Conflict and Change

I sometimes think about what it would have been like to travel with the apostles, spreading the gospel and following God as the first missionaries.  The apostle Paul had a reputation that most likely intimidated and unnerved most of his companions.  His boldness often got him into trouble.  Silas was beaten and place in prison. Others suffered with Paul.  Quite a few companions were unable to simply keep up.  John Mark might have fallen into this last category.

Mark joined Paul and Barnabas on their first trip which set out from Antioch.  They sailed to Cyprus and traveled across that island, preaching and teaching and ministering wherever they went.  After that, they went to Pamphylia (modern Turkey).  Scripture simply says that at that point, Mark left the team and returned to Jerusalem.  Later, Paul refused to allow Mark to join him on another trip because he thought Mark had abandoned the first team and the work they were doing. Barnabas thought Mark deserved a second chance.

By the time the missionary team departed, Barnabas had decided to take Mark on a different outreach and Silas became Paul’s new missionary partner.  Later Biblical comments make it clear that none involved considered this a permanent rift.

Conflicts can be opportunities to clarify ideas, expectations, and goals.  They may bring into the open what needs to be changed.  Even good change rarely happens without conflict.  Mark probably didn’t enjoy the fact that Barnabas and Paul separated over him, but he had to appreciate that someone believed he was worth another chance.  Mark eventually grew into a godly disciple whom Paul counted as a trusted friend.  Conflict can lead to good endings. Isn’t it great that we serve the God of the second chance?  Even when we were sinners, He came and died for us so that He could make a way to settle the conflict between Him and us.  We didn’t deserve it.  But He did it anyway.  Doesn’t that just make you feel so astonished sometimes???  What an amazing God!

Critical Spirit

Some people seem to be experts at evaluating others.  They think they have an uncanny ability to read others’ minds, evaluate their actions, and judge their motives.  The danger in assessing others’ behavior in such a way is that people become judgmental.  Such people have critical spirits that can be cruel and divisive.  Setting themselves up as prosecutor, judge and jury, they proceed to tear everyone apart who does not see things their way.

The Bible is full of examples of judgmentalism – the Jews in the wilderness (Num 16), the Pharisees (Matt 22), the prodigal son’s older brother (Luke 15), the immature Christians in the early church (1 Cor 3).  One of the most serious biblical examples was Miriam’s criticism of Moses’ wife (Num. 12).  God severely judged Miriam’s judgmental spirit.

Just for the record, there is a difference between judging and being judgmental.  Christians need to be able to judge what is good and what is evil so they can discern God’s will for their lives.  Believers are also called upon to judge disputes among believers, as well as to judge sin and deal accordingly with it (1 Cor 5).  Sometimes believers need to discern sin in their fellow believers and point it out in a loving way (Prov. 27:17).

So what about when Jesus said, “Judge not that you be not judged.  For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you?”  (Matt 7) In this same passage, He also said that people cannot remove the speck from someone else’s eye when they have a plank in their own eye.  Jesus was speaking against having a critical spirit.

Judgmental people are critical, condescending, unloving, and unforgiving.  They are more concerned with pointing out others’ mistakes than helping them with their problems.  Their attitudes create anxiety in others whom they attempt to manipulate by demanding compliance with their opinions.  Critical people tend to make others feel that they are all alone in the world.

Another characteristic of judgmental people is their self-centered view of life.  They are far more concerned about themselves than anyone else.  They lack empathy and resist opening up enough to let others talk freely about deeply emotional issues.  It is easier for them to condemn than to forgive.  They lock themselves in parental-style role and refuse to change.  They may try to shame people as a means of controlling them.  While some judgmental people may think that they are helping others do the right thing (according to them), they are really hurting them in the long run.  Forced behavior, controlled by guilt manipulation, often leaves people wanting to break free.

People’s reactions to judgmental people can include feelings of detachment (being emotionally inaccessible) and abandonment (connecting then leaving), and can result in criticism (unloving responses) and even abuse (emotional violation).

