Wednesday, May 29, 2013

When People Hurt: Get Real Don't Get Lost

Our community has suffered loss these last weeks of May. Unexpected death. Young death. And there's been confusion. Grief. Guilt. Gut-wrenching sobs in the night. It's not just in Iowa. It's happening in Oklahoma. In Berlin, Germany. Balashikha, Russia. Fortaleza, Brazil. What's a person to do? A simple, single person?

One mother shared this blog (click here to read) in response and I found it refreshing, convicting, thought-provoking. In her words, "Please don't let me be this mom..."

There's an element of authenticity that is missing in our pews, Sunday school classes, pulpits and homes, the rawness of Jesus escapes our reading of the gospels and fingering of WWJD bracelets. We climb into our dappy-zone bubbles and look out at the world instead of living with our friends, neighbors and coworkers the way Jesus did--does. What would Jesus do?

May we suffer alongside the hurting, feeling their pain, indulging the loss, and sharing the hope of Christ in and through our weakness. Because He's just as real as this sin-cursed world. He's deeper, greater, higher than the despair; He knows the pain and was perfected by suffering. Suffering is not wrong or sinful or shameful. As we come alongside those we love we will be reminded of moments of our own despair, weakness and failure, struggling and wrestling against painful thoughts and emotions; embracing authenticity in place of hypocrisy. That's what Jesus would do. It's what He did. Jesus got real. By His grace, so will we.

"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."(Hebrews 2:14-18, ESV)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Anger-What to do with it?

Few of us are willing to admit to anger. It's a word we avoid, an emotion we're uncomfortable with, a cloud of hurt, destruction and humiliation. But anger is biblical and real. Knowing how to identify and manage it not only glorifies God, it brings us joy, relief and spiritual maturity.
When we had younger children and the book, "The Heart of Anger," was recommended, I didn't realize I was the problem. Our children were children. My husband is a bonafide husband. And I was a push-over. It wasn't working very well.
The first step to using anger the way God intends is to identify it. Physically, real things are happening--and it's not all in your head. "Chemicals like adrenaline and noradrenaline surge through the body. In the brain, the amygdala, the part of the brain that deals with emotion, is going crazy. It wants to do something, and the time between a trigger event and a response from the amygdala can be a quarter of a second [source: Ellison]. But at the same time, blood flow is increasing to the frontal lobe, specifically the part of the brain that's over the left eye."*
One of the first things I learned was to say, "I'm starting to get angry." That was a cue to those around me--but especially myself--that something needed to change. Even now, I have that intentional thought, and it starts me down the right road.
Second, stop, look and listen. What just happened? Who said what? Why do I feel the way I do? It may mean I need to excuse myself or find a quiet place to think things through. The night my feelings got hurt over cupcakes (sad, but true), I turned my back to the group and worked at the kitchen counter while administering a heart exam/pep talk.
Third, ask God for help applying Scripture to the situation. If it's simply a matter of not getting what I want, it's easy to find Scripture (Matthew 22:39, Romans 12:10). If there's a problem to be solved or God's name and principles have been misused, I need to ask for wisdom (James 1:5).
Fourth, just do it. Confess and repent. Lovingly, sincerely give it up. Talk to the person involved. Solve the problem. Or intentionally wait on God (James 1:3).
A wrong response to anger always damages and destroys others--either blowing up immediately or clamming up at the time and overreacting later. Neither honors God. Neither solves the problem. They don't express supreme love for God and others--but supreme love for self.
Jesus was angry, but He attacked the problem--exploitation in the temple, false teaching by the Pharisees--not the person.** Even in His anger, He directed others back to the Father who desired repentance. Don't overlook the fact that you or I may be the problem that needs change.
Angry? Admit it (it's okay, you should). Stop, look, and listen. Prayerfully apply Scripture. Attack the problem, not the person. Ask forgiveness for the times you've blown it and move on.

