Archive for the ‘behavior’ Category

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:13-18

When my four children were preschoolers, they bickered constantly, I could hear their voices quickly rising in the playroom and I knew the inevitable, “Mmmmmoooooommmmm!!!” would soon follow. With the authority of parenting comes the responsibility of administering justice and offering wise counsel. Why me? Why don’t they take their grievances to one of their little friends? We all instinctively call upon those we know to be wise and understanding to settle our differences especially children.

It takes wisdom and self-control to bridle my own anger and patiently bear the anger of others. Who is wise and understanding among you? Are you the woman others go to for council? With maturity in Christ comes great responsibility. Not only do your friends and family draw on your wisdom, but the community is watching how you live your life and drawing conclusions about your God from what they observe. Knowledge of Christ is born of wisdom from heaven which qualifies you to enter into the King’s service. Let your prayer today be that your life demonstrates that wisdom so that in humility you will serve Him well.

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Welcome to another edition of, “Does the Bible really say THAT?”

Has this ever happened to you? I’ll be sitting in Sunday School or in Church service and the teacher or pastor refers to a passage of scripture to support his or her teaching and I’ll cringe a little. Not out of conviction from the Holy Spirit, but because I know that the passage does not teach the principle stated and that everyone within hearing is missing the truth.

Now any teacher, myself included, is guilty of making this mistake. It is often an innocent mistake motivated by pure intentions, but it can lead others astray nonetheless. It is often caused by careless preparation and mishandling of the text. And the errant teaching is often a regurgitation of popular Christian sayings or traditions. It is the sin of prooftexting.

I’ll give you an example.

You have heard it said, “Don’t go to bed angry.” It is a popular Christian principle to resolve conflict before you go to bed. While this may be a great principle to live by, it is not a principle taught by this passage. This is a prooftext of Ephesians 4:26-27 (NAS)

“BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.”

What does the text say?

The NAS translation is very true to the original language except it adds “yet”.  The Greek says, “Be angry and do not sin.” Also the translators took liberty with the word translated “opportunity.” The word means “place” as in “foothold”, but the meaning of the phrase is a warning against giving the devil an opportunity to tempt a believer into unrighteous behavior. The phrase “do not let the sun go down on your anger” means “do not let your anger end.”  

What does the text mean?

The context of the passage is Paul’s call for the believers in Ephesus to live holy lives, remain righteous and to not grieve the Holy Spirit. Righteous anger toward sin is not permitted, it is commanded. “Be angry.” Because you and I are sealed with the Holy Spirit, we have a new relationship with sin. The sin we once loved, we now hate.  We are commanded to not relax that relationship, for if we do we will give the enemy a foothold. Paul contrasts righteous behavior with unrighteous behavior throughout this passage and the entirety of the letter. He warns us to no longer walk as we once did, depraved, callous and greedy. He calls this our former life. We have been taught in Christ to put on the likeness of God in holiness and truth. We are commanded to guard our hearts by remaining angry with sin and not let down our guard.

What is the application?

You have heard it said, “Don’t go to bed angry.” But I tell you, “Go to bed angry and do not sin.” Guarding our hearts and minds requires a diligent and tireless commitment to righteousness. Speaking truth is often not the most popular thing to do, but speaking the truth with gentleness and respect is always the right thing to do.

Jesus often taught the Israelites by quoting a popular Pharisaical teaching and correcting that teaching. It was necessary for him to do that because many of his hearers did not know the word of God and so they were ill-prepared to challenge the teaching of their leaders. Paul commended the Bereans because they did not just take his word when he gave them the gospel. They tested his words against the truth they were already given in the Hebrew Scriptures. Unfortunately, in a country where the Bible can be readily accessed with a touch of a button this is the most biblically illiterate generation since the founding of our country. We now gain our theology from popular Christian sound bites rather than engaging scripture for ourselves. When the church is content with being told what to believe without testing the spirits, we not only give Satan a foothold, we give him command of the house.

“Be perfect as I am perfect.”

Our Sunday school teacher said we need to be perfect as Jesus was perfect. But is that true? What does it mean to be perfect? Surely Jesus does not expect us to be as perfect as God? If so, then we have all been set up for failure. What did Jesus mean?