One of the major causes of judgmentalism is guilt.  People tend to criticize others for problems with which they tend to struggle themselves.  Another cause is fear.  People fear those they do not understand.

Judgmentalism is a heart attitude that often blinds people to their own problems.  It is quick to point the finger but slow to bend the knee.  To be set free of a critical spirit, believers can begin by praying for others and working to genuinely reach out to others in love.  They can get into an accountability relationship to learn to discern the difference between appropriate judgment and judgmentalism.

A critical spirit can often be discerned by identifying people’s motives.  If their words are meant to tear others down in order to build themselves up, then they are being judgmental.  If they are minimizing and excusing their own faults while pointing out the faults of others, then they are being judgmental.  If we find ourselves being critical of others, we need to ask God for forgiveness.  Ultimate judgment belongs to God (Rev 20).  We dare not attempt to put ourselves in His place!

Valley of Sadness

Ecclesiastes 3:4 – A time to weep, and a time to laugh;  A time to mourn, And a time to dance.

Hebrews 4:16 – Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Psalm 130 – Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord; Lord hear my voice!  Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.  If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word do I hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning – Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.  O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy, and wit Him is abundant redemption, and He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Sooner or later, we all feel sad, down, or blue.  Life happens.  Solomon wrote of this in Ecclesiastes and the writer of Hebrews assures us we will have times of need in our lives.  However, occasionally, the sadness can become overwhelming and turn into a deeper level of emotional turmoil and can affect us in many different ways. 

This deep level of sadness can be caused by a number of different things including stress, fear, loneliness, guilt, and anger. David wrote his sadness came from unconfessed sin, leading to a groaning in his soul and a loss of strength (Ps 38).  God used sadness to get Nehemiah’s attention to do his work (Neh 1 and 2).  Job experienced financial, personal, and relational losses that led him to curse the day he had been born (Job 1-3).  Elijah was so sad after a great victory that he wanted to die ( 1 Kings 19:4).

How do we know when our sadness has moved from a simple sadness to a more concerning depth?  Scripture tells us many symptoms to watch for.  Psalm 102 describes David’s battle with this.  “Let my cry come to You.”  He write of feeling stricken physically and described losing meaning and purpose in his life: “My days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned like a hearth.  My heart is stricken and withered like grass.”  (102:3-4).  He lost his appetite: “I forget to eat my bread.” (102:4).  He felt isolated and rejected:  “I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am like an owl of the desert. “ (102:6).  He couldn’t sleep: “I lie awake.” (102:7).  He had frequent crying spells:  “I have eaten ashes for bread, and mingled my drink with weeping.” (102:9). 

Elijah demonstrated both healthy and unhealthy responses to sadness (1 Kings 19).  After the great victory on Mount Carmel, his life was threatened and he became afraid.  He focused on the situation instead of focusing on God.  His fear eventually became so intense, he ran away, isolated himself, and prayed he would die.  A summary of his behavior can be described as the HALT syndrome – a very vulnerable place for anyone to be.  At his most sad state, he was:       

·         Hungry – He stopped eating

·         Angry – he was mad at God for not caring about him

·         Lonely – He left his servant and traveled alone

·         Tired – He collapsed into sleep

God counteracted this syndrome in Elijah’s life at every level.  He responded by providing food for Elijah.  An angel touched Elijah, reminding him he was not alone.  Two times God encouraged Elijah to regain his strength by eating, drinking, and resting.  God brought him out of the HALT syndrome, which enabled Elijah to listen and obey.

This story reminds me of the importance of having a real and personal relationship with God .  When I’m sad, I can feel like running away just like Elijah.  I have to avoid isolating myself, tempting as that may be at times.  I have to remember that, no matter how hopeless I might feel at the moment, God is ready to help and all I have to do is accept that help.  I need to remember to listen to God.  That is where I find my strength and encouragement.  That is where I find the ability to cope with life’s tribulations and that is where I find my hope. 

