Tuesday’s Truth – It’s Tradition!

Welcome to another week. Today’s topic is something that we’re all familiar with – traditions. We all have them, whether we like them or not. We learn them, adjust them, abandon and create them throughout life. If you’re at all like me,  you grew up with two sets of traditions for things like holidays, birthdays, and family gatherings. And then, if you married someone like my husband, you added in two more sets of traditions that were not only completely different from each other, but also completely different from the two you grew up with. They can be based on your ethnic background, religious beliefs, regional differences, and personal preferences. They can be mainstream or extreme, but either way, they are the main rules of “how we do things in this family”. And then, if you grew up in church, any church (or mosque, synagogue, or temple), you have a set of religious traditions that you carry around as well. Some of you have a very limited set, others (like myself) have a more “confused” bag of church traditions. For example, I was raised in a variety of evangelical churches, but I had family members who were Catholic, I attended a Baptist college, but then spent several years teaching at an Episcopal school. So I’ve had the full range of worship from pew kneelers to hand-raisers, environments from school gyms to stained glass, and sermon series based on popular movies as well as morning worship guided by the Book of Common Prayer. Eclectic doesn’t even begin to cover it.

 

Traditions are a crucial part of human culture and psychology. Our brains thrive on having a predictable framework for life. This is true at work, in the family, and in religion. Even those who reject what they see as “organized religion” still form their own traditions, rituals, and beliefs. Traditions help us connect with others, and help us bridge gaps in time and space. Traditions help the transmission of history and wisdom. Many traditions are enjoyable or comforting.

 

Traditions can have a negative side as well. They can be restrictive. They can be burdensome. They may be irrational, obsolete, or irrelevant. Traditions can keep people at a distance and create confusion. Some traditions may cause people to completely dismiss God or the church because they are too difficult to understand, too hard to follow, or too uncomfortable.

 

The thing about traditions is that they are only a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Too often, we become attached to a tradition, and force ourselves and others to “follow the rules” because it is tradition, rather than holding to a tradition because it is inherently valuable. An extreme example of this would be the extended segregation that was practiced in the southern United States even after the Civil Rights Act was passed, long after the myths about African Americans being sub-human or diseased or violent had been dispelled. White people didn’t want to associate with black people, but they couldn’t give a good reason why, they just knew that it wasn’t done: their grandparents and parents had avoided contact, and so should they. It was just the way things had always been, so it was they way they should be. That’s the biggest trap of traditions. Somehow we fall into a belief that tradition is more important than truth; that traditions should be followed because they are traditions, not because they serve a purpose or have sacred importance. We fear changing or discarding any traditional practice or position because we have so strongly linked “the way it has always be done” with “the way God wants us to do it”.

 

We seem particularly prone to this in religious and moral matters. We sometimes put more importance on the way our culture, church, or family has done things than on what God actually says (or doesn’t say) about many issues. (Please note, I am not saying that all moral positions are just traditions; I believe in moral absolutes, but only where God has made it clear that something is an absolute. Many of the things we hold tightly to are really interpretations and traditions, and we need to extend grace to each other, not judgment.) I witnessed an amusing example of this several years ago. My husband and I were still be living in the town where we attended college (a relatively conservative Baptist school). The college had very strict rules against any type of drinking, smoking, or other substance use, and most of the students had grown up in homes and churches that likewise took a very dim view of such things. However, at that moment, there happened to be a conference of Episcopal bishops and clergy meeting at the Episcopal school I taught in. Episcopalians have no tradition that frowns upon drinking or smoking in moderation. I had become used to this in my time working at the school, but many of the students attending my alma matter did not have the benefit of that experience. One evening during the bishops’ conference, we were enjoying dinner at a local pub and coffee shop, which was very popular with students (and which happened to be run by the rector of the local Episcopal church). The bishops and clergy had all decided to meet there as well. One of the men, with his purple shirt, clerical collar, and large cross, stepped outside for a smoke. At the table next to us, a young man, obviously from the Baptist college, was talking with his friend, and they could not reconcile in their minds how someone who was obviously a Christian minister could also be an unashamed smoker. Now, I’m not saying smoking is a good idea. We know that it is a serious health risk. However, it’s not expressly addressed in the scriptures, and so I can’t say that the smoking bishop was any less of a Christian, any less obedient to God, just because he smoked a cigarette and I did not. We must be cautious about letting our traditions  cloud our views of other sincere, God-fearing, people.

