence that my upcoming needs will be met in God’s perfect time.
  • I’ve asked God to put a watch over my mouth and my emotions so that my words and responses reflect Galatians 5:22 and not my flesh. I expect that others will return the same to me, not always, but much of the time.
  • I’m sowing the seeds of the Word of God more deliberately into my own heart such that they are there, growing strong and ready to face the storms of life.
  • Lamp and Sword

****Resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

Read the following Old Testament verses and then reflect on the questions below.

Genesis 26:12, Leviticus 26:3-5,  Isaiah 65:21-22,  Jeremiah 12:13

  1. Is there a relationship between obedience and harvest?
  2. Do these laws for an agrarian society apply to people who aren’t farmers or growers?

Read Revelation 14:15-19.  What do you think the phrase, “the harvest of the earth,” means?  Feel free to use commentaries if you are entirely stuck.