Tangled Webs

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”  (Walter Scott)

shutterstock_217580560Sometimes it can get really discouraging when you are continually faced with people who are not honest.  We’ve all been there, those times when you are either lied about or lied to. Sometimes it is intentional, and sometimes it happens out of exaggeration without thinking.   Either way, it reveals something about a person’s true character when it happens, and if it is us doing the lying, it reveals the same about our character as well.  Recently, I have been lied about and lied to.  When it occurred, I was both discouraged and disturbed by it.  Although I forgave the people involved and tried to understand why it might have happened, I lost a great amount of (if not all) respect for them.  I was blessed to have had the lie revealed in these situations, but that doesn’t happen every time.  Sometimes we just have to continue walking in integrity and trust that God will take care of the situation(s) in His time and in His way, even if we never know it happens or get to see the result.

The battle against dishonesty is often difficult because lies are based in so many other negative things.  There are countless reasons why a person would lie about (or to) someone else.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Guilt or Fear – Being confronted with something done wrong can entice someone to lie in order to avoid the consequences of their actions. (“The dog ate my homework,” or if you’ve ever watched a real-life cops show, “These aren’t my pants.”)
  • Embarrassment – Making a mistake can often make a person feel embarrassed. Rather than just owning up to it, someone might lie to cover it up.  (“No one told me I needed to do that,” or “My phone must not have been working.”)
  • Insecurity – When someone feels insecure, it isn’t uncommon for them to lie or exaggerate about a situation in order to make themselves look better, or sometimes to even establish themselves as a victim. (“I have a degree in _____,” or “They never listen to me.”)
  • Anger – When anger flairs, for whatever reason, someone may exaggerate the circumstance in order to gain the support of others, or a person may outright lie in order to get back at someone who hurt them. (This one certainly speaks for itself.)
  • A desire for power, status or money – Sometimes people are so consumed with getting power and status (which usually comes with money), they will step on anyone in their way to attain it. They will say whatever they have to in order to gain favor with those currently with power and status, even if it is totally untrue.  This includes taking credit for things they haven’t done or not taking blame for things they have messed up.  (“You know, Sally thinks you aren’t very smart,” “That was my idea,” or “I told them not to do it that way.”)

My point in the few examples above is that a lie isn’t just about the untruth being told; it is rooted in much deeper issues within a person or situation.  In other words, telling the truth is simple; Lies are complicated.

shutterstock_656855419The only way to battle dishonesty is with truth.  If we try to battle against lies with reason or even anger, we will probably just end up frustrated with the results.  That’s because lies breed other lies!  When someone lies to or about you, and they are confronted, don’t be surprised if another lie is told to try and get out of the uncomfortable or awkward position in which that person finds themselves.  Depending on the reason for the untruth in the first place (as mentioned above), that same force will often drive a second or third lie in order to cover it up or keep the charade going.  The ONLY way to face dishonesty is to shine the light of truth on it.  But before you start cheering, “Yeah, expose it,” we probably need to consider something else.

Our natural response to a lie is to be hurt, upset, sad, or even downright angry!  We feel (and are) justified in those emotions, but if we react out of those emotions, we are in danger of committing our own exaggerations and untruths.  It is just as easy for us to fall prey to our emotions or insecurities and make decisions or say things that might be inappropriate because we feel so wronged.  We want to expose the person and their untruth to everyone else.  We want to clear our name or tarnish theirs, but before we address an untruth or misrepresentation, we need to step back, take a breath and ask God for wisdom and guidance in how to proceed.

Over the course of my life, there are times I have reacted with an instant indignation toward the person(s) involved in an untruth.  I barely take a breath before I react and let words came out of my mouth!  However, in other times, I didn’t react or say a word in that moment.  Instead, I walked away and prayed about what to do.  Those prayers were answered sometimes by delaying the ability to address it for a few days, but it has always been much more profitable to wait on God’s timing than to insist on my own.  By stepping back and asking Him for wisdom and guidance, it removed the anger and frustration, but it did not remove the hurt and disappointment associated with the situation.  Our relationship with God works that way sometimes; our tempers may calm, but the pain often remains.  Anger is fleeting, but wounds take time to heal.

shutterstock_102143122As people of faith, we know the guidelines of forgiveness.  We know we are to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us (Matt 5:43-48).  On one occasion, Peter asked Jesus how often he needed to forgive, thinking seven times was plenty.  Jesus responded with “seventy times seven” (Matt 18:21-22). That doesn’t mean 490 times and then stop, but rather that forgiveness is a process.  We are human, and forgiveness does NOT come easy to us.  It isn’t usually enough to forgive someone just once and walk away.  In our hearts, we tend to hold grudges and hang onto hurt, pain, and betrayal.  We may not outwardly give someone a cold shoulder or treat them poorly, but inside we often have to forgive them every time the hurt, anger or pain rears its head again.  We need to forgive so that we can let it go.  We need to sometimes forgive over and over internally until we reach that point.  We read in Matt 18:23-35 about a servant who was forgiven of a huge debt he had no way of ever paying back.  He begged for mercy and forgiveness and his master granted it and forgave his debt – lavishly!  Almost immediately, that same guy went out to someone who owed him a very small amount and when that man begged for mercy and forgiveness, the guy not only didn’t forgive the debt, but he threw the man into prison.  When the master found out, he went back to the servant and scolded him for his lack of mercy.  As a result, he also rescinded the debt forgiveness and put him into prison himself.  Jesus follows this parable with the statement, “This is how the Heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you  forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”  OUCH!