 

We fall into this trap in missions and evangelism too. We think that part of converting people to faith in Christ is making them like us. This was clearly the case in the early years of world missions, when missionaries from England and America would go to Africa and Asia and not only preach the Gospel, but also try to change the clothing, language, and the social and family structure of the people they had been sent to, as if making them Christians also meant making them English-speaking Westerners. At this point in history, we have gotten much better about being culturally sensitive, but the belief that changed hearts necessarily mean changed traditions still holds on. If we want to continue reaching people, both at home and abroad, we need to be more conscientious about to what extent we are asking people to obey God, and to what extent we are asking them to follow our own traditions. We need to not be afraid to confront and change tradition where it is no longer serving its intended purpose, and is instead serving to keep people farther from God.

 

I found a wonderful quote about this very thing in my leisure reading this week. I had just begun re-reading Charlotte Bronte’s classic, Jane Eyre, one of my very favorite books. I always have appreciated the philosophy and theology that Bronte weaves throughout her works, but I found this gem in her preface to the novel. She says, speaking of tradition,

“Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns. These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines for the world-redeeming creed of Christ.”

 

We are not the only ones to struggle with this balance between tradition and truth. The Jewish community in Jesus’ day had a very strong culture of traditions. Some where merely cultural, while many of them were based on the laws and regulations that God had given to Moses and the Israelites. In the end, however, they did not serve to help people cultivate their relationship with God, but to keep people from having that close, loving relationship with Him. Jesus himself chastised the religious leaders of the day, saying “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46) Jesus often disregarded Jewish custom, tradition, and regulation when it served his purpose of drawing people to himself. He healed on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-3, Luke 13:9-11), and allowed his disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-3). When confronted by the religious leaders of the day, he rhetorically asked them whether it was better to do good or evil on the Sabbath (Luke6:9), basically turning the question of what observing the Sabbath meant back on their own heads. In Matthew 15, Jesus took part in a debate with the religious leaders about the value of traditions. He summed up his indictment of the religion of the day by saying, “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Matthew 15:6b) To Jesus, the one person who perfectly fulfilled all of God’s law, the point was not the act of observing a ritual or of maintaining a tradition, but of living with one’s heart tuned to God.

 

Early church leaders also cautioned against those who professed to be Christians but insisted on new believers following the old Jewish customs in order to be saved or to be a part of the church.  This is what he had to say: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) In Acts 15, Paul, James, Peter and other leaders of the early church determined that there was no point in making new believers (especially those from outside the Jewish culture) follow the traditions of Judaism, but to instruct them to obey the core of God’s law. Peter pointed out that the old traditions and rules had been too much even for centuries of faithful Jews. (Acts 15:10) In his letter to the Philippians, Paul warned the church not to be led astray by those who would seek to enforce Jewish customs in the name of salvation in Christ, because we are not saved by outward acts, but by inward belief. (Philippians 3:1-3) Disagreements about traditions often threatened to tear the early church apart, but the Apostles wisely intervened and taught their followers to put their focus on honoring God, rather than honoring man’s traditions.

 

Traditions can be useful and enjoyable, but they do not tell us much about how we really must live as children of God. Fortunately, the Bible is very clear on what really matters. The prophet Micah gave a clear description of a life lived rightly when he wrote, “No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Jesus summed up all of God’s laws in two simple (yet still not easy) requirements: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39) Outwith those few things, the rest is just window dressing. The design of your church, the order of service, the style of worship music, the fashion of your clothes, the way you celebrate holidays, the rituals you do or don’t observe – they may help you personally in your relationship with God, but they must not ever take the place of that relationship.

 

Be Blessed!

 

How do you feel about traditions, especially within Christianity? Are there any you find particularly valuable in your walk with God?

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Tuesday’s Truth – Precious in His Sight

Hello, friends! This week I’ve been thinking about children a lot. That’s probably because my little guy has been kicking and wiggling around much more over the past week, and I’m finally starting to believe that there is a tiny person growing inside me. The incredible excitement and the immense responsibility of his upcoming arrival have hit me hard lately as I research birth and child-rearing philosophies, as his little crib sits in the spare room waiting to be assembled, and as the pile of tiny clothes waiting to be organized grows. I know that the love I already feel for him can’t begin to compare with what I will feel the moment he’s in my arms. It’s hard to imagine. And as I was thinking about all of this, I realized something even more astounding. Even in all my maternal affection and devotion, I will never come close to loving my son the way that God loves him, the way that God loves all His children.