First of all, the teacher quoted scripture blending two passages:

Matthew 5:48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Leviticus 19:2  “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”

Secondly, the context of the passage in Matthew is a comparison of the righteous versus the unrighteous (Mt. 5:45), but it is not limited to behavior. He is correcting traditional pharisaical teachings throughout chapter 5. Verse 48 is the summarizing statement of Jesus’ discourse. To gain an accurate interpretation, we need to consider not only the context of Matthew, but also the context of the Leviticus passage. When a New Testament writer quotes from another source, he is not just invoking the semantic text, he is invoking the context of the passage as well. When we consider the context of Lev. 19 we see that the Lord is expressing His wholehearted covenantal devotion to His people. He loves us completely, never wavering, always steadfast. It is to this covenantal devotion that Jesus is calling his disciples to as they gathered around him listening to his teaching.

Finally, to love the Lord completely means that we must love our enemies, just as Christ loved those who spat on him, those who cursed him, and those who drove the nails into his hands. We must remember that we were once enemies of God, worthy of His wrath. It is easy to love those who love us back, but what of those who want to destroy us, those who hate us, and those who wish that we would just shut up and die? I don’t know about you, but the closer I draw to the Lord the more the world hates me. Members of my own family detest when I speak about God, what He is doing in my life, His Word, or pray for them accusing me of “advertising” my faith. What a compliment from someone who wishes I would just shut up!

Dorothy Day once wrote, “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.” Who do you love the least? Commit today to love completely as Christ with wholehearted devotion, perfectly. I am so in awe that God loves such an imperfect mess such as me. I am so grateful He is not willing to leave me this way. For as long as God allows me to breathe, I pray I have the courage to advertise my faith in this broken vessel.

It is no big secret that the kids of today are faced with a far more threatening society than a generation ago. Christian parents today are assigned the task of not only protecting their children, but also teaching them to navigate the challenges to their faith. Today in my women’s Bible study class, we questioned a panel of teens about their walk, challenges to their faith and how they cope. It was obvious early on that the small panel was populated by kids raised in Christian homes with both parents present and were protected within a Christian community. None of them seem to have tarried far from home spiritually.

The teens were transparent and honest as the mothers in the room questioned them about dating, cell phones and peer pressure. As I listened to their answers, I was encouraged by their tendency to return to the values and biblical training they had received in the home. I was struck by how confident they seemed that ultimately whether they stand or fall depends more on the health of their own personal relationship with Christ, and less on what their parents did or did not do. Although, they did recognize that their parents’ lifestyle shaped their own beliefs and the strength thereof.

What concerned me was something one of the teenage boys, Darrin, said (and the others agreed) in that what helped them to remain steadfast was that there was always a friend close by to say “no” with them if the occasion called for it. Given the “Christian bubble” (their words, not mine) in which they are being raised, there is no shortage of kids ready to do “the right thing.” If just one takes the first step, there is a healthy supply of teens wanting to be one of the “good kids” especially when it is cool to be Christian. Not so in the real world. How well will these kids survive in a culture that accuses them of being intolerant, uneducated, and hateful? Will they have the courage to be faithful when it will cost them community? How can we as parents prepare our kids to stand alone and to remain standing alone if it is required of them?

I think the answer lies in something else Darrin shared (and the others concurred.) Repeatedly as the kids answered the questions, they voiced how invaluable experience is to them in preparation for adulthood, whether it was practice driving a car or communicating with unbelievers at work. They recognized the value of testing their skills within the shelter of their parents’ guidance before their skills were tested by life. Sharron expressed quite honestly how ill-equipped she felt when confronted by a co-worker regarding her faith. Tamara shared how excited she was to be taking a class on apologetics next year at school to help prepare her to meet those challenges. Todd added that he felt blessed to have knowledgeable parents who could answer his questions. Darrin stressed how necessary it was for him to live his testimony, otherwise his words (arguments) were meaningless. I am sure their mothers sitting in the audience were proud of the young men and women of God that their children were becoming.

Everyone on the panel seemed solid in what they believed; however, it was obvious that the challenges to their belief systems were closely monitored and therefore minimal as compared to what they will face when they move away from home and enter college soon. At that time they will experience a full blown assault on their beliefs. Will they withstand the purposeful unraveling of their worldview having not experienced such assaults while in the home? Statistically only 2 of the five will remain faithful; the rest will embrace a relativistic view of truth and therefore reject the absolute claims of Christianity.