Before moving onto another thought, let me add what I believe is the most revealing aspect of how we are to forgive.  We often read or repeat what we call “the Lord’s prayer,” but the first thing we need to understand is that Matt 6 is not Jesus’ prayer for us, but rather Jesus giving us the way in which we should pray.  Most of us have said the words, “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt 6:12). “As” does not mean “while;” it means “the same way.”    We say those words, but do we really understand what we are asking God in that prayer?  We are saying to God, Himself, “Forgive me the same way and in the same manner that I forgive others.”  Uh oh, that changes things doesn’t it?   The truth is we really love God’s mercy and the way He forgives us time and time again.  We love that He lavishly forgives us, but we don’t want Him to do that for the people who have wronged or hurt us.  We want Him to act out of justice, not mercy, in those cases, but Jesus tells us we should be asking God to forgive us in the exact same way we forgive others.  Now you can start to see why the illustration of “seventy times seven” is so important.  Yes, we are human.  Yes, we struggle to forgive and let it go, but when we find ourselves in that spot, we need to remember that having to internally forgive over and over again is not unusual.  Jesus knows it is a process and that we may have to walk through these truths again until we can forgive on the inside, no matter how many times that takes us.

shutterstock_82458775As I said earlier, “lies are complicated,” and spending our energy trying to figure out why someone is dishonest will rarely bring an answer we find satisfying.   Lies or misrepresentations can quickly become a web in which most of us do not want to be stuck – no matter if you are the spider or the fly.  Instead of focusing so much on the dishonesty we come across almost every day, wouldn’t it be better to focus on the truth?  Turning from anger to forgiveness frees us to live abundantly.  And if, perchance, you are struggling with a “justice gene” of your own, maybe it’s time to go back to that model prayer Jesus gave us.  Maybe it’s time to remember how lavishly we have been forgiven, with no strings attached, by the One who has every right to demand justice, but instead, chooses love.

“Forgive me of my own wrongdoing in the same way I forgive those who have hurt, wronged, or mistreated me.”  Be careful what you ask for from the One who sees and knows everything, but rejoice in the fact He will give you whatever you need in order to love and forgive as He does.  The choice is totally up to you.

Blessings!

Time For A “Face” Lift

shutterstock_351834119Our society places a lot of value on beauty and outward appearance.  We think nothing of having work done (or of others having work done) to try and circumvent the effects of aging, and yet we are paying less and less attention to how we look on the inside.   We are losing our ability to be civil and courteous, and nowhere is this truth more apparent than on Facebook and other social media sites.  Over the past 6 months or so, I have been spending less time on Facebook and much of the time I’ve spent was, or is, hiding posts from people on ALL sides of varying issues (political or other).  My tolerance for the intolerance shown by so many people on so many subjects has really worn thin.  Before I go any further, let me just say that if you think I’m one of those people who just wants to stick their heads in the sand and not care, or are not willing to be engaged in thoughtful or even passionate discussion, I can assure you nothing is further from the truth.  I choose to be very engaged, just not online.

These days, there is turmoil all around us.  For one thing, the recent election cycle in our country has really taken a toll on most people and some people are very concerned – some for the same reasons and some for very different ones.  Then we look around us at other divides caused by different belief systems (whether religious or not), and it seems we are in a constant state of disruption and disagreement.  I have news for you: It has always been this way!   We think our debates are deeper or more enlightened.  We think the consequences are greater.  Guess what?  Every generation from the beginning of time has thought the same things.  And yes, people have always fought (and disagreed) passionately over what they believed.  From the beginning of time, there have always been people who were nasty and mean when trying to prove a point or argue a position, but it was different.  They didn’t have access to instant communication with the entire world!  We are bombarded with opinions and even mean-spirited lies about different positions or events.  We have instant information when something happens, and sometimes that information is not always accurate.  shutterstock_516722350That’s part of what is wrong with instant news.  Stories used to have time to develop before everyone heard something and reacted.  We’ve seen many stories that turned out not to be as they were originally portrayed, but it was too late to stop the reactions or public opinion – even when the facts finally come out.  On top of that, there is so much “fake” news that now exists for the sole purpose of stirring people up, or even worse, slandering or attacking them.

We live in a world where we can fire off our opinions immediately online, almost with impunity.  We no longer have to resort to picking up the phone and calling someone to discuss something.  We don’t have to wait until we are “around the water cooler” or face to face with someone before we throw out what we think.  There is something very valuable about waiting before we speak or give an opinion.  It gives us time to rethink HOW we want to give that opinion or state that comment.  We have lost our civility, and it has only escalated the meanness and fueled the fires of anger and hate.  Then we start choosing sides and refuse to listen to anyone who disagrees.  It’s true in our government as well as our own lives.  It needs to stop, but there are days when I fear we are too far gone.