If you grew up in church (and probably even if you didn’t), you’re familiar with the song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” One line reminds us that all children are “precious in His sight”. Sometimes children’s songs aren’t so great on theology, but this one is dead on. Throughout the Bible there are stories that make it clear how much God values children, as well as some pretty direct statements. Let’s look at just a few:

  • What was the first good thing that happened after Adam and Eve were banished from Eden for sinning? You guessed it, the births of the world’s first babies. (Genesis 4 )
  • God protected and blessed Ishmael, Abraham’s son with Hagar, even though he wasn’t the son God had promised to Abraham and Sarah. (Genesis 21:8-21)
  • God commanded the Israelites to instruct their children in the history of God’s relationship with His people and to teach them His laws and promises. (Deuteronomy 6:7)
  • God chose a young boy, Samuel, to become one of Israel’s greatest leaders.
  • God chose David, barely a teenager, to defeat Goliath and the Philistines, as well as to become the king of Israel.
  • The Psalms tell us that God is intimately involved in the development of each unborn child (Psalm 139:13)
  • Jeremiah is told that God knew him before he was even born. (Jeremiah 1:5) We can assume that God knows each one of us just as well.
  • Many proverbs speak to the importance of raising children.
  • God allowed Elijah to raise the widow’s son from death. (1 Kings 17:17-24)
  • God allowed Elisha to raise the Shunnamite’s son from death. (2 Kings 4:8-37)
  • Jesus healed many children and raised others from the dead. (Matthew 17:14-18 Luke 7:11-17 Mark 5:21-43)
  • Jesus welcomed and blessed the children that were brought to him, over the objections of his disciples.  (Matthew 19:13-14 Mark 10:13-14 Luke 18:15-16)
  • Jesus used the faith of a child as the benchmark for true faith. (Matthew 18:3 Matthew 18:4 Mark 10:15 Luke 18:17)

Because children are so precious to God, we should be careful about how we view and treat children.

  • We need to see children as blessings and wonders, not as inconveniences, annoyances, or accessories. Children take time and effort, and are not often convenient, but we must see them as worth the investment.
  • We must commit ourselves to training our children, not only in the practical things of life, but in faith and virtues. We must be careful and intentional in the way we teach our children at home (directly and indirectly) and in the choices we make regarding both their academic and religious education.
  • We should strive to see our children the way that God sees them, as valuable individuals with immense potential. David’s family scoffed at the idea of him being anointed as King of Israel, but as God told Samuel, we are quick to judge by what we see on the outside, not what is hidden on the inside. (1 Samuel 16:7)
  • We need to remember that every child is valuable as a person and is “precious in His sight”. Having taught many children, I can tell you that it is sometimes hard to remember that the child who constantly tests your nerves and pushes the boundaries is just as precious as the one who always obeys and seeks to please. Our human nature tempts us to value the pleasant and easy things in life more than the difficult. But if we believe that every single child is created in God’s image and is made directly by Him for a specific purpose, we must learn to value every child equally. Does that make them easier to deal with? Some days yes, some days no; but it does help us keep our perspective. The good news is that if we are dealing with our children (or students) according to God’s ways, the most difficult ones often become the ones who make the biggest positive mark on the world later in life. Keep the big picture in mind!
  • Finally, we need to remind ourselves that we are God’s children, no matter our age. (1 John 3:2) As His children, we are loved far beyond what our minds can grasp. You are a blessing, a wonder, a valuable individual with immense potential. You, my friends, are “precious in His sight”!

Keep Smiling!

Tuesday’s Truth – God Cares

Hello friends,

I had several possible things on my mind to talk about with you all today, but in light of the recent and ongoing devastation across the Midwest,  it seemed to me that the only true thing you need to be reminded of today is that God cares.

Yes, these tornadoes are natural occurrences, yes, they’re a part of life in certain areas, yes, they happen year after year. Those of us who don’t live through tornado season each year sometimes forget how frightening and destructive they are until we see the pictures of the really big ones, like the one that swept through Oklahoma this week. We don’t think about the shattered lives or the decades-long impact that a single terrible storm can have on a community, and on individuals. Then something like the Moore tornado hits, and we are all suddenly aware of the reality of natural disasters. It shakes us.

