Category Archives: Do good

When Loving Seems Risky…

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image-of-broken-heart-e1438801033741“Risk is right,” or so says John Piper.  And David Platt.  And my pastor, and a bunch of other people I respect and admire.  I’ve heard risk loosely defined as, “an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury.”

 

Well, sometimes that word “possibility” is a little misleading…

 

We take risks all the time (unless we live in a hole somewhere).  We consider the “pros” and “cons” of a situation – and what that often really means is:  If I do this what could I gain compared to what it will cost me?  We are willing to take risks because there is a chance – often a good chance – that it will pay off and bring us great rewards.  We take a new job, we move to a different house, we go to grad school, we get married, we start businesses all because the possibility of reward is worth any loss that we might have to face.  We risk, because we’ve measured and concluded that there is a reward to be had – here, now.  A tangible, definable, measurable reward.

 

But there is one area of our lives that doesn’t – or really shouldn’t – work that way.

 

Love.

 

Let me try to explain first by way of example.

 

When you have a child, an odd (but wonderful) thing happens – to many of us for the first time.  We love another being more than we could have ever imagined being capable of loving without that creature being able to return that love – or anything – at all.

 

Mothers and fathers the world over know this from their experience.  If you’re not a parent you will just have to imagine, and trust that what I’m telling you is the truth.

 

That tiny lump of flesh and bones is precious in your sight despite the blood, the mess, the strange color, and the frantic, self-absorbed screaming coming out of it.  You don’t care about any of that.  You love that little baby with more than all your heart – your capacity to love swells immeasurably and no matter what, you find yourself full to the brim and overflowing with love for that wee creature.

 

They make you crazy.  They suck your energy dry.  They bleed your bank account faster than leeches draw blood.  They are relentlessly demanding, and selfish, and hungry, and needy…

 

Yet, you love them – simply because they are ours.

 

Now we may derive some joy out of caring for them, and we may build relationships that teach them to love us, too – but that is not why we love them.

 

And we know that if something were to happen to them – or if something already has – that would forever prevent them from being able to love us in return, we would still love them with all of our hearts – because our love for them was never based on what they could or couldn’t do for us.  It’s a one-way street from beginning to end, whether or not they ever love us in return.

 

Trust me, I’m thrilled beyond measure that every single one of my kids loves me.  My heart would be broken and full of a terrible sorrow if they didn’t…

 

But I would still love my children if they didn’t love me – and so would you.

 

We feel as if there isn’t a great risk in this kind of one-way love.  Pretty much everyone (unless there are unnatural problems involved) loves their kids.  We know that the normal course of events is that when we love someone, they love us back.  

 

But what do you do when it isn’t that way?  We’re not called to only love our children, are we?  What do you do when the risk of loving is terribly high because you know it will be painful and sorrowful and hard no matter what you do when you try to love a neighbor, relative – or even a spouse who doesn’t love you?  We want a good return on this love-investment.  We want riches and plenty – compound interest on our principle deposits of care and concern.  We’ll settle for equal contributions to these transactions but we’re all hoping for dividends instead.  Who keeps investing in something that never gives any kind of increase or accumulation in return?  It’s just foolish to keep throwing good love, after bad, isn’t it?

 

Actually…. No.  It isn’t.

 

Loving the unlovely – the selfish, the stubborn, the mean, the angry….  This is exactly what we are called to do.   It is exactly what Jesus did.  Loving those who insulted, ridiculed, slandered, maligned, persecuted, and even abused him  – this is what he did.  With compassion he looked at the ones who were crucifying Him and said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”! 

 

I know, I know – there are caveats and disclaimers that always need to go in right about here. I don’t have time to go into the differences between lovingly standing against sin and sinfully letting it go (that’s another post someday).  But let’s not use the exceptions – the extreme cases of horrifying evil and abusive sin – as excuses to keep the rest of us from doing the hard work of loving the unlovely.

 

We all have people in our lives who are truly difficult to love – I do, too.  We have neighbors, relatives, and family members who are so caught up in their own lives that they seem incapable of empathy, much less selfless love.  All hopes of mutually loving relationships have probably vanished long, long ago.  But here’s the thing:  We have to learn to choose to love them anyway.  We have to learn to choose to love them even though there will be little – if anything – given in return.  We have to learn to be willing to risk being hurt – again – by them, because we love them because of who Jesus is and what He has done – not them.