Online we lose so much of what makes us human.  We lose tone, facial expression and body language. We lose accountability, and most of all we lose the trait of being courteous.  It’s easy to be rude when you don’t have to look people in the eye.  It’s easy to tear people down (including those we claim to love and care about) from behind a computer or phone screen.  There are no bounds to what people say or how far they will go to destroy someone who thinks, believes or lives differently.  As I mentioned earlier, even if we do not actively engage in the arguing, it is affecting us.  Even though we think we are ignoring it, we still feel its effects.  Think of it this way:  If you were in a room of people where the noise level and arguing (or fighting) was that loud, you would most likely leave even if you had an opinion that you wouldn’t mind discussing civilly.  Most of us would condemn the behavior we were witnessing and refuse to be part of it, but social media is different.  We’ve turned differing opinions into blood-sport.  We don’t care if a news story is real or fake; we use it as a weapon to go after people who disagree with us.  We’ve become more rude and intolerant as we hide behind our devices.  And that goes for ALL people of ALL beliefs and opinions.  shutterstock_74446510We don’t walk away from people who are rude or aggressive anymore, instead we devolve into them ourselves.  We forget that we are talking to human beings, and instead treat each other like animals.  We are bullies.  We are arrogant and insensitive asses.  We devolve into everything we say we aren’t or that we preach against.  We watch our friends tear each other down and just sit there.  We think, because we don’t read or react to the garbage that rolls through our feeds, that it isn’t affecting us.  But it is.  It wears on us until we finally crack.  I’ve fallen victim to it on several occasions myself.  “It” being that almost uncontrollable urge to fight back or snipe back at someone who is being unreasonable or, God forbid, wrong!  I’ve given into it on occasion, but it has almost always come with regret at some point.

The truth is, Facebook has become Face-less book.  We see photos but not each other.  We’ve become social voyeurs.  Voyeurs see others as objects and have no problem victimizing them as a result.  We, ourselves, have become less human and yet feel more entitled at the same time.  Everyone screams about intolerance, yet everyone IS intolerant.  Why?  Because it’s easy. Because even though we might love the people in our feeds, we feel faceless to them too.  The old saying that “character is what you do when no one is looking” is very true.  People sometimes ask, “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t get caught?”  The answers are always interesting, but we are actually living in an age where we have created places where we think we can act like Neanderthals because we can’t be touched.  And then we wonder why our relationships (personally or professionally) are suffering.  We are so used to letting words fly out of our mouths without thought for others that we’ve started doing it in our real lives.  It was bound to happen, and yet we never saw it coming.  I see people who should be leaders acting like children, or even worse, teenagers whose only concern is being part of in the “in” club.  I see people snickering in corners about fellow workers, family members, church members or friends because their minds are being trained to think it’s normal to behave that way.  Just like we do on social media, we are watching it even if we aren’t actively participating.   And just like on Facebook, it is affecting us whether we want to admit it or not.

shutterstock_57395806So why does it matter? It matters because we are conditioning ourselves in ways that are harming us as individuals and as a society.  Our “real” lives are in turmoil.  We hear of tragedies almost daily where someone has attacked or even killed others.  We hear of relationships of all kinds falling apart and everyone is more concerned with blaming each other and making sure they are the one who  comes out “looking good.”  We watch kids bully and be mean to each other but then whine and cry when someone does the same to them.    We wring our hands and wonder why this selfish behavior has become so common, but we refuse to look in the mirror and admit we are part of the problem.  Whether we are actually fighting or being a voyeur, we are part of the problem.  We are more and more desensitized which makes us less and less self-aware.  In our “real” lives, we are becoming quicker to point out others who are being rude, offensive or a host of other negative traits while not seeing our own.

I said earlier there are days I fear we are too far gone, but there IS hope!  We actually can change, but we first have to want to change.   There is a passage of scripture (James chapter 4) that affected me very deeply the first time I read it when I was a teenager.  The entire chapter is great admonition as to how we should live, but it ends with this verse: “Therefore, to the one that knows to do good and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin.”  We forget that not doing the things that are right and good are just as sinful in God’s eyes as doing all the wrong things.  It’s time for us to stand up for what is good instead of defending our positions.  It’s time for us to “think on these things” that are “true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report.” (Phil 4:8) We must remember that our hearts and the hearts of others are not protected behind a wall of perceived immunity.   shutterstock_290171423We are ALL humans.  We are all imperfect and we all are tempted to get caught up in the drama with which we are constantly bombarded.  Instead, let us hold each other close in heart.  Let us truly love each other instead of tearing each other down.  Let’s purge our social media feeds AND our lives of the things that continually remind us of how we are different we are and start looking at how we are all the same.  Yes, it’s time for a “face”lift of a different kind, so I will leave you with this:  “Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Blessings!