We can barely predict things like tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, blizzards and earthquakes. There is little we can do to prepare for them, and absolutely nothing we can do to stop them. All that makes them incredibly frightening and devastating. I won’t begin to get into the discussion of whether God causes or allows these events, and why some areas and some people are destroyed and others spared. Theologians can debate that issue back and forth till the cows come home, and still never come up with a solid answer. And really, the answer to that question isn’t all that important. What is important is for us to remember that none of these events escape God’s notice. He’s not like the much-criticized FEMA, late to the game and without the right equipment. He knows that on our planet, these sorts of natural disasters are going to happen, and even when He doesn’t stop them, He deeply cares about those who are affected.

He hurts for each person who loses a loved one or a home or a prized possession. He feels the anxiety of those searching for missing family, even though He knows right where they are. His heart breaks with the hearts of the first responders who must mix their joy in rescuing people from the rubble with the sorrow of recovering each one who was not so lucky. Sometimes we don’t see how God could care when these kind of things happen. It can be hard to understand that God loves us and cares about us when He doesn’t keep bad things from happening to us. Like we talked about last week, God’s promise is not that He will keep us from any pain or suffering, but that He will be with us and make something good out of even our worst experiences. In the same way, God caring about us means that He is always near to us, always eager to comfort and heal when those terrible things do happen.

To show you what I mean, I’m just going to let the Word of God speak straight to you, no commentary needed.

  • 1 Peter 5:7 “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”
  • Psalm 9:12 “For he who avenges murder cares for the helpless. He does not ignore the cries of those who suffer.”
  • Psalm 138:6 “Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble.”
  • Psalm 146:9He cares for the orphans and widows.”
  • Hosea 14:8 “I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you.”
  • Matthew 10:29-31 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Also Luke 12:6-7)

God cares for you, friends. He cares if you’re having a tough day parenting your children. He cares if a coworker was unkind to you this week. He cares if you are struggling in your marriage. He cares if you have been the victim of a crime. He cares if you have been affected by a natural disaster. Whatever is hurting you, He cares, and you can take your problems to Him, expecting love and compassion. Don’t be shy about going to Him with your troubles, your fears and your pain. He cares!

Tuesday’s Truth – It’s Not Okay

Welcome back! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend, especially all you amazing moms out there.

 

You’ll notice that the title of this week’s post is “It’s Not Okay”. Wow…how is that for some truth? But truth it is. There are a lot of things in life that are not okay. It’s not okay that thousands of children are abused every single day. It’s not okay that my beautiful friend was just diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. It’s not okay that three young women spent the last 10 years in captivity in the middle of an Ohio suburb. It’s not okay that my niece was born with a heart defect. It’s not okay that buildings collapse and kill people because someone was too greedy to ensure the building’s safety. It’s not okay that my best friends lost their daughter before she was two months old. It’s not okay that every day spouses are being cheated on, teens are being drawn into drug and alcohol addiction, children are being orphaned, lives are being lost before they’ve really been lived. The list just keeps going. No matter what you believe about why there is evil or pain in the world, you can’t escape the truth that it is there.

 

I almost feel unqualified to even be talking about this subject, because right now there’s not a lot of pain in my life. I am happily married, we have a comfortable house and a steady income, we’re surrounded by loving family and friends, and I’m 5 months in to an uncomplicated, relatively painless pregnancy. The scary thing is, I know that any of that could change at any moment. Pain, trial, suffering, whatever you want to call it, could pop up any day. In fact, one of these days it will. I don’t know what it will be, or when it will come, but I know that there is something down the road that I am going to have to face, whether I like it or not.

 

So often, Christians try to sell our particular brand of belief by talking about how much better life is once you accept Christ as your savior and have a personal relationship with God. On the one hand, that is true. There is absolutely nothing better than a personal, intimate relationship with a merciful, powerful creator. It changes everything. But it does nothing to change the fact that you and I will  have awful things happen in our lives. The Bible is pretty clear about this. Jesus promises, “In this world you will have troubles.” (John 16:33) His brother James, in his letter to the believers who had been scatter from Jerusalem due to extreme persecution, speaks of trials and suffering as a given in the life of a Christian. (James 1:2) We sometimes forget about it here in America, but Christians have been persecuted by economic oppression, torture, and death from the very beginning up to the present day. And even Christians who don’t suffer for their beliefs still suffer. The friends and family that I mentioned earlier, none of them are suffering because someone doesn’t like that they believe in Jesus; they are suffering because the world is a broken place.

