Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pulling Punches

I have a forever friend that keeps me real. She tells me exactly what she thinks and she doesn't keep it soft and safe. That is a very good thing. I need that. In fact, I think we all need that at times. It isn't always easy to hear, and sometimes it hurts - a lot! But I know that what she says is meant with the very best intentions and even if she's angry when she says it, I can count on it being the truth as she sees it. She knows that I too will confront her with the truth as I see it when I know it is what she needs to hear. That is a good friend, a great friend as a matter of a fact.

Jesus was that kind of friend. He had so many men around him at any given moment that He could very easily have tired of being a good friend. He never seemed to get a moments peace and yet, He was never cross or impatient when these fellows asked Him some of the most inane questions. He didn't shy away from the hard answer for fear of being disliked. He didn't speak in parables so as to not offend the ignorant, He never lied, and He didn't hesitate with the truth. He is the best example of being a great friend I can think of.

Jesus didn't pull any punches. He didn't hesitate when the man attempting to find a loophole in the "love thy neighbor" command asked for a definition of the word neighbor (Luke 10:29). Jesus readily tackled that subversive behavior by telling the man that even those lowly Samaritans were his neighbors. To a Jew that was the most insulting and humiliating answer he could have received. As a result the man was quieted and one of the best examples of neighbor was born and used the world over.

Jesus didn't pull punches when he advised the rich man on the greatest commandments. The wealthy man assured the Savior that he was doing all that, was there anything else he needed to do to get to heaven (Matthew 19:16-23)? Jesus cut to the heart of the mans entire existence when he then advised him to give away all his material wealth and follow Him. Notice the fact that the man walked away saddened. That was more than he was willing to do and Christ knew it. It didn't keep Jesus from telling him the truth, however. It very likely saddened our Savior, but He didn't dumb down or soften the requirement. He tells it like it is.

Even around the fire on one of His last nights with his closest friends, Christ drove right to the heart of the matter without hesitation. Three times he asks Peter, "Do you love me?" and three times he tells Peter to look after the church He would be leaving behind (John 21:15-22). At the end of this unusual discussion, Peter is a bit hurt and probably had a stinging wound in his pride. When Jesus drops the bomb on Peter that his days would end in a not so pleasant manner it seems to be the breaking point for the first true church leader. Peter looks around in consternation and his gaze lights on John. "What about him?" you can almost hear the petulant whine. It's as if he's looking for solace in knowing someone else will suffer too. Christ is unswerving in his answer, "If I choose to let him live forever, that's none of your business. You do what I have told you to!".

Peter was no doubt a great friend and companion to Jesus, yet there isn't any room for a light hand when it comes to the important issues they were facing. The same should be true with us. When people in our lives matter, we shouldn't take a light approach in our dealings with them, even if it means it might hurt feelings or be steeped in uncomfortable silence. The truth, when applied with kindness and necessity, is always the right answer.

Don't get me wrong. Rudeness is never an acceptable approach and isn't excusable disguised in truth. When in doubt about how to say what desperately needs said, PRAY! The Holy Spirit has never let me down with lending me his vocabulary when I can't seem to find the right words. And if I'm not finding words, maybe what I am trying to say needn't be said at all. The proverb that tells us a wise man holds his tongue is very good advise indeed (Proverbs 21:23). You may not know the right answer, but you don't have to seal the deal on how much you don't know by proving it with saying the wrong thing.

Is there something you've been needing to say to a friend that has you hesitating? Pray now that God will guide your steps and give you the courage and the words to get HIS point across

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hold on Loosely

I had seen it many times before, but this time my jaw dropped open and I had one of those moments...

The woman was kneeling down with a small piece of candy held in her open hand. She was talking at eye level to a toddler strapped into a stroller and she had a determined but pleasant look on her face. "It is time to give me back my keys," was the gist of the conversation being had (if one can have an actual conversation with a toddler). The toddler had an equally determined look on his face, but there was interest beginning to spark in his little eyes.

He looked at the shiny and intriguing set of keys held tightly in his chubby fist and then he let his gaze shift to the candy held in the open hand of his caregiver. It soon became apparent that the woman held a much better item in her hand as far as his tiny person was concerned. You can't eat the sweetness of a set of keys, and as he was years from driving, the attraction was waning fast. He tried only once to grab the candy with his other hand, which was met with a quickly retracted palm and a comment that he could only have the candy when he relinquished the keys. She offered the candy again with an open hand. It didn't take long after that for his dimpled hands to offer the set of jingle-jangle keys to the woman and to happily receive the candy as promised.

With that, the woman said something so simple and yet it was what had dropped my jaw. "Good trade! I am so very proud of you!"

Isn't that just exactly how God works with us? Determined yet incredibly patient and pleasantly waiting on us to make the right decisions and the right choices and even to receive better blessings from His very own hand. God is like that. He wants to give us the best gifts, the gifts most suited to our situation and our temperament, despite the stubbornness with which we cling to the things in our grasp.