In One Ear and Out the Mouth

shutterstock_396656035Gossip.  We’ve all been victims of it, and we’ve all been perpetrators of it.  We hate when we hear someone has been talking poorly about us and it might even anger us when what is said is untrue.  There’s a great lesson in the old game of “telephone” where one person whispers something to the person next to them, and then it is passed along through the line or circle of people and then spoken out loud at the end.  Rarely is it even close to what was originally said, which often brings great laughter.  Sometimes the morphing of the statement happens simply from people misunderstanding a word here or there, and sometimes it happens because someone deliberately changes a word or two just for the “fun of it.”  Either way, it is a great reminder that whenever we hear something second, third (or even further) hand, we need to be very careful in how we react to it.

There’s a reason the Bible has so many verses about the need for controlling our tongues.  The problem most of us have is that we often try to force bringing it under control through sheer will.  We say or think things like, “I am just NOT going to say anything!  I’m gonna stop it because I know it is not God-honoring and it’s just not good to do.”  I’m not saying it doesn’t work sometimes to do that because there are certainly times when we have to just power through and force ourselves to stay on the high road in a given situation.  That being said, it is not our nature to take the high road, and the only way we can conquer our natural tendencies is through God’s help.

shutterstock_65540413Lately it seems this subject has come up more and more, whether it is at work, church, family or other relationships. I think we go through seasons where it just flares in all areas, and we watch the destruction that it can cause when people “share information” with or about others. (In case you didn’t know, “sharing information” is just a nice way of saying “gossiping.”  LOL)  Anyway, It struck me this week how important it is for us to go back to that one first and foremost commandment that we love God above all else and the second that we love others as ourselves.  I have shared often about the characteristics and nature of love as it is described to us in the Bible, and one of the traits that came up for me recently is where it says it “believes all things.”  That means it believes the best in people regardless of what is said.  It means you choose to believe the best about those you love, and when gossip hits your ears about something they may or may not have actually said about you, then you choose to believe it was a misunderstanding.  If I love you and esteem you better than myself, I won’t fall prey to spreading gossip about you or taking gossip I hear about you to heart.

It can be hurtful when you hear things about yourself or others that may or may not be true.  As Christians, when this occurs, we sometimes say the best thing you can do is to follow what the Bible says about confronting someone who has offended you.  Although that is a great passage that we should adhere to for personal offenses, it’s interesting when it comes to gossip, we don’t get offended at the person who is telling us.  Instead, we get offended at some other person down the gossip chain.  We misplace our sense of offense, and then have this inherent drive to “set the record straight.”  As a result, we use the offended brother principle and say, “If someone offends me, then I need to go to him or her alone (not tell everyone else) to resolve the issue.  Although that is true, it is meant for direct offense, not a perceived offense based on multiple levels of hearsay.  The truth is, it shouldn’t matter to you what you heard about what someone else has said; what matters is what transpires between you and someone else directly.   We do not have a right to go to someone based on hearsay.  We also don’t have a right to be angry or offended based on hearsay.  When you really think about it, if we are going to be angry and offended when we hear gossip that upsets us, maybe it should be directed at the one who shared it with us. But then again, everything we do should come back to love as it is described in 1 Corinthians chpt 13.

shutterstock_226217977As I mentioned earlier, if I love you in the manner God has instructed me to love, and someone else tells me that you said something mean, nasty or untrue about me, I will choose to not believe it.  Until God reveals otherwise, I will believe that something has been misunderstood or misinterpreted along the way.  And if I don’t do that, then I’m not really exhibiting love at all.  I know there are some who will disagree with me when I say this, but we don’t have a right to be angry, set the record straight or even clear our names.  We don’t need to try and root out the source of the gossip so we can confront it.  We need to simply leave it up to God, and the truth is we don’t like that one bit!  It goes against our nature.  The way we stop tongues from wagging is to simply not be one of them.  And when something is said, we should respond with something like “I’m not comfortable hearing or discussing this unless that person is here to defend themselves.”  That holds true whether we want to agree with the gossip or not.  It’s easy to believe the bad about a person (or their intent/motives) when their personality rubs us the wrong way.  Even as Christians, we tend to always believe the worst in each other.  We may start out believing the best, but then something happens that we disagree with, we just stew about it. It’s just so much easier to believe the negative.  And, truth be told, a lot of times we actually take pleasure in it.  That should never be the case!  We need to remember that we need to guard and control our ears as much as we need to guard and control our tongues!

Telling tales (true or not) is one of the most destructive aspects of life.  And whether we are the one speaking or listening, we feign innocence.  We feign concern.  We do it and then use those things to cloak our gossip instead of calling it what it is.  It doesn’t make it any more innocent to say we are sharing it because, “Somebody ought to know.”  It doesn’t make it any more honorable to say we are just seeking someone from which to get information on something we did not happen to witness personally.  Well the truth is, God already knows what has occurred, been said and/or done.  The question is: Do you trust Him or not to take care of things?  I’m not asking what you SAY, but what you practice internally.  We all answer that question with a resounding “Yes,” but then don’t act accordingly.  When you boil it down to these types of questions, it can really hit you in the heart.  I know it certainly has for me.

shutterstock_128469905This life of faith – “kingdom living” – is a higher calling, and if we are not going to rise up to that level, then we need to stop calling ourselves Christians.  I’m not saying we will always be successful, because we will fail.  We will fail miserably because our emotions will get in the way.  We will fall prey to the enemy’s advances in our lives through our tongue and through our ears.  It is time for it to stop.  It is time to stand up and truly love in the way we are commanded.  Because when we don’t, we are out of fellowship with God.  It is not a feeling; it is a choice.  It isn’t important what someone else says about you or what you may have heard about someone else.  What is important is that when we engage in gossip or any other unloving behavior toward each other, God no longer hears our prayers because we now have unconfessed sin in our own lives (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:2).  The only way we can break through the deafening barrier of our own sin is by confessing it to God and asking for His forgiveness, which he has promised to grant every single time (1 John 1:9).