Do not fret because of those who are evil
    or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
    like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
    though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land
    and enjoy peace and prosperity.
(Psalm 37:1-11)

** The words of Dr. Bob Smith, "How to Handle Anger," Faith Biblical Counseling Training Conference, 2008.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A-N-G-E-R is a Five-Letter Word

Irritated works. Frustrated, yes. Ruffled feathers. Ticked. But not "angry." Anger is a five-letter word. In a recent post I admitted to being angry and my guess is that bothered some of you--maybe it still does. Anger is not politically correct. It whiffs of violence, destruction, hatred, malice. We view it as a loss of self-control and balance. I'm learning otherwise.

Anger is a biblical word: “'Be angry, and do not sin': do not let the sun go down on your wrath..."  (Eph. 4:26).  "...let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20). God says we'll be angry. He's angry (Nahum 1:2, Romans 1:18). It's an emotion we struggle with, but one with purpose. Perhaps the greatest danger, the one we fall prey to, is failing to call it what it is. When we pansy-foot around, we miss out on the opportunities and overlook the danger.

Anger--righteous or unrighteous--is a natural reaction to a problem. It may flash and resolve itself in an instant or linger and smolder for long periods of time.

In his book, The Heart of Anger, Lou Priolo lists sinful manifestations of anger: vengeance, pride, ingratitude, selfishness, boasting, backbiting, gossip, debate, arguing, impatience, and the list goes on*. Shortly after reading his book the first time, I found myself acting in ways he defined as sinful anger, though I never would have used that term for those behaviors.

The words "irritation," "frustration," "ruffled feathers," and "panties in a bundle" are not biblical. When we fail to attach biblical words to sinful thoughts, words and actions, we struggle to learn and grow through Spirit-led conviction. The Spirit uses the Word of God to teach, correct, and train us. If we are unschooled in Scripture, we will remain immature and weak (2 Timothy 3:16-17, John 16:7-15, Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 5:12-6:1).

As the typical oldest child, complacent and eager to please, I didn't experience an angry childhood. It was easy to stay within bounds and I'm eternally grateful for my parents' protection and training. But as I grew into marriage and parenting, my desires were repeatedly frustrated, denied and run over by a Mack truck. And that--denied desire--is what fuels the heart of anger.

Anger is designed to be a warning light on the dash that says, "Danger! Danger!" It is generally preceded by another emotion (fear, hurt, rejection) which is triggered by an event or memory. To deal effectively with anger, we must first identify it by name and follow it backward to its source.

Instinctive anger--the emotion--rises when I face a threatening emotion or need to solve a problem. It is immediate, demanding a decision. That decision may be right or wrong, but the feeling in and of itself is just that: an emotion.

Unlike instinctive, or emotional, anger, there is the state of "being" angry. This is a choice; a continued response to feelings of anger. Righteous anger flares when God's character and good purpose are slandered or tarnished. We identify righteous anger in Jesus' response to the money changers in the temple. Unfortunately, pure, righteous anger is the least of our worries. Unrighteous anger flares when my expectations are thwarted. Sadly, when I expect to be served, loved, adored, protected, respected, listened to, etc., I am easily angered by anyone or anything that gets in the way. That is my natural state. And that is why I constantly need God to change me and my desires.

Anger, then, is a real word for real life. It happens. But before we can understand and learn how to respond the way Jesus does, in a way that honors God, we must first identify it. This is a good time to learn about yourself and the things that "get under your skin." What kinds of things make you angry? Next week's entry will address where to go from here.

"Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:

“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."  James 4:1-10

* A rather comprehensive list of sinful actions and words (with Scripture references) that reflect sinful anger can be found on page 84 of The Heart of Anger. I so appreciated and used this book that I typed up the charts and worksheets, made copies and 3-ring binders for each of our children, and used it as a guide for all of us. I am thankful for godly teachers who present God through practical helps!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Card Box

It's good to share good ideas--and this is one that came across my way years ago that's worth passing on.