At the conclusion of the panel, I was encouraged to continue speaking the truth of scripture into my children’s lives while remaining steadfast myself as I demonstrate a lifestyle of faithfulness. But I also felt the urgency to allow my children opportunities to test their own walk. I think as parents we can err too far on the side of caution, fiercely protecting our children from evil and rob them of the opportunities to develop skills necessary to meet the very real challenges they are destined to face. Like Lot, we are raising our children in a cultural Sodom and we are challenged with raising morally and spiritually pure hearts and minds in a morally bankrupt society. A mature faith can withstand the temptations to compromise our beliefs. And maturity comes only through the testing of our faith. As the old adage says, “Practice makes perfect.”

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2–4

If God allows the testing of His children’s faith, perhaps there is wisdom in my getting out of Gods’ way and allowing my children the same. There seems to exist somewhere between protecting a child’s innocence and exposing him to the elements an elusive balance for which we must strive. Where that balance lies, depends on the child himself. How successfully we as parents prepare that child to navigate life ultimately lies not only in how well we know Christ and live a life without compromise, but also how well we know our child. Freedom without boundaries is bondage (consider the lawless societies of South Africa). As a child matures and begins to self-impose boundaries that honor God, we can begin to trust the investment we have made in them. We discover that fine balance and allow our teen to live freely as they persevere with Christ so that they will be complete and not lacking anything.

(Names have been changed because, frankly, I don’t remember them.)

 I have been alone with my thoughts more than I care to be. This reminds me of a scene in The Mirror Has Two Faces where Lauren Bacall (playing Barbara Streisand’s mother) after a sleepless night comments to her middle aged daughter, “It’s awful to leave a woman my age alone with her thoughts.” The inference to age aside, I am realizing that when left alone I seem to default to fault-finding introspection.

I have more time on my hands recently since I am between Seminary courses right now. I love my classes, although I no longer enjoy the camaraderie of my peers now that we moved half-way across the country from my school…again. Southern Evangelical Seminary is my third college to attend because we have moved so much due to my husband’s career. I have 110 hours toward a business degree and am about 11 courses short of completing my Biblical Studies degree. Studying as an external student is isolating, almost as much, I remember, as being a stay-at-home mother of four preschoolers.

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I LOVE learning! I have over 600 books on my computer (many are reference books), but I could read a book every day for 200 years and still never satisfy my insatiable appetite for knowledge. Makes me sound smart and perhaps in some circles I am, but the more I learn, the more pitifully inadequate I become.

I say all this to culminate with this confession; I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Sounds juvenile and pathetic, I know. And I am quite embarrassed at the acknowledgment of said fact; however, this undeniable observation is the elephant in the warehouse of my thoughts. I have been a stay-at-home mom for 15 years now, and, by God’s grace, I do not have to work. This I recognize as a beautiful blessing, as I am unhindered to fully invest in my family. But still, a small part of me wants to do more—to be more. And that small part is getting louder with every day that passes.

Is this the equivalent of my husband’s mid-life crises? I hope not, because we don’t have enough room for all of Jim’s accumulated toys in the garage for me to add to the stash. I do sense an emerging desire to DO something rather than HAVE something. Everywhere we have lived, God has placed successful Christian writers and speakers in my life and many have encouraged me to pursue the same occupation. I have considered this many times, but (and here is the darkest thought that keeps occupying my mind)… I am NOBODY. I fully believe that I have nothing of value that would be of any help to anyone.

But maybe that is not an ominous thought after all…

Maybe it is essential for a simple clay pot to realize it is a simple clay pot. Apart from Christ I am nobody and can do nothing of eternal value, and perhaps that is the most proficient knowledge of all. To be content as a clay pot is liberating, to be satisfied as a clay pot is condemning. So I shall feast my mind’s eye on this: Let every breath glorify my Savior even if my service never seems to reach beyond the four walls of our home.

I foolishly believed that enduring a plethora of humiliations at Walmart at the less than stellar behavior of my children, that I have emerged a humble woman. But, no, I could still be accused of secretly desiring glory for myself. While there may be some substance to that accusation, I really just want the approval of my Father. I just want to please Him and I think we all make the mistake of confusing the praises of the world as the praises of the Father.

God can be glorified whether I am scrubbing toilets, teaching a precept to my son at the dinner table, reigning on the Best Seller list, or speaking before an audience of thousands. Loving the Lord faithfully should consume my thoughts and my actions even when no one is watching. I may never enjoy the praises of the world, and I can be content with that. I would much prefer the praises of my Father.  My purpose is not to draw attention to myself, but to draw the attention of others to Christ. Perhaps one day something eternally exquisite will arise from the confines of this simple earthen vessel. When that day comes, to God be the glory!