Genuine love is not easy.  If it were easy, there’d be a lot more of it.  Love requires sacrifice.  Most often, more than any other type of sacrifice, it is our pride and our “justice gene” that needs to be sacrificed on the altar.  It is the nature that compels us to prove our innocence, or sometimes to prove someone else’s guilt, that needs to be sacrificed on the altar.  Brothers and sisters, it is time that we come together.  It is time to lay aside our perceptions, anger, and the incessant need to be right or to hold onto things that the enemy uses to attempt to divide us.   We need to live and love as God commanded us to do – even when we may feel we have been wronged. Trust me, God can and will settle all accounts.

NowSo as for me, it is my renewed commitment to be constantly striving to love as God expects me to love and forgive as He expects me to forgive.   For me, it is a renewed commitment to believe the best in my brothers and sisters (and even non‑believers), whether at home, church, work or anywhere else.  We need to do it with our spouses, children, family, friends, coworkers , etc., and yes, even with our enemies.  There is no such thing as “partial obedience” when God instructs us to do something.  It is pretty simple: either we obey or we do not.  Let’s get back to weeding our own gardens instead of trying to weed each other’s.  Let’s take the log out of our own eyes before trying to remove the splinter from someone else’s.  And let’s quit finding creative ways to rationalize our behavior when it does not coincide with what we SAY we believe or KNOW is true.  I call you to join me.  I call us to action.  Because through love, we are truly unstoppable.

Blessings!

ps – some great reminders…

Ephesians 4:2929 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

James 1:26 – 26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

James 3:9-10 (In regards to the tongue) –  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.

The Ignorant Battle Cry of Christians

shutterstock_148970525Recently, people of faith all over the world celebrated the resurrection of their Lord and Savior.  They celebrated the God who loved us all so much that He was willing to take on a human body, suffer more than anyone has ever suffered, and die the most horrible, unspeakable death for us because He loved us and wanted us to be free.   You’d think this would inspire these same people of faith to try to live more closely to the teachings of the One in which they have put their faith, but that doesn’t always happen.

Recently, I listened to a member of the clergy speak publicly with such venom and hatred for people who were different, believed differently, or God forbid, were “them old sinners.”  When it started, it was almost humorous, because it seemed almost like a caricature of what the media portrays Christians to be.  But as I continued to listen, humor turned to surprise, then to disappointment and finally to disgust.  All I wanted to do was to shout out, “You are the problem!”  Because the truth is that God loves ALL the world and every single person in it.  He loves those we would classify as “good” as well as those we would say are “bad” (eg. Hitler, Bin Laden, Manson, etc.).  It makes no difference who you are, because in God’s eyes we are all the same.  No matter what we do or engage in, or how we choose to live our lives, He loves us with everything He has.  In John 3:16, we are told that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that WHOSOEVER believes in Him, will not die, but have everlasting life.”  And then it also tells us that  “God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8).  He loved everyone while we were still rejecting Him.  He loves  us before we are “cleaned up.”  He loves us so much that He died for us WHILE we were rejecting Him.  That’s pretty amazing!

In today’s society, there seem to be more attacks on Christianity, but the truth is we bring much of that on ourselves.  If we weren’t so bitter and mean, maybe it would be a little different.  If we discussed our beliefs from a heart of love and lived the way Christ wants us to live, maybe so many people wouldn’t be so angry.  Make no mistake, Jesus told His followers that the world hated Him and as a result, they would also be hated at times.  (John 15:18-25).  So rest assured there will always be opposition to Christ and those who follow His teachings, but my point is that Jesus was about inclusion, not exclusion.  Jesus was about love not hate.  He never spoke with venom.  He never screamed at people.  He wasn’t about pride;  He was about humility.  He wasn’t about condemnation.  He wasn’t about prejudice of any kind.  He was about love.  shutterstock_247287523And yet I sat there listening to this clergyman shouting loudly and passionately how proud he was that he was raised knowing that abortion is sin and that “homosexuality is an “abomination!”  (Yes, that is a quote!)  He shouted about how we all need to “hold fast to the doctrines of our fathers!”  And inside, I was screaming, “NO, we don’t!!”  What we need to do is to hold fast to the truth of God’s word, not simply what our fathers or grandfathers taught us, or even what we have heard out of the mouths of pastors.  We are to hold fast, true and strong to the truth of God’s word, not man’s.  God has promised that if you seek the truth, you will find it, and you may even do so without a preacher.  I know that statement will be considered heretical to some people, but it is God who reveals the truth to you.  A preacher (or anyone else) can only share scripture and live an example before others, but if you are seeking the truth and you ask God to reveal to you what His word means, then He will.  We must study His word to gain knowledge, but the wisdom and revelation associated with it is a gift.   “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all generously and without reproach.”  (James 1:5)