No Place for Hopelessness

If the Lord is present, then so is hope.  Hopelessness has no place in our vocabularies as Christians.

·         Regardless of how dark or desperate a situation seems, hope abides (1 Cor. 13:13).  Hold on tightly to that hope.

·         Our hope is anchored in Jesus Christ Himself (1 Pet. 3:15-16) – so our hope can handle any attack

·         Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39) and the hope He brings.  Any problem or situation we face pales in comparison with His power.

We have to learn to look past our immediate circumstances and toward the hope that God gives us.  It is precisely that hope that can carry us through.

Nehemiah and Discouragement

Discouragement – a battle I’ve been fighting lately.  Tonight in church, while listening to our pastor discuss the book of Nehemiah, I thought of discouragement and how easy it would be to give in to it.  When discouragement sets in – when life gets overwhelming and we have difficulty seeing the way through and out, we are faced with choices.  We can choose to give in and give up.  We can choose to find somewhere or someone on which to place the blame.  Or we can choose to use the discouragement to propel us to new heights.  Nehemiah was such a great example of one who chose to use his discouragement to work his way to great heights.

Nehemiah was a Jewish exile living in Persia.  We know he had proven himself to be a man of trust and integrity because he served as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes.   His job gave him constant access to the king – tasting the food and drink before it was placed before the king.  Many of the Jews had been given permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild and had chosen to do so under the leadership of Ezra.  Nehemiah learned through hearing the news from Jews who had returned to Persia that, even though the temple had been rebuilt, the wall around Jerusalem had not been.  Nehemiah was discouraged with this news.  In those times, a city without walls was vulnerable to attack – it was a weak city.  Jerusalem would not ever be able to be a strong city, a proud city, or regain its former status until the wall was rebuilt.  It was an overwhelming job – a large job – and one in which it would be difficult to see the possible ways to the end.  But instead of choosing to allow his discouragement lead to despair, Nehemiah worked on developing a course of action to correct the problem.

After praying and planning, Nehemiah took advantage of his close, trusted relationship with the king.  It is somewhat noteworthy that the king so paid attention to Nehemiah that his downcast expression was remarked upon.  The king must have cared something for him.  Nehemiah explained the situation, said a quick prayer, and then boldly asked for everything he would need to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall.  The king granted the request and Nehemiah carried out his plan.  The wall was rebuilt.

When we are faced with discouragement, we can choose to allow it to develop into depression and inability to act or we can choose to allow it to motivate us, giving a renewed determination.  Like Nehemiah, we can choose to allow discouragement to motivate us to find a way to solve the problem and not wallow in it, feeling sorry for ourselves.  We can choose to grow from it.  We can choose to allow God to work His mighty changes in us for His glory.  We have the responsibility and freedom to choose.  It is our choice.

More Random Quotes Which Speak to Me

Hold Thou Thy cross

                     before my closing eyes;

            Shine through the gloom

                     and point me to the skies;

            Heaven’s morning breaks,

                     and earth’s vain shadows flee;

            In life, in death, O Lord,

                     abide in me.    – Henry Francis  Lyte

 

            In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. – Martin Luther King Jr.

I have a great need for Christ; I have a great Christ for my need. – Spurgeon

I am not what I ought to be.  I am not what I wish to be.  I am not even what I hope to be.  But by the cross of Christ, I am not what I was. – John Newton

Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all. – Dale Carnegie

The Power of Words

Ephesians 4:15   …but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things unto Him who is the head – Christ… 

God gave us language to be able to communicate – to allow us to talk, express ideas and opinions, provide information, and share our hearts.  Some people choose to communicate in hurtful ways, saying words which cause pain.  We, as believers however, are to communicate differently.  Paul wrote that our words should always be truthful and spoken in love.  Think about how many times a day we speak.  What if every word had to be passed through a filter of truthfulness, love, and edification?  Would we have any words left?  It would be good if we would think before speaking.  Words are powerful and, as such, need to be used carefully.