What to do when you’re not where others think you should be

Nothing! Your first response should not be to leap into action–whether that be in defense of yourself or an offensive means of making changes that will better align yourself with the expectations of the person who is critiquing you. All critiques, to be properly handled, should be patiently evaluated and discerningly digested. These things spell time, which most of us don’t want to give to personal criticisms, but we must not neglect these measures or we will miss the blessing that is it be slowly squeezed out of them.

In most cases of solicited or unsolicited evaluation, someone will bring a criticism with at least a vague idea of what direction you should go in implementing the necessary changes to your problem. But just because someone has an idea of what you should do with their observations and advice, this does not mean the matter is settled. You, the hearer–as well as the one implicated by the information given–have the responsibility to exercise wisdom in weighing the judgment and executing a sound response. Even when someone goes to great lengths to exercise wisdom in what they present to us and how they choose to present it, this does not negate our own need to exercise wisdom in receiving it.

When we make it our goal to not receive the comments others have for us emotionally, we save ourselves from “feeling errors.” We are choosing to not be super-sensitive concerning ourselves so that we may be objective concerning the words and ideas before us. We recognize that the matter is not so much about us. We will not handle admonitions well if we do.

Because of Christ and the covering His blood gives us, we do not have to protect our honor by never messing up, nor do we have to try to avoid being confronted with our mess-ups. Instead, we turn our hearts from their occupation with our honor in order to focus on a higher honor: God’s honor in Christ. We acknowledge that we have messed up. We admit that without Christ we could not stand because of our sin, but with Christ, we stand because of His righteousness that covers us and is at work within us.

This righteousness from Christ does not become our excuse for personal unrighteousness, but rather our only power to confess it and reach out for change. It is our truth for living to Christ and also for dying to self. It allows love to bloom for Christ amidst our guilt, and even enables us to love the one who points out our offense. There is no reason why love cannot rule here: God is at work in the middle of every mistake and He commands every conveyance of correction. When our lives are yielded to Him, we become more distinguished by God’s love. It triumphs in the place of all our weakness. The cross’ shadow is big enough to engulf us in salvation as well as everyday occasions of being straightened out.

 

Wasn’t there a reason why things didn’t work out?

Trying to interpret God’s plan with limited evidences of what He’s actually doing. Not working so well.

Options:

Over-evaluate–put intense meaning into observed patters and “clues” that may not have been fully seen.

Vs.

Trust–buy into what He sees, believe what He says, boast in what He secures and…rest in who He is.

Yeah, I think I’ll put my heart into the second one!

I think it’s possible for you to give me a whole lot more than you are!

Have you ever said those words to God? I find that they are words that come up in my heart far more often than I’d like. One reason they do is because I still have a “healthy” measure of rebelliousness at war within me. The other reason is that, quite simply, God and I don’t always think so alike. Many things in my thinking have changed as I’ve walked with God the past three years, but one thing has not: my thinking always needs revision. At every turn in my journey I find new challenges that make it necessary for major portions of my human-centric thinking to be evacuated from their home inside me.

This change can often be mighty unpleasant. On rare and blessed occasions–which seem to multiply with time–I welcome the adjustments God gives my thinking as a breath of spiritual fresh air. Those are precious, grace-filled moments for me. But they can feel so natural to me that I begin to think that I am able to accept what God puts before me because my way of thinking and God’s are just so alike.

This is when God mercifully shows me the truth. He exposes the gap between my natural way of thinking and His. It can feel really hard because I don’t want to let go of my thinking; instead, I like to measure every nuance of His thinking that I can observe against my own. Quite frankly, I often find that His thoughts just don’t quite measure up. They don’t satisfy my “reasonable” mind.

Then God steps in and shows me that thinking this way is the source of my problems. First, I don’t think like Him. And second, I think He should think like me. Whoa! This kind of deceit is why God commands us to not rely on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Despite the fact that it seems to offer us the only counsel we can really trust, God is calling us to acknowledge that it is flawed. Any mental orientation that would lead you or I in resisting our Maker cannot come under the heading of true wisdom. Great frauds must be believable if they are to succeed, and so it is with our self-promoting thinking.

But if we are to be set free from this thinking, we do not just let it go ceremonially and then sit around in expectation of brand new thoughts coming along to take hold of us. That is not how it works. Thoughts must be chosen and thoughts must be guarded if we are to be sure that they will cause pure waters to flow from our hearts. But how can we do this? What thoughts do we choose; do we make things up in our heads? Do we strive all day long to have original thoughts? This sounds like it could be a whole lot of work!

It is. But it is not impossible. We have the Holy Spirit, given to the redeemed sons and daughters of God, to teach us what we are to think and to reveal to us the mind of Christ. The Bible promises us that He will lead and guide us into all truth (John 16:13). Surely God does not expect us to find all this truth we are to be thinking about on our own; He merely asks us to follow His lead. When we walk with Him, in close and intimate fellowship, we will learn to think like Him too!