Every person’s relationship is between that person, God and no one else.  Do our spiritual relationships affect other people?  They most certainly do, and to hear such passionate ignorance delivered in such an unloving attitude – and  to hear people actually cheer out loud – was one of the most disturbing things I have ever witnessed.  God is love, and to sit there listening to someone who claims to be one of His representatives shout in ways that declared certain types of sinners were less holy than him, made me sick to my stomach.  We are ALL sinners and equally guilty and I kept thinking of the story in the Bible (Luke 18:9-14) of a very religious man that was similar.  In a nutshell, this religious, faithful, church-going man prayed out loud so everyone could hear him, “Oh thank you God that I’m not like these other people!  I thank you that I’m faithful.  I thank you that I follow you.  I thank you I’m not like these robbers, evildoers or other terrible people like this man over here!”  The other man he referred to had been standing a distance away by himself and wouldn’t even lift his head and look up toward Heaven.  He beat on his chest and cried out, “Oh God be merciful to me because I’m a sinner!”   Jesus said it was the SECOND man that was justified and honored.  It was the terrible sinner (in the eyes of the religious man) who GOD recognized and honored.   Every time I hear a Christian speaking from a place of prejudice and anger or hate, I think, “How is it possible that people can’t see why their churches are dying?”  People wonder what’s wrong and wonder what they can do or what program they can start to get people to come.  We try all kinds of things.  We keep trying to make people want to come and worship with us, and the biggest thing we are missing in all of it is love.

shutterstock_63532855Why are our churches dying?  They are dying because of US!  They are dying because we don’t love and forgive as God loves and forgives.  They are dying because of men like this who stand up and scream against one particular sin or another.   They’re quick to shout about homosexuality, abortion, drunkenness or drugs, but they don’t shout about gluttony or selfishness.  They don’t shout about the person who overeats or is a workaholic.   They don’t shout about the person that gossips, which to me is one of the most divisive and damaging sins of all.  They  only shout about the things they haven’t done as if that somehow makes them holier than those who have done them.  And then they look down on those people as if to say, “If you will come crawling over broken glass and hot coals to Christ, then you can be saved,  but you’ll never be as good as me.”  Like the mob in the Disney movie, the battle cry of many Christians is, “Kill the beast!” when our battle cry should be, “Love them to death.  Love them above all.  Prefer them above all.  Love as God loved!”

We hear all the time, “Hate the sin but love the sinner,” but God does not give us permission to hate anything or anyone.  We are supposed to forgive the sin and love the sinner.  THAT is what Christ does.   As people of faith, there are certainly things and behaviors we should not engage in, but there isn’t one perfect person on this earth.  And the moment you start thinking more highly of yourself than you ought (Romans 12:3), you will fall.   If someone is engaged in something that is wrong or harmful, then it is our duty to talk with them to help them understand God’s word and the forgiveness in it, but not out of condemnation.  We are to do it (and everything else) out of genuine love.   I can think of nothing more wonderful than a church where everyone is truly welcome.  We need places where anyone and everyone are welcome to come and learn the truth of God’s word.  We need places steeped in neither legalism nor emotionalism, but steeped in truth – truth spoken from the most loving hearts.   Apathy is not killing our churches, hate is.  Apathy is not what is causing former Christians to turn away and say they want no more of church as an organized religion.  It is hate and meanness that is causing it, because no one has experienced more Christian hatred than those sitting in the very same pews of the very same churches.

As I sat in that room recently, listening to hatred and condemnation being spewed, I saw in my mind’s eye, picket signs, megaphones and people shouting “Onward Christian soldiers marching to war!”  When what I really longed for was a very different battle cry – one that says, “Come to me.  Love your neighbor.  Love as I have loved you.  Forgive as I’ve forgiven you.”  We must remember the battle is not between people of faith and atheists.   It is not a war between good people and bad people.  It is not a war between us and “them old sinners,” because you see, WE are “them old sinners.”  It is a war between me and myself.  It is a war between who we are and who we should be.  We must stop spending so much time crucifying everyone who is different or those who may disagree with us.  shutterstock_235743286We must start tending our own garden and pulling our own weeds instead of mowing down crops we don’t think should exist.  We need to simply turn our own hearts to God instead of trying to turn someone else’s, because we CAN’T turn someone else’s heart to God.  Only GOD can do that.  All I can do is to live my life the way Christ would have me to live, and that means to love and forgive above all else.  It means to stand firm on the truth of His word and not just what my parents taught me or what preachers have said from the pulpit.  I must stand on what God himself has revealed to me through prayer and study, by verifying for myself those things that someone else has said.

There is a Christian battle cry today and it is ignorant and idiotic.  It is bitter, hurtful and mean.  It is condemning, and Jesus was never any of those things.  We need to start loving more.  We need to stop hating the sin but loving the sinner.  It is time to forgive the sin and love the sinner.  That’s what we are called to do.  That should be our true battle cry.