 

“Why?” you ask?….  For the sake of the Gospel.  Romans 5:8 and 1 John 4:10 both tell us the same thing… God demonstrated and proved His love for us in that while we were still sinners – selfish, mean, hard-hearted beasts – Christ died for us.  Did you catch that?  He laid down his life for us – you and me – when we were still nasty, biting, ill-tempered sinners.  He didn’t love us because we loved him back.  He loved us in spite of the fact that we didn’t.  As every good father does, he loves us simply because we are His.

 

What a beautiful portrayal of Christ-like love our journeys can be when others can marvel at the love we give when it looks like this, and know that it comes from a supernatural Source!

 What a loud, unmistakable testimony our lives become when we say from our hearts, “Lord – I can’t do this without you!  I cannot love this person – I don’t even want to – but I love YOU and I know that is what you want me to do.  Help me to be willing to risk the hurt, the pain – all the messiness of this risky, one-way love.   Help me, please to love the way that you have loved me,” and he does all that you ask.

The world notices, and when they do we can point them to Jesus when they ask – “HOW do you do it??” 

But even if they never do – even if they never notice or ask or admire or appreciate this risky, selfless, one-way love you give, God does.  And that is worth far more than we will ever lose in these costly love transactions.  Our returns will be a hundred-fold – and that is a promise from God Himself.  So you see, this kind of “risky” love isn’t really risky after all.  It’s a sure-fire investment given by the One who manages the Books.

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May the Lord bless you and keep you

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If you have gone to church for any services during your life (weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc.) there is a good chance you have heard words like these before:

 

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.

May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

 

It’s a blessing.  It is given from one person to another.  But it is also a prayer prayed by someone for the benefit of another.

 

It’s taken from the book of Numbers in the Bible, which reads like this:

 

The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (ESV)

 

You can see that the wording is similar – but not exactly the same.  And that is what I want to explore in this post… praying scripture personally for one another for their good and for God’s glory.

“I’ll pray for you,” is something we might say often enough – or think we should say – but my experience is that, in general, we are very weak in this area.  And brothers and sisters –  we need to be better at it.  That’s just the simple truth.

 

I first read about blessing others in a little booklet called A Father’s Guide to Blessing His Children, by David Michael (you can find it here).  In it the author not only tells why father’s should seek to bless their children, but how.  I highly, HIGHLY recommend the book – and the practice.  (I know others have written on this as well, but this little resource was powerful, easy to read and understand, as well as inexpensive.)

 

Michael shows how we can take scripture that is full of instruction and warning and encouragement and all manner of teaching – and pray it for our kids.  His emphasis is on blessing them personally, in Christ’s name and for His name’s sake.

 

It’s not hard at all to motivate people to want to ask God to bless their children (who doesn’t want the blessings of God to be showered upon their offspring?).  But I have found that using this same concept of taking passages and praying to God on someone else’s behalf is a powerful tool in the believer’s hands.

 

Saying things like, “Lord, I want to lift up my friend Tim as he goes for his new job interview, I know he really needs a better job,” is OK, and the Holy Spirit knows your heart so if that’s all you’ve got, by all means pray it!  But it’s weak, and it’s not OK to just stay there.

 

How about praying like this instead, “Lord, please bless my friend Tim as he goes for his new job interview.  You know that his heart is anxious – calm him and grant him peace.  Help him Lord to remember that whatever circumstances he finds himself in to be content – for he can do all things through You who gives him strength.  Lord, fill him as only the God of hope can.  Fill him with all joy and peace as he trusts in You, so that he may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Help him to remember Lord, to cast all of his cares upon You, for You care for him.  Help him to remember that you have promised to supply all his needs according to all Your riches and glory in Christ Jesus, and that we serve You, Lord, our God who is able to do infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine.  Grant Tim peace today in You.”

 

If you were praying these words with Tim which one do you think would fill him with courage and confidence in the Lord?  Which one would remind him who has his future and his good in His hands?  And probably most importantly, which of these two prayers would bless Tim – and also, at the very same time – honor God the most?

 

These aren’t my words – I’m no better at praying than you or anyone else – these words are all from scripture: Philippians 4:11-13, 19; Romans 15:13; 1 Peter 5:7; and Ephesians 3:20.

 

I learned a long time ago that the Bible expresses my deepest needs and longings far better than I can.  If it’s true for me as I’m trying to figure my own life out, it’s got to be true for all the people I care about, too!  