God expects us to hold our things in this life with a very loose rein. He wants us to be good stewards, that is certain. But God also wants us ready to exchange what we have for something better he has in store for us. Nothing good comes of us holding onto our lives or our things with a white-knuckled death grip. When we focus on the thing in our tightly gripped grasp we put a stranglehold on it. It cannot grow there in our fist. It cannot become more when it is squeezed down between our fingers. We suffocate our dreams and God's plans when we hold too tightly. We lose our focus on the bigger plan of following God and walking with Him.

Open your palm right now. Imagine that you have something wonderful in your hand and close your palm into a fist. Now imagine if God were standing before you to give you the gift of your heart, your most wonderful-beyond-ability-to-imagine gift, but you need your hand to take it. If your fist remains closed around what you are clinging to He cannot give you the gift of your heart. Open your palm and imagine relinquishing what you are holding to receive what God has for you. Now look at your hand again. How much more can you put into an open palm than into a tightly closed fist?

That is the picture I had of God that day as I watched the woman and the child. God asking for my open palm to put into and take away from as He chooses. Each a gift of unimaginable value, happiness and yes, even sorrow. In all things, God is amazing at knowing exactly what I need at just the most perfect time. He is God after all and He loves me more than I can fathom.

So often we open our hands and we wait for those things God is going to put into them, be them physical, material, emotional or spiritual blessings. So often He empties our hands and gives us something we weren't ever expecting. But there are those times when it appears to us that our hands are empty. We feel alone, dejected, unloved and forgotten. Look again at your open hand. It isn't empty. Those empty hand moments are the moments God chooses to slip His own hand into ours, holding onto us and giving us Himself as a gift to hold.

Hold hands with the Lord today and thank Him for the very blessing of life pulsing through you

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Better Left Unsaid


Once they are out there you can never unsay, untype or unwrite them. Good, bad or indifferent, once those words fly from your mouth, your fingers or your pen they are out there in the universe, never to be retrieved. My mother told me once when I was angry over my journal being read, "If you don't want people to read it, don't write it down!" Those words still caution me to this day. Post it on Facebook and the ramifications rapidly become crystal clear - It is incredibly difficult to get a thoughtless comment back under wraps, even if your intentions were never to hurt with your words.

Being a writer, words carry huge meaning for me. I think about words and their many implications daily. I am also mortified when my words hurt others... Well, most of the time I'm mortified. Sometimes I'm just mean. When I realize, however, how much impact my words have on others and how lasting that impact is, I tend to think a bit longer before I allow my words to fly unwittingly from my mouth.

Emotional response is usually my worst enemy when it comes to words. Being a writer, I can and do express myself in ways that can paint a vivid and sometimes pointed picture of what I am feeling at any given moment. I am rarely at a loss for words. When I lose my words it is a very big deal and a sign that God is working on my response.

What kinds of biblical responses do we have for our words? Such a wealth of advice, if only we would take a minute to let it sink all the way in...
"A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire." James 3:5

Proverbs warns us, "Watch your words and hold your tongue; you’ll save yourself a lot of grief." Ain't that the truth?!?! How many times could I have avoided a conflict that resulted in enormous hurt if only I had held my tongue for just a minute more.

Again in James: "A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell." (All quotes taken from The Message.)

So often we spout off at the mouth because we want to say something, and not necessarily because we should say something. My grandmother called it "Talking to hear yourself talk." When I feel that immediate need to open my trap and retort, especially if I am angry or hurt, I have to stop and take stock.

There is an old adage on speaking one's mind accredited to Socrates, among many others: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? There are many variations of this philosophy, but mostly it is self explanatory. I want to say something that has me hesitating... First, is it true? Can I know without a shadow of a doubt that what I am about to spout is the absolute truth? If not, shut it! Then, is it kind? This is trickier. Sometimes the things we need to say may not seem kind on the surface. When in doubt, pray about what you want to say. I have done this, even in the heat of the moment. When I responded, if I responded, the Holy Spirit filled my mouth and lent me words that I didn't even know I had! Kindness need not dumb down your message if it is one of admonishment, in fact kindness can cause a hard message to be heard all the louder. Lastly, is what I am about to say necessary? If I don't speak, will someone be hurt? Am I speaking something that will needlessly hurt the hearer? If I can't see the necessity of what I am about to blurt out, I need to think long and hard before I let the words fly. Remember, those words can light like a gossamer butterfly or rend a heart like a ravenous falcon. Is my response really necessary?

In a time that is marked by so many careless words, whether in a status line on Facebook, a rant in a public blog, a hastily blurted comment, we must take heed of our words and how we use them. So many times we are thoughtless about what and how we say things, never fully comprehending the impact they may have.

Just as a thoughtless, hurtful rant may destroy, so too our words have the ability to build up the hearer. We can love through our words, encourage through our words and praise through our words. Those are the "gift" words. Admonishment can be a gift well received if the words are chosen, prayed over and delivered in love. A word of praise can be carried in the heart of the hearer for years, encouraging them in times far beyond the original moment. The most cherished words of love comfort hearts the world over during loss, momentary separation and struggle.

Let your words be a gift to someone today!