This is why God calls us to be His friends and not just His henchmen–running to fulfill orders that we don’t even understand. (This is not to say that we will never be expected to obey Him unless we understand what He’s doing. There will surely be times when we will obey His will simply because it is His will, not because we understand it. This is part of trusting His thinking above our own.)

But, His thinking is meant to have such a profound impact on us that it becomes an elemental part of who we are. We begin to not only act like Him, but think like Him and dream like Him. Through our lives, which are to become so closely intertwined with His, He will show the world what He looks like according to His heart and mind. Then no one will have an excuse that they did not know what God was really like or how to find Him. Do we need a better reason to want His thinking to become our own?

 

Love endures all things

I saw an interesting little icon today, showing a picture of Christ. In it, He was bruised, having been beaten like a criminal. On His bowed head, He wore a spiky crown of thorns that mocked His mission; the mission God gave His Son to link His divinity with our humanity–first in His body destined for death and then in our bodies, destined for life. And from His arm and chest, poured blood that had been called to abandon its assignment to sustain His body. Four pure white words silently blinked above him in the blackness. They were:

Love…endures…all…things.

The whole tableau brought a hush to my soul. Then a question slowly began to be unfurled in the silence:

Have…I…ever…really…known…what…those…words…mean?

For the first time I realized I truly did not. I had never deduced that their first association was with Christ. It startled me that I had missed it’s deepest meaning because I’d always made those words revolve around me.

Before this moment I had only ever thought of those words as they applied to my own sanctification: how I would learn to love when I endured all things. When I read this verse with the others in 1 Corinthians 13, I pictured these precepts being represented as a gate; one that I would never really get all the way through.

For instance, when I read the verse, my thoughts are: Yes, I need to be reminded again; I have to endure “all things” if I am to prove that I have love. I can’t have any boundaries to what I choose to accept from others. And the thoughts always ended with Ugh! I’m never going to be able to make this work! Why does the Bible have to be a house of such impossible expectations for us? I don’t even know why I keep reading this, trying to pretend that I’m actually going to be able to do this! It’s just so hard and unlike me.

But I never thought of these verses as something that relates who God is to me more than it relates who I am to others. They are a description of who God is and what He went through because of me. But, not just because of me; because of Him as well. If He had not been love, He would not have endured any of the all things that I did wrong to Him. He would have made that verse read: “Love makes the aggrieving party endure all the things that they have deserved.”

But that is not what it says. It says that Love endures all things. Love endured all things. He didn’t hold back from anything He could experience as a result of me. He endured it all so that there could be a relationship between us. He endured it all, so that maybe I would see that He was the only way I could be free; He was the only One who would account for my sins and make me snow-white before God.

In this new interpretation of the words, the fact that Love endures all things, is something to celebrate. It reflects a gift that is unparalleled in its generosity and grace. It makes me want to know this Love in all its infinite grandeur, rather than wanting to try to duplicate it. I can do nothing to improve this love, nor would it be more precious to me if I could make it my own by separating it from Him. This love is a Person. If love were less than a person it could not endure. In all things it could be only a vapor of substance.

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So what, if I’m wrong? (The skin off my nose probably needed to come off anyway.)

I am not afraid of disagreement–what I want is for the truth to triumph. And if this is what I want, I should be ready for the truth to disagree with me.

I am not the ultimate arbiter of truth (though I like to think so). I am someone who must be regularly arrested by truth because I get in conflict and bring offense to it often. But, it is not so bad to be arrested by the truth–that is the only way I can become its captive.

And boy, do I need to be a captive of the truth! There is no other way I can escape the hold that lies have on me. There is no other way I can live to the honor of Christ and to the benefit of others in my relationships.

I need truth. It is a desperate need. There is no replacement for it. There is no way I can substitute in its place the things I already know–too much of what I’ve grown up believing, so much of what I’ve reasoned out my experiences is suspicious.

You see, the truth does not  follow the paths that I do on my own natural bent. So, I must regularly be checking on myself, making sure that I am leaving behind what comes naturally to me in favor of what can only be found on the path of truth. I follow the path of truth because it was here before I was. It is the only path on which I can find Christ. It is the only path on which we experience unparalleled communion. And that is the only thing I want to be about.

A gift like THIS is Your answer to rebellion?

How do you express your rebellion? Do you hold it in and try to “take it” for as long as you can? Do you think rebellion is only bad when you express it publicly? Do you think you can get away with it as long as it stays buried inside?

My friend, that is the worst place for rebellion to be hidden? It doesn’t belong in your heart. God sees it and how well He knows that it composes the essence of everything you do. You cannot live with it. You cannot pretend it doesn’t exist. You cannot dismiss it as though it were a passive element of who you are.

It is not. It wars for control of your soul. For your dominion in your relationship with Christ. That’s right, you may be in rebellion, but you still have a relationship with Christ. There is an element of give and take between you and God, as is the case for every human (not just every Christian).

Your relationship may not be pleasant, may not be beneficial for either you or Him, but as long as you both shall live there is a link between the two of you. He created you and you bear His image–be it a crumpled one because of sin. And His heart is concerned with everything about you, though He may not have the freedom to let you know how deep those concerns go.