On the floor of the broom closet near the kitchen is our card box. It's small enough to pick up and move with ease; large enough to hold cards for various occasions. And it's simple. There are dividers labeled (by hand) for All Occasion, Baby, Birthday, Get Well, Sympathy, Thank You, etc. As opportunities come up, I have cards on hand that are easy to write in, address and pop in the mail that day.
If you are a pastor's or deacon's wife, Bible study leader, or simply someone who cares about others and wants to celebrate and share in others' lives, this is a fabulous investment that's easy to use and maintain.

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion." (Romans 12:14-16)

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Martha's Minion

"So I was standing at the sink washing potatoes for the ladies' retreat and wrestling with myself about why I was doing it," my friend admitted over coffee last week.
The three of us talked about how difficult it is to keep pure motives when we serve others--especially at church.
That took us to the topic of people who give gifts with expectations of how they should be used, or how we should respond, or with an extravagance that demands obligation.
Nice conversation. Biblical principles shared, agreed upon. Prayer offered. And we left, each to her day.

Disclaimer: Before you read the following, know that the women of our church are wonderful, generous, caring women. We love one another and enjoy serving together, but we all make mistakes. Sometimes we drop the ball. Each of us sins against God and others daily. The following is a real-life vignette of how God used the hot water of people and circumstances to draw out the contents of my teabag, a.k.a. heart.

That evening we met  at church for our ladies' retreat. It was time for the meal and there was miscommunication. Thinking there was a need for dessert, we had baked and counted and baked some more. Someone else brought root beer floats for the same reason. I was frustrated and angry.  As petty as it is, I even thought about the new Tupperware I'd purchased--just for cupcakes. And to find out, it wasn't needed; didn't fit the plan. I was put out. I. Me. My. Pride. My words from that morning echoed, "It's important to give and let go. If you're going to give, give. It doesn't belong to you anymore. If you can't let go, don't give. " The situation wasn't mine and I needed to let it go.

I had offered to play the piano since the other pianists would be out of town. Plans changed and two very capable, able, and enjoyable pianists came. I didn't want to play--and bring cupcakes. But I had offered a gift. I needed to let it go. I sighed, felt pressure to play well...and loudly...and.... Oh, crumb. Pride.

Weeks earlier I thought of an old, old song that fit the theme and had asked, "Would that be helpful?" not thinking (or knowing) about the piano...and cupcakes. "We'd appreciate it," was the answer. This wasn't what I had in mind at all. The microphone malfunctioned. I looked like, felt like, a three-ring circus.

And the theme? Mostly Mary. It was all about choosing that better thing, sitting at Jesus' feet instead of being worried and troubled about many things. Suddenly, I was Martha. I didn't intend to be busy and over committed. I evaluated and reviewed conversations--where did I go wrong?

The speaker addressed serving--that's what Jesus did--but keeping a balance so we don't over-serve and feel used, bitter, resentful, or self-exalting. Oh, boy. I had become the poster child for Martha's Minions--one of her understudies! And as God and I talked about it, I was thankful that He chose to use me, even as a bad example. I am not exempt from sinning or making wrong choices or consequences. Should He choose to use my sin for His purpose, who am I to demand otherwise?

And in that moment, there was peace. And the remembrance of forgiveness and love and grace. It's okay to sin and get caught. That's life. But it's even better to know Christ and live in His love.

"Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:8-14).

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Ole Love Yourself Debacle

"To love your neighbor as you love yourself means you have to love yourself first." I've heard it on Christian radio, at my kitchen table, in the car. And it's not true.  I'll put it out there and, perhaps, suffer for it. There is no command in the Bible to love yourself. There are no directives on how to love yourself more or better or biblically. Those who disagree generally use a portion of Scripture and draw inferences. I cannot think of one place in the Bible, Old Testament or New that commands me to love myself--or gives the example of Jesus teaching and modeling self before others.

True love does not come from my heart. This will bust your bubble--the natural, stinky heart of mine doesn't love you. It can't. There is nothing in me that will seek your good above my own, that will do what you want instead of what I want with pure motives. For that same reason, I cannot love myself any more than I can love you.
True love comes from God for "God is love." Want love? Go to God. Want to love others better? More? Love them, period? Go to God.