I pray that all of us, especially people of faith, will have our eyes and hearts opened to the truth that love builds bridges.  Love tears down walls.  Love allows people to listen and softens them so it is easier for that “still, small voice” to touch them.  I pray that we will finally stop trying to scream the truth and just simply start living it.

Blessings!

Love Is Not Grey

In this season when so many people are celebrating love, I can’t help but think of how far we have strayed in our society from the true meaning of it.  I’m not just referring to all the attention being given this weekend to a very different twist on affection, but in the general materialistic way in which people have come to approach love and what it means.  I have always been a “lover not a fighter,” and have always loved with my whole being.  I don’t know how to love any other way.  The love God placed in me for the people around me is so big that it is difficult to contain – and that struggle for containment has plagued me for most of my life.  A love that is genuine and pure is something that seems to be more and more lacking in our world.  We’ve drifted so far from the truth of what love is that we don’t just have shades of grey, but a grey fog of misunderstanding.

Corinthians 13So what is true love?  It is something that has become almost unrecognizable today, however, the Bible gives us the definition in 1 Corinthians chapter 13.  The interesting thing about it is that nowhere does it mention a warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you are attracted to someone.  It is all about commitment and action, and involves things that often do not come naturally to us.  It isn’t about chocolates and flowers, or special dinners and romance.  Are all those things wonderful?  Yes.  Do they sometimes come out of true love?  Of course!  But if we use these things as our indicator of whether or not someone truly loves us, then we will find ourselves often disappointed.  If we depend on big displays of affection to keep us convinced we are loved, then we are going to spend our lives searching for the next “sign.”  If we really want to understand love, then we must look to God’s word for the very base of it.  If we do, then we will begin to see what love really means, and the contrast it provides to the superficial nature of what the world has created it to be.  We are to love as HE loved.  That isn’t always easy, but just because it is difficult doesn’t mean we can tweak it and change it to fit what we think it should be.  God IS love, and I’m positive He knows exactly what He is talking about when it comes to the subject.  He gives us a complete picture and explanation of it; and He didn’t need 50 shades of anything to get His point across.  He, instead, used only 15.