 

God created our world to be a beautiful, peaceful, perfect place. We still see the traces of that perfection and beauty in nature, in certain relationships, in very precious moments in our life. But when evil entered the world and gained a foothold, nothing could be perfect anymore. That’s the thing about evil – it ruins everything. There is absolutely nothing in life that is completely perfect. The wonderful joy and love that comes with a new baby is only reached through months of discomfort and hours of extreme pain. The most beautiful mountains of our planet claim the lives of many who are lured in by the challenge of conquering them. Many of the most majestic animals in nature survive by hunting and killing other wonderful creatures. Man, who creates beautiful works of art and amazing feats of engineering, cannot live long without fighting and warring, whether on the battlefield, in the courtroom, or in the living room. We seem a doomed world.

 

And doomed we are. As we just saw, no one escapes the trials of a life lived on earth. There is no religion that is able to erase suffering. Some promise it, but none delivers. Now you’re probably thinking, “What a terrible thing to say. This blog is about glad hearts. I’m not feeling particularly glad at the moment.” And you would be right. So far, I’ve only given you the bad news. I wish I could tell you that it will all get better. I wish I could “sell” Christianity to you right here by telling you that if you surrender your life to God and accept Jesus Christ as your savior, all the suffering in your life will disappear. Many, many people would gladly tell you exactly that. But as I said earlier, that’s simply not how it works. Don’t despair, however, because there really, truly is good news in all this suffering.

 

What is the good news? God is the good news. Over and over again in the Bible, God acknowledges the suffering we must endure. He is not blind or deaf to our sufferings. He does not promise to remove our pain here and now. He does promise a heaven that is free of sorrow (Isaiah 25:8). He also promises to stand by us in our trials and to redeem our sufferings. Let’s quickly look at the passages from the Bible that show His promises:

  • God’s promises to be with us
    • When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. (Isaiah 43:2)
    • God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
    • Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me. (Psalm 23:4)
    • My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
    • He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. (Psalm 91:2)
  • God’s promises to redeem our trials
    • You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. (Genesis 50:20)
    • God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28)
    • For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. (James 1:3-4) (Romans 5:3-4)

 

That’s a lot of truth right there, friends. God doesn’t promise that we won’t face pain and suffering. Sometimes, I confess, that terrifies me. I hate the certain uncertainty of a future suffering. I have to walk a thin line between realism and pessimism. The comfort and the victory come when I remember God’s promises, when I recall that I will never go through pain that doesn’t result in something good, and I will never walk through a valley alone.

 

I don’t know what it is in your life right now that’s not okay, but I know that every one of you has something that you are struggling with or that is causing you pain. Even in the goodness of my current situation, I encounter daily trials. It doesn’t matter if you are dealing with something that seems minor or catastrophic to others; whatever your pain is, it is painful to you. I’m so sorry that I can’t promise you a pain-free life. What I can tell you is that not once have I seen God desert someone in their suffering. I’ve watched people go through the most terrible things, far worse than most of us will ever endure, and every time, something good has been the result, when those people trusted God to redeem their suffering and stand by them through their trials. Whatever it is that you are walking through right now, I encourage you to let God walk through it with you, and to bring you something good on the other side.

 

Take heart, friends.

Tuesday’s Truth – You Won’t Make It Alone

Hello again. I hope you’re ready for some more truth this week! Today we’re going to look at what the Bible has to say about friendship. We’ll see why we need friends, why it can be hard to find friends, and what it means to be a good friend. Whether you feel like you have more friends than you know what to do with, or like you haven’t a friend in the world, you need to know these truths. Let’s dive right in.

 

Why do we need friends? The Bible has a lot to say about the purposes and usefulness of friends. Let’s be clear, though. When we talk about friends today, we’re not simply talking about people  you like to go out with – your social circle. We’re talking about a kind of friendship that is much richer and deeper than that. The Bible says that we need good, godly friends because:

We need people in our lives who will support us, defend us, encourage us, and yes, sometimes correct us. The great musical duo Simon & Garfunkel sang,

“I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.”

