Tag Archives: Gospel of Matthew

Making Room for the Best

4 Mar

Last Wednesday signaled a beginning and an end. Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, a 40 day period of preparation for Easter. It also provides an opportunity to end self-centeredness. The word Lent stems from an Anglo-Saxon word for spring. Perhaps we could think of it as spring-cleaning for the soul. The 40 days relate to Jesus Christ’s wilderness temptation (Matthew 4:1–2). Forty days to help us focus on Christ’s sacrifice and help transform us into His image.

For me it’s like a fresh start, getting rid of the adequate to make room for the best. How can I cooperate and collaborate with God as I prepare my heart for Resurrection Sunday?

Lent begins with repentance, a change of mind and attitude as we acknowledge our wrongdoing. We turn from sin and turn to God. Many churches place ashes on the forehead as a symbol of that repentance. Repentance is part of our spiritual spring-cleaning. What has to go? What should we keep? What should we add?

A month ago I started the process of discarding. I gave away 130+ books taken from my living room shelves, a difficult process because I love the written word. I haven’t even started on the books in my office and other nooks and crannies. I’m motivated by a desire for simplicity and to “Just Be, Just Do” (found here). It’s so easy to slip into our default mode of accomplishment and speed, of working in our own strength. That need to depend on God led me to wrestle with the following questions.

What takes my time, energy, and affection (possibly a good thing), but has become a substitute for God’s best?  What am I willing to give up, do without, or discontinue that hinders new life in others or in me?  What should I continue or add that will serve others and further God’s Kingdom?

Are there questions you need to ask? “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me (Psalm 139:23-24). Dig deep, but don’t be surprised if the answers aren’t monumental. Sometimes small things make the biggest difference.

Finally, my devotional reading (A Year with God—Day 60 by R. Foster & J. Roller) led me to Second Timothy 3:10. “Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness” (NRSV). I accepted Foster’s admonition to “be cautious and humble about what we may be teaching with our words and deeds. Teaching is so much easier than learning. It is also more dangerous.”

So here I sit at my computer, attempting to share my heart and this 40-day journey. I’ve given up sugar for my health and Spider Solitaire for more time. I’m continuing to discard things and adding order in my days. I’m reaping time for writing this blog and one-on-one relationships. Small but difficult changes with joyful outcomes.

Just Be. Just Do.

26 May

There were only four of us. We had heard the same verses read aloud several times. Now it was time to listen carefully to what God had to say through those two verses. Since I’m a retired cognitive therapist, the mind words grabbed my attention: listen, consider, think.

“Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance—all who seek the Lord! Consider the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were mined. Yes, think about Abraham, your ancestor, and Sarah, who gave birth to your nation. Abraham was only one man when I called him. But when I blessed him, he became a great nation” (Isaiah 51:1–2 NLT).

I found no new revelations about thinking and renewing my mind, although my mind overflowed with questions regarding ministry, writing, and speaking. Then I realized that’s not the focus. Once again, it’s not about me; it’s not about you. We must listen, consider, about think about our Source. Try inserting your name into the last sentence.

Nancy was only one woman when I called her. But when I blessed her, she became a great ___.

If/when God blesses us, we have potential to be/do great things in His name. Still a bit anxious about the impossibility of becoming “great,” I continued to listen to God’s still small voice within me, I understood Him say:

Just be—in My presence.

Just be—who you are.

Just do—the next thing.

It’s up to God—not the world, not me—to determine greatness. Jesus said if we offer a cup of water in His name we will be rewarded (Matthew 10:42). Our first priority is to love God with all our being (Mk 12:30) and seek His kingdom (Mt 6:33). Our second priority is to love people, including ourselves (Mk 12:31).

So here I am, daily reminding myself that God is always with me, just as He is with you. He cherishes us and has a plan that includes us. I can’t be anyone other than who God created me to be. I just try to go through the next door He opens, and occasionally have the courage to knock on a few doors in case they might also open. When I listen, consider, think about these truths, life seems simpler, more doable.

I need that right now. How about you?

How Many Chances?

25 Oct

Do you ever get tired of yourself? A friend recently said, “I get so tired of me.” This person had misplaced something—yet again. Sometimes our bodies disappoint us by not performing as they once did. Maybe we’re sick of an endless cycle of busyness that prevents us from intimacy with God. We may feel defeated by a disagreeable habit. Perhaps we exercised or ate healthy for a time but gradually fell back into our old identity as a snacking-couch-potato. We intend to spend more quality time with family and friends, but good intentions dissolve into procrastination.