If you and I find ourselves critical, judgmental, gossiping, slandering fools it's because we have failed to recognize God's love for us. When I read Scripture as a list of do's and don't's or failures and successes it's because of the way I view God, not because of the way God views me. How often I turn from feasting--choking--on dry bread at His table, then turn and apply that same judgment to others.

But when I pray and ask God for His view of Scripture and read it with an eye for who He is--for grace, love and mercy--drinking in the richness of His goodness, I display and share that same goodness with others. I view myself and others through the lens of God's grace rather than the lens of my need--my need to be better, my need to know more, my need to excel, my need to please God. The nourishment I receive from God is passed on to others and we grow.  Together.

Through Christ, I experience the love of God--all of it--and it is steadfast. Through faith in Christ I am accepted, wanted, covered, protected, cared for. I do not need to perform, be better, have more of, do more. I am. Jesus loves me. Jesus gave it all--for me. And although I do not deserve His death (or His life) it is mine. Because of who He is. That's grace. That's God.
And that's enough.

What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,  and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
As He says also in Hosea:
“I will call them My people, who were not My people,
And her beloved, who was not beloved.”
“And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them,
‘You are not My people,’
There they shall be called sons of the living God.” (Romans 9:22-26)
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,  even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How to Do Everything

You may remember my Congolese friend, Joy, that I meet with regularly to study English. When she came to America three years ago, she spoke multiple languages, but no English. Our wonderful God arranged for their family to be taken in by Tom, who works with Wycliffe Bible Translators, and his wife. Two years ago Joy's family moved from Florida to Iowa and started attending our church. When we began meeting together she was still learning the names of basic objects. We added verb tenses and prepositions along with practical helps like running a dishwasher, following directions on a boxed mix and cooking a turkey in a roaster.
Last Fall she held up her English Bible and said, "This is what I need more." She understands most of the Sunday sermons, even spoken through our West Virginian pastor! But she wanted to spend  time learning and studying God's Word.
We used the same Bible study as the other women at church, "Developing Genuine Friendships" and continue to use it as our guide. Each week we read the verse printed in the book, look it up in our Bibles, and discuss any unknown words before sharing the friendship quality and application. Sharing and writing our answers in English has led to some beautiful and precious insights.
This time, we read with Philippians 2:14, "Do everything without grumbling or arguing." After reading and discussing it, I admitted to complaining about someone who makes a big to-do about being a Christian, but is unkind, short-tempered and rude. "I don't know if I should say something or not," I mused.
Joy, hands crossed on the table, pointed her index finger at me, leaned forward and said, "You--do everything without grumbling or complaining. Let Jesus talk to her."
Oh, how I love Joy! Her love for Christ and wisdom speak to my heart. By simplifying the words of Scripture and sharing from her own life, she displays Jesus in so many ways. Her schedule and demands are more rigorous than most, but she never complains. She is thankful!
And as David and I read the Psalms this morning, I was reminded of her and how we are able to do everything: without complaining. We can--if, and when--we praise God and give thanks.
To quote Joy, "I am healthy and my family is good. Everything God gives me is good.  Ehhh! Why would I complain?"

"I will extol You, my God, O King;
And I will bless Your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless You,
And I will praise Your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
And His greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.
I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty,
And on Your wondrous works.
Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts,
And I will declare Your greatness.
They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness,
And shall sing of Your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
Slow to anger and great in mercy.
The Lord is good to all,
And His tender mercies are over all His works.
10 All Your works shall praise You, O Lord,
And Your saints shall bless You.
11 They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom,
And talk of Your power,
12 To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts,
And the glorious majesty of His kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall,
And raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look expectantly to You,
And You give them their food in due season.
16 You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is righteous in all His ways,
Gracious in all His works.
18 The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
19 He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He also will hear their cry and save them.
20 The Lord preserves all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.
21 My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord,
And all flesh shall bless His holy name
Forever and ever."
Psalm 145