Now, that song was likely a bit tongue-in-cheek, but many of us have adopted that way of thinking. I don’t need friends because they will let me down. I don’t need them because they won’t understand me, or they will judge me. I can’t be completely open and honest with them, or they won’t be my friends anymore. I don’t need friends because there’s nothing they could tell me or do for me that I can’t think of or do on my own. A strange mixture of self-loathing and pride let us deceive ourselves that we don’t need real friendships; that the social circle (or complete solitude) is enough.

 

And why not feel that way? Isn’t it awfully hard to find good friends? Yes, it can be. I know that at certain times in my life, it has felt nearly impossible. But why is it that we struggle so much to find and develop true friendships?

 

The first reason goes right back to the attitudes we talked about just moments ago. We block ourselves from seeking and developing friendships because we are trying to protect ourselves from pain and disappointment, or because we think that we are strong enough on our own that we don’t need anyone else deeply involved in our life. I am certain that this very thinking prevented me from developing meaningful relationships at several points in my life. I hate to be harsh here, but you are not all that. You are not so wise that you don’t need the counsel of others. You are not so smart or so refined that you would lower yourself to be associated with other people. You are not so emotionally steady and strong that you can weather the storms of life without others to anchor and support you. Even if you don’t usually think of yourself as an arrogant or proud person, if you don’t have at least one or two deep and healthy relationships with other people (preferably outside your immediate family) then check your thinking and really evaluate your attitude towards yourself and others. Here’s the way I see it. Jesus Christ was the strongest and most emotionally stable person in history, and yet he purposefully surrounded himself with people. He had his 12 disciples, and three of those who were especially close to him. He also had trusted, loved friends among the towns that he visited. While his relationships with them were in great part for their learning and benefit, they were also meant to provide support for Jesus himself. Think about the story of his last night in the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked the disciples to stay with him and pray for him, not as an exercise in prayer, but because he was extremely distressed and longed for the support of those closest to him. If the Son of God needed friends during his time on earth, you better believe that you and I will need them too.

 

Another reason that we have difficulty establishing the kind of friendships that the Bible says we need is that it is so much easier to make shallow friends. We can create these false friendships with wonderful people, but because we (and they) are not willing to put in the emotional energy and transparency, the relationships stay on the surface. We may trick ourselves into thinking that they are truly our friends, and to some extent they may be. They may like us, enjoy being around us, express concern about us or joy for us in the ups and downs of life, but when we get into a really sticky patch, or we make a big mistake, they are the first to head in the opposite direction. Proverbs 14:20 speaks about these kind of friends as those that are only with us when they are getting something from us. This is where belonging to a community of faith can make a big difference. In my church, I find people who share the same beliefs and values as me, who live similar lifestyles, and because of these things, I feel more comfortable exploring the depths of true friendship with them. Now, is every single person in my church going to become my dearest friend? Of course not. Sometimes we just won’t click because of different personalities. Sometimes it becomes clear that an individual is not as trustworthy or as ready to invest as I might hope. Some people are already heavily invested in others, and that is okay. But even with all of those people taken out of the equation, I still have a better chance of establishing the type of Biblical friendships that I need. Yes, the fear of being judged is out there. The truth is, though, that a true friend will correct you when you are in the wrong, but they will not judge or condemn you, because that is not their job.

 

Finally we come to the last thought – what it means to be a good friend. How many of you were told as a child, “To have a friend, you have to be a friend” ? It is simple, but as with many simple things, very true. You cannot expect people to care for and support you if you are not willing to do the same. If you want to develop strong friendships that meet God’s standards, you need to be:

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? In fact, if you think about it, the things that make for any healthy relationship are the same, whether a friendship, a marriage, or other family relationships. Many books, articles, and essays have been written on building healthy relationships, and many of them are worth reading. But even the best of them can only give practical expansions on what we just discovered in the Bible. Boiled down to it’s essence, you will get out of a friendship only what you put in. If you are compassionate, ready to serve, enthusiastically involved, and deeply invested in the lives of others, you can expect that they will invest in your life in the same way. On the other hand, if you are only willing to make shallow, cursory investments in their lives, they will not become deeply involved in yours. It’s not profound or new truth, but yet we seem to often forget it.