 15 Shades of Love

  1. Love is long-suffering.  We don’t use this term much anymore, but it means to have (and show) patience in spite of troubles.  It means to endure without complaining.  Obviously, this is not something that comes naturally to us.  As a matter of fact, we say things like “Don’t pray for patience because you’ll just get trouble in order to teach you!”   Patience isn’t just the ability to wait for something, it is the ability to endure provocation, annoyance, trouble or suffering without complaint, irritation or loss of temper.  How often can you say you have truly been long-suffering or patient with someone in your life?  Oh, we endure things, but we certainly don’t act the way love would in the same situation.  Love doesn’t complain.  It is simply steady and even-tempered.
  2. Love is kind. Most of us know what it means to be kind.  Being kind means we have a desire to help others that comes from a place in our heart of goodwill.  It isn’t about being nice so that people will think highly of us, but rather being good to others even when they do not deserve it.
  3. Love doesn’t envy. How many times have you seen someone with something that you wanted and it made you feel upset or angry?  What about when it’s something you’ve desired and even prayed for over the course of a long time?  Do you resent the fact that someone else got it?   Are you able to feel truly happy for someone who has been blessed – whether it is materially, in a relationship or on the job – or do you sit back and think about how much you DON’T have?  Envy cuts to our heart and leaves us feeling discontent with regard to someone else’s advantages, successes or possessions.  Love will never be resentful, but will genuinely be glad for someone else’s blessings.
  4. Love isn’t inflated with pride. It isn’t constantly saying, “Look how great I am!”  When you love someone, you don’t do it so that other people will think you are wonderful.  True love doesn’t worry about getting accolades for what it does.  It simply does them.
  5. Love doesn’t act inappropriately. Love isn’t rude or doesn’t act in ways that are insensitive to others.  It is well-mannered.  So the next time you start to do be rude to someone you claim to love, you might want to step back and think.
  6. Love doesn’t seek itself or its own desires. It doesn’t insist on having its own way.  Do you have a spouse, significant other, family member or friend that you say you love?  Do you ever find yourself insisting on doing things your way?  It doesn’t have to be an overt or even external push for what you want over what someone else wants.  It can also be the tactics we sometimes use to get our way.  Maybe it’s the silent treatment or maybe its tears, but it comes from a place of simply wanting what we want.  It isn’t easy to look at it that way, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
  7. Love isn’t easily provoked. How quickly do you find yourself wearing your emotions on your sleeve?  Are you touchy?  Love is not reactionary.  It isn’t easily annoyed or flares up at the slightest irritation.
  8. Love thinks no evil.  Love doesn’t keep track of the evil done to it.  It pays no attention to the times when it is mistreated or taken for granted.  It doesn’t keep a list of all the things the other person has done so that you can use it in an argument later on.
  9. Love doesn’t rejoice at injustice or wrong-doing. This sounds like an easy one to say we don’t do, but what about when injustice or wrong-doing happens to someone after they’ve been mean to us?  We want people to “get what’s coming to them,” and often rationalize the fact we are happy about the hurt they are experiencing because “they deserved it.”  Love never celebrates wrong-doing, no matter how karmic it may feel.
  10. Love rejoices when truth prevails. Again, this one sounds simple on the surface.  Of course love rejoices when truth prevails!  Ok, so how about if the truth is painful?  Have you ever had someone you love accurately point out one your faults (gently or otherwise)?  Did you rejoice over the fact your weaknesses were suddenly out there in the open, or did you get angry and start pointing out their faults?  Love rejoices not only when the truth WE want to be revealed is revealed (or wins), but it rejoices when the truth revealed is inconvenient or painful to us.
  11. Love bears all things. It holds up under all things that come.  Bearing something means to carry it.  Love is strong!  No matter what happens, genuine love remains steady and carries the weight.  When someone we love is hurt or sick, love gives us the strength to take care of them.  It holds up under the pains of life that come to all of us.  It also bears the weight of the hurt we feel when we are not loved the way we think we should be.  It continues to stand strong through hurt feelings or terrible circumstances.
  12. Love believes all things. This doesn’t mean love is stupid.  It means it is ever ready to believe the best in someone.  Love isn’t cynical.  Love chooses to always look for the best in a person, to believe the good things in them because every person has redeeming qualities.  Love looks for the redemption and not the condemnation in a person.  Love doesn’t listen to gossip and it doesn’t take part in tearing someone else down.  Love continually works to build people up.  It points out what is right with them instead of what is wrong with them.  Instead of constantly looking at all the ways someone we love lets us down, it searches for the things he/she does FOR us.  It believes the best in someone always.
  13. Love hopes all things. In other words, its hope never fades – even under the worst circumstances.  This kind of goes hand in hand with believing all things.  Hope is an expectation, not a wish.  Love expects things to turn out for the best.  It looks forward to the future with desire and reasonable confidence that it is going to be not only okay, but good!  It doesn’t look ahead in time and start looking at all the ways things are going to come apart.  It doesn’t say things like, “That just won’t work,” or “there’s no way to do that.”  Love is an optimist!  Love is not depressed.  It looks ahead with great confidence that everything is going to be well, no matter what the current circumstances may look or feel like.
  14. Love endures all things. It does so without weakening.  Love is steady and enduring, no matter how the storm rages or the wind blows.  Love doesn’t run the moment things get difficult.  It will continue to stand through disagreements and hurt feelings.  It will continue to stand when things go wrong.  When there is illness, financial loss, material loss, it still holds up under it.  When the people around you let you down, it still stands.  When you’ve been hurt, it’s still there.
  15. Love never fails. It doesn’t give up.  No matter what happens in life, genuine love never gives up, because it can’t!  It is something that weaves its way into our spiritual dna and is impossible to remove.  If you truly have love for another person, it never fades or goes away.  Because we are human, hurts will happen.  We hurt others and they hurt us.  Sometimes we will encounter situations where we must remove ourselves from a situation that has become unhealthy for us, but that doesn’t mean we stop loving the person…because love isn’t about feelings.  Love continues to do all the things listed above – even when we are no longer able to be with someone in any type of earthly relationship.  Love desires reconciliation, but knows how to continue without it.  We may never enjoy close fellowship with them again, but it doesn’t mean we walk away internally.  I know this sounds controversial and maybe even abusive to say love never lets go, but it is the truth.  Love – a true and pure divine love for another person – transcends everything on this earth, including our own comprehension.  It reaches beyond our reasoning and allows us to continue loving, in spite of how we have been treated.  It stays.

This is how God loves us!  Love is so much deeper than what most people consider it to be.  When you read the aspects of what true love is, you finally understand that love is not a feeling!  Love requires action.  It requires sacrifice.  It requires commitment and most of the time we all fail to live and love as God loves because we continue to prefer the grey over the white light of the truth.

shutterstock_211224607Truth isn’t always easy.  It reveals us as we are and that sometimes reveals shortcomings we’d rather not face.  When it comes to love, there is another aspect we seldom discuss.  God tells us in His word that we are to love our enemies.  Say what?!  Not only are we, as people of faith, instructed to love our enemies, but He goes on to emphasize the point in Matthew 5:43-48 and says “So what if you love people who love you and treat you well.  That’s nothing special.  Even the most corrupt people in society do that.”  I love that God doesn’t pull any punches and just calls it as it is.  But how in the world is that even possible?  How can I love someone I don’t like or doesn’t deserve it?  We can do it by remembering first what love is and then how God loves US that way even though WE don’t deserve it.   When you realize that love isn’t about what you feel, but what you decide, things become much clearer.  Knowing what love is, frees us to live in ways that can change the world.  It empowers us to love more deeply because we can choose to do so in spite of our feelings.

So the next time we say we love someone, maybe we need to stop and think about what that really means.  Before we make that promise by saying the words out loud, we need to be sure we are willing to actually get out of the grey and truly live in the light of love’s truth..

Blessings!