At such times, we’re tempted to give up and convince ourselves it doesn’t matter. Jumping off the merry-go-round seems to take more effort or self-discipline than we possess. That’s where I was not long ago.

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21–23 NRSV). Every day is a new day with God—for us and for others.

Peter came to Jesus and asked him, “Lord, how often do I have to forgive a believer who wrongs me? Seven times?” Jesus answered him, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21–22 GW). That’s the standard for second chances for others as well as for us.

Rabbis traditionally taught an offended person should forgive three times. Peter, no doubt thought he was generous in proposing seven chances. Not even close. Jesus declares 490+ do-overs. We’re to offer the same limitless forgiveness God offers us. The situation isn’t hopeless even when we offend God by not loving and serving His people, not taking care of His temple (our bodies), or wasting the time He gives. It’s never too late too late for a fresh start.

Receiving another chance doesn’t mean we won’t experiences consequences of past behavior. We lose things, forfeit precious time with God, put on weight, and damage relationships. We may need to ask for help or seek an accountability partner, but a new start is possible.

The solution remains the same—renew our minds and be transformed. Believe the truth. Without realizing it, when we feel hopeless, we believe a lie about who God is and how much He loves us (John 3:16). We also believe a lie about ourselves. We forget Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (NKJV). I can’t claim this verse and begin performing brain surgery. However, I can accomplish all God uniquely planned for me (Ephesians 2:10).

I find both peace and excitement living in the center of God’s will. I experience anxiety, stress, and frustration doing life on my own. I need the Spirit of Christ to forgive and empower me. I’m so grateful for second chances.

O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help. (Psalm 86:5 NLT).

Say Yes to Confrontation

24 Aug

Recently, I’ve prayed for several people in conflict. Some situations are heart-rending. Others are frustrating or irritating. None of these people enjoyed conflict or desired confrontation. Here are some reasons used to avoid confrontation.

  1. Christians are supposed to be self-sacrificing. Confrontation seems selfish.
  2. He won’t listen anyway.
  3. She will get mad.
  4. They might not come back to visit.
  5. I’m afraid I’ll lose her love.
  6. I don’t know how to confront. I’ll only make things worse.

As a recovering people pleaser, I understand how dreading confrontation can immobilize us. Jesus says staying in biblical truth sets us free (John 8:31–32), so for the next few posts we will renew our mind regarding conflict and confrontation.

First, let’s be specific about terms using the Encarta Dictionary. Conflict is “a disagreement or clash between ideas, principles, or people.” Confrontation is “a face-to-face meeting or encounter, especially a challenging or hostile one.” It’s often necessary to confront someone regarding a conflict.

The Bible has much to say about conflict because it’s unavoidable. We’re not clones or cookie cutter Christians; neither are we perfect. Since we can’t avoid disagreement, God wants us to utilize His way of managing conflict.

I believed all six reasons above, so I “handled” conflict by rolling over and playing dead. Experience taught me some hard truths.

Refusing to confront

a)      Conveys silent agreement and approval.

b)      Denies truth and the impact of the other person’s behavior.

c)      Withholds relevant information necessary for decision-making.

d)     Is disrespectful because it assumes the worst response from the other person and doesn’t give him/her the opportunity to change.

The depth of relationship determines our level of confrontation. We confront our children who exhibit poor manners in a restaurant and ignore the person at a nearby table doing the same thing. We must earn the right to offer constructive criticism.

This is probably a good time to say not every conflict is worth confrontation. Remember love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Many times a conflict isn’t a question of right or wrong; rather, it’s a question of preference or opinion. In such cases, compromise and trade-off is appropriate. Love doesn’t insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:5) and in many cases we are to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). However, people sometimes behave in a way that is detrimental to the family, the community, and themselves.

Jesus didn’t avoid conflict. He went head-to-head with religious hypocrites calling them a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 18:15) and “blind guides” (Matthew 15:14). John 2:13–16 tells how Jesus drove out the moneychangers who turned the temple into a marketplace. I’d call that some pretty intense confrontation.

However, the thing that freed me from my fear of confrontation was realizing reason #1 above was incorrect. Confrontation can be the most loving response to conflict. Most people would agree that ignoring drunken chaos in the home enables the behavior to continue. Yet we overlook disrespect, irresponsibility, or verbal abuse because we don’t want to appear selfish. In fact, our silence says, “Go right ahead. I approve of your behavior.” We have to care enough to confront. It takes emotional energy and courage to confront someone we love.

I hope some of you will confront my opinion. Please respond with comments and questions. We will continue the discussion in future posts.