 

I have been on both sides of this truth. I’ve gone through times of not feeling like I needed anyone, times of wanting deeper friendships but feeling unable to develop them, and times of sweet joy in friendship. Fortunately for me it has been a progression as I have learned more about God’s Word and about myself. I want to encourage you, whatever stage you are at, to take a close look at your own heart and attitude, and at your relationships, and ask God to help you understand how you can develop healthier, more rewarding friendships, the kind that He has designed you to desire.

Tuesday’s Truth – Mirror, Mirror

Welcome back   🙂 I’m glad we’re both sticking with this! I hope you’re finding something to energize your spirit here.

This week I want to dig into some truth about our image. Image is a very important thing to us humans. God created us with eyes that we use to gather mountains of data about the world around us. The way we see things with our eyes has a big impact on how we perceive them with our minds. But it’s not a one-way street. Our mind can cause our eyes to see the wrong thing. Think of all those optical illusions and “magic eye” pictures that so fascinated you as a child (or even, like me, as an adult). You may know that the circles are not spinning, but something between your eyes and your brain says it most certainly is. Or there are those with eye diseases that either have blank spots in their vision, or see extra things (lines, starbursts, etc.) added to the image before them. We even have sayings based on image: “Seeing is Believing” or “Image is Everything”. We have image consultants, we have whole industries based on making things and people look their best. Or, in some cases, better than their best.

Floating around the internet currently is a video series put out by health and beauty product manufacturer Dove. It features an interesting experiment in which a forensic sketch artists draws two portraits of several women. One he draws based solely on the woman’s description of herself, and the other he bases on a description given by an acquaintance. He never sees the woman until all the sketches are finished. In every case, the picture based on the woman’s own description is much harsher and less attractive (and also less accurate). The point Dove is trying to make is that we all are more beautiful than we think, and that people we meet judge us (at least physically) less harshly than we judge ourselves. I think they’re right, and I think that it is an important fact to remember, especially in such a beauty-crazed society as ours.

But our problem with image goes far beyond age spots, crows’ feet, or dark circles under our eyes. And it’s not just limited to women. Yes, we ladies often worry about our physical image before we even think about the other aspects. But men are not immune to creating false images of themselves as well, although their images are more often based on quantitative factors such as social acceptance, career success, wealth accumulation, and perceived respect. Now, to be sure, some people go off the other end of the continuum and create a false self-image that paints them as much more beautiful, successful, and popular than they are. But by far, the majority of us struggle with seeing ourselves as less thans. I’m less beautiful than _________ because _______. I’m not as successful as ____________ because I don’t _____________. I’m less popular than ___________ because ____________. I get less respect in the office than _________ because __________. The comparisons go on and on until we see ourselves as something small and miserable. The first image that pops into my mind is from the Disney classic Little Mermaid. Being a child of the 80’s, I probably watched this movie 100 times. The wicked sea-witch sings a song about “Poor Unfortunate Souls”, those who had asked for her help, and were unable to repay. They looked like this:  instead of the beautiful, graceful, majestic mer-people that they had been. Sad as it is, we often turn ourselves into “Poor Unfortunate Souls” by lying over and over to ourselves and to others about who we really are.

So what about the truth? Who are we? We are God’s masterpieces (Ephesians 2:10). We are created in His image (Genesis 1:27). We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). We are God’s special possession (1 Peter 2:9). Any one of those alone ought to revolutionize the way we see ourselves. You are not from God’s pile of “seconds”. He didn’t pick you up in the yardsale of life (and He won’t sell you off at one, either). The Father and Creator takes great joy in you, whether you are physically beautiful in your own eyes, or the eyes of others. He rejoices over you whether you have reached the highest levels of human success, or are still struggling to get on the bottom rung of the proverbial ladder. Let me leave you with the simple, but eternally profound, truth that God gave to the prophet Samuel as he searched for the next King of Israel: “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) What is inside you – your character, your integrity, your relationship with God – those are the things that really count, because they can get better with age. No one gets more beautiful as they get old. But the lasting and eternal continually improves, if it is what we are focused on.

This week, when you look in the mirror, make sure you’re presentable, but then look deeper, and ask God to show you what’s on the inside (Psalm 139:23-24), then take care of that. And when you look at others, discipline yourself to look past their outward appearance, whether stunningly beautiful or distressingly grotesque, and search out their real nature. I guarantee you, things will look a whole lot different.