Rebellion in us is the greatest barrier to relationship with the God for which we were specifically made. This does not seem to be much of a hardship to us, except if, perhaps, we come to realize how this compromises our identities. It doesn’t make God any different, but it surely makes us different. While we grow into grotesque versions of the people He meant us to be, He grows more beautiful still.

He lays Himself down. He makes Himself nothing and He takes on our sin as a robe for His love-troubled soul. He abandons Himself to the Father’s wrath so that we might be released from it. He receives the wealth of hell that was supposed to be the inheritance of our future. He sets us free–if only we will look at Him. If only we will see what our sin has done to Him and what heart allowed this to be so. If only we cry out in anguish over the safety He denied Himself so we would not be left alone and rejected. Oh, what love is this! How can we deny it or turn away from it? Truly, we are dead souls if it does not break our hearts and lift our eyes with wonder.

Who gets the blame?…God, do You think You could take it this time?

Who gets the blame when we have a problem between us and God? Can we ever charge Him with error? Can we ever threaten Him to shape up and learn to treat us better? Can we ever respond to one of His corrections with a defense that condemns Him to a puddle of shame?

Do we have that kind of power? Can we really be God’s self-appointed pollsters? Can we really tell Him how to be God? Can we really pretend that we have the authority to bring Him under our scrutiny and insist what He must be to please us?

Brothers and sisters, we cannot keep this up! We must leave it all behind. Proper relationship with God demands it. We don’t need words to tell God what He ought to be, we must obtain words to weep for the way we are; to ask Him and plead with Him to make us what we ought to be.

That is the way we must live out the relationship with God that Christ procured for us through death and shame. We don’t tell God what is wrong with Him, He tells us what is wrong with us. He tells us how we are right with Him now because the covenant between us is not dependent on us–it is sealed with Christ’s blood. He tells us that we are kept in relationship with Him because of His blood. He teaches us to honor our relationship with Him by bringing all honor to His blood. It is the only thing of significance we own in this life. May we not abuse it or forget why we have it.

 

Don’t judge me to be something that you already got the prize for!

Have you ever been called jealous or greedy or snobby by someone you thought had a doctorate degree in that same sin? Have you ever felt misrepresented, mistreated, misunderstood? Have you ever felt like you couldn’t let the offense go because the other person hadn’t changed his or her mind about you?

Have you ever felt caught in a web of deceit; maligned by the inappropriate judgments of another? Have you ever felt like your life and well-being actually hinged on how others thought of you?

I have. I do. I will. It’s a regular theme with me. I really have little idea how to live my life any other way. I think I can actually win at this game. After all, I’m a winner, it’s just other people who are deluded. And even that will prove to be only a temporary problem when they finally get acquainted with the real me.

Yeah, I know, what a hope! How little, you must wonder, would I have to think about if I didn’t have this to occupy my mind? I realize it’s an addiction, but I’m not ready to give it up so long as I am dependent on it serving the purpose it does in my heart.

I must want more than self-clarification; I must want more than pride maintenance and self-edification. I need a make-over of the heart. But I can’t be the one to do it. If I do it, I will draw attention away from my sin and accentuate my spiritual “look” with a slathering of cheap hues of righteousness.

I need a deeper job than that. I need righteousness to bloom on the inside of me so that it can work it’s way out. I need the hand of my make-up Artist to have His way with me. I need to consent to more than a few touch-ups; I need complete reconstruction. I need God’s evaluation to be the only authority on my look. I need to keep my mouth shut and disregard what others have to say–except it has a hint for me of God’s evaluation.

Whatever request He makes of me I must gladly attend. What other reason could He have for making such requests but that He wants to make His work complete? If His honor is wrapped up in what He’s doing in me, can’t I trust that He will do a good job with me?

I’m definitely not the one in the wrong here!

Something bothers me…I don’t like getting called out for doing things wrong. I’m just really not comfortable with it. I think I should never do things wrong. I should never get punished and I should never need mercy. What I should need is congratulations for doing such a good job at life!

I know you’re thinking that sounds like I have a very serious case of self-inflation. You would be right. The only way I know how to deal with that is to confess my sin when the Holy Spirit brings it to mind and make no attempt to try to cover it up or deny its existence.

I’m not getting anywhere by doing that. Confrontation is my only hope. And confrontation is not a miserable, penalty-inflicting thing because Christ already confronted the ultimate misery of my sin. He took away the penalty and bestowed on me His victory over it. But I can only live as though this is real when I live my life in the manner Christ has set out for me. I do not pretend sin is not a reality for me because this would be a denial of what Christ has done for me. If sin is not a reality for me than it should not have been a reality for Christ and His sacrifice must mean nothing.

But I choose, instead, to face my sin in all its ugliness because recognizing it does not change my position with Christ. My own righteousness need no longer be upheld–indeed, it can not be upheld–since Christ’s righteous alone makes me acceptable before God. I abandon all hopes of building my self-esteem on the merits of self; I build it on He who created me and chose to show His esteem for His child at Calvary.