Be Beautiful!

Tuesday’s Truth – Building Small

Hello again!

Look at me – two weeks in a row!  This week let’s look at some truth about the work we do for God. We’re told to do everything we do as if we’re doing it for God. (Colossians 3:23) Often, that leads to us comparing our work to what others are doing, and we start to lie to ourselves that our work or service is not as worthwhile as someone else’s. We think teaching Sunday school is nothing compared to running a clinic in a developing country. Or that homeschooling our children can’t hold a candle to writing Bible studies used across the globe. I know that I have fallen into this trap many times. It’s such a natural thing to compare ourselves with others, even though God looks at us each individually. (Psalm 139:1-3)

Just a few weeks ago in my ladies’ Bible study group, we were discussing this very idea. We were reading about how God has called and equipped each one of us for specific tasks. (2 Corinthians 3:5) He hasn’t done that just for the people in big, powerful, well-known positions. He’s done it for you, stay at home mom, and for you, corporate accountant, and you, middle school teacher. He has called and equipped you for your job, for your volunteer service, and for your relationships. (Ephesians 2:10) Each one is important in His grand plan. One of the women in my group, whom I would say had certainly done some big things for God, related how she never really felt like she was given a calling or anointing for God’s work, even though she worked for Him faithfully. She felt this way because she had faced so many struggles, and had often seen little results. I felt so sad that she was discouraged, but I realized that many of us feel that way.

Sometimes we don’t see the results because we are trying to do good works outside of doing the works God has planned for us. But I think that more often, we simply fail to see the results because we are looking for the wrong thing. We have lied to ourselves by thinking that only “big” results count. If it doesn’t win an award or show up on the news, it’s not a big deal. But here’s the truth: everything we do counts, and everything we do for God has a result.(Luke 16:10) If we limit ourselves to only doing things we think will have big results, we are cheating ourselves and others out of God’s blessings.

An analogy here would be great works of art and architecture. Often, the great master painters would have their students and apprentices help them with parts of large paintings. These students would paint the scenery, the clothing, the “accessories”, if you will. What would those great classics be without those details? Not nearly as beautiful, that’s for sure. And yet, how many of those students are remembered by name today? Do we visit museums to see “the wonderful palm tree painted by Fransico in 1487”? No. And yet that palm tree is a crucial part of the painting as a whole. Likewise, think of the great cathedrals and castles built hundreds of years ago. Master stonecutters shaped each block of stone just perfectly so that the whole building would fit together in beauty and strength. Glaziers made, cut, and arranged pieces of glass to make gorgeous and instructive windows. But here’s the quiz: can you name a famous stone mason or glazier of the 18th century? No? Why not? What about a famous architect? Probably yes, and if you can’t think of one off the top of your head, a quick trip to the internet search will find you several. Those stonecutters and glaziers aren’t’ remembered for their work, and we don’t ooh and aah over every stone in the great cathedrals of Europe, and yet each one is a critical part of the whole.

Chances are that you are not going to become a household name for teaching the 2-year-olds on Sunday mornings, for raising your children, for teaching 8th-grade math, for keeping immaculate books, or for being a good friend. But those things matter. Love shown matters. Listening and comforting matter. Integrity matters. Compassion matters. Honesty matters. Generosity matters.  Faithfulness matters.

I’ll leave you with this thought. No one really remembers or talks about Nikola and Drana Bojaxhiu, Macedonians of Albanian descent. They were simply faithful Christians and parents who did what they knew God would want them to by raising their children and showing compassion to the poor of their city. They modeled Christ-like love and kindness in front of their daughter Agnes, and she learned her lesson well. After finishing her schooling in Macedonia, Agnes felt called by God to enter a life of service to Him. She joined a religious order in Ireland, and from there went to India, where she taught in schools, and eventually moved on to working with the poorest outcast Indians in the slums of Calcutta (Kolkata). She served in India for over 50 years, reaching not just the poor, but people across the globe with the love of Christ. You probably know Agnes better as Mother Teresa. Did her parents know what their daughter would become? They could not have. But they did know what kind of person they wanted to raise her to be, and they were faithful to that calling. What they did as parents and Christians did not seem big at the time they were doing it, but if they had not been faithful, millions would have missed out on the impact that their daughter was to have.

So be encouraged, friends. The great things in life are built out of small things. Keep building!