 

If we believe that God himself breathed his very words into Scripture, and that they are life-giving truth sufficient to save, I’m guessing it’s a pretty good source to get our prayer-language from, eh?

 

Here are a few more so you can start to get the hang of this:

 

A prayer of blessing from Psalm 23 could be like this:

 

“Lord, show ______________ that you are her Shepherd.  Help her to see that because of that, she will never be in want.  Show her Lord, that in the greenest of pastures she can be content and lie down in rest.  Show her that you will provide still waters for her thirsty soul.  Lead her Lord, in the paths of righteousness, for Your name’s sake.  Remind her Lord, that even when she walks through the darkness and in the shadow of death, she has nothing to fear, for You are with her.  Teach her Lord the goodness and comfort of your rod and staff.  Give her abundance in the face of her enemies.  Anoint her and cause the cup of your goodness to overflow in her hands.  Help her to know that Your goodness and mercy will follow her all the days of her life.  And remind her, Lord, that in the end, she will live with you, in your house, under your protection and provision forever and ever. Amen.”

 

Do you think that if your daughter or friend or sister heard you praying for her like this it would speak to her inner-most being?

 

A prayer from Matthew 5:3-11 could go like this:

 

“Lord, grant __________________ the kind of poverty of spirit that leads him to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Comfort him as he grapples with are mourns over his own sin, and also over the injustices he sees around him.  Help him to be meek – seeking your will and not his own.  Cause his soul to hunger and thirst for righteousness as he hungers and thirst for food and water today.  Satisfy him with only Yourself.  Give him wisdom and power to be merciful, and do as You’ve promised Lord and show him mercy.  Help him to see the state of his own heart as You see it Lord, and purify it so that he can see you clearly.  Remind him of his calling to bring peace – your peace – to those around him and give him courage to speak boldly to those he interacts with today.  Cause his speech to be so clear that everyone around him identifies him quickly as your son.  And Lord, if he is persecuted because of it, remind him that nothing can take away his citizenship which is with You in heaven.  If others speak ill of him, or lie about him, or scorn him because he is Your faithful servant speaking the truth in love, remind him of the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before him, who were faithful in the face of persecution and death because loving You and being faithful to You was worth far more than even their own lives.  Grant him strength to follow hard after You today and every day Lord, for his good and for Your glory.  Amen.”

 

Do you think your husband or your son or brother would go into their day differently being prayed for like this?

 

I think I would.

 

Listen – I need this, too.  I pray this way often by myself, but I don’t do it often enough in the hearing of others.  What a precious gift I withhold from those I love and care about when I don’t.

 

Will you join me today in looking for ways to bless others AND honor God in this way today?
Share your stories with me.  Help us, Lord, to encourage one another and spur one another on to love and good deeds…. That’s my prayer for YOU.

On Love and Lather…

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On Love and Lather…

Learning new skills is a blast for me.   I’m not “young” anymore – when learning things all the time is expected, but learning new things gives me great joy, even if it might be challenging, frustrating, expensive, and just down right hard.  In fact, learning it in spite of those things, is probably the most fun part.

But as I try to talk with people about my passion for taking on new challenges two things often happen.  

The first is I see that look.  You know the one – they’re trying to be supportive, but they’re bored.  They can’t relate and they don’t really want to.

The other thing that happens is that I encounter people who start to listen to my new idea, and then tell me all the reasons why I shouldn’t even try.  Ironically, these are usually people close to me.  Maybe the others are thinking it, but they’re not engaged enough to try to save me from my own folly.

But it’s not folly.  Lots of things don’t turn out the way I want them to, or thought they would.  But it’s very rare that I truly regret trying something.

I’ve been engaging in two bigger pursuits lately.  The first started about two and a half years ago when we knew we were going to go to France for a few weeks to work with some missionaries.  We decided it would be helpful to us, and polite to our hosts, if we tried to learn some basic French phrases.  I did some investigating and because of the beautifully connected network of home educators around the world was able to find a lovely woman in France who was willing to teach my family French via Skype calls three times per week for a few months.  It sounded perfect!

But guess what?  People tried to talk me out of it!  They said it would be too hard.  They said we weren’t going to be there long enough to make it worthwhile.  They said we wouldn’t be able to practice with anyone.  And craziest of all, they said that we shouldn’t attempt to do this without a teacher – and by “teacher” they meant a college professor.

Thankfully, I ignored them and said, “Why not take lessons from a native French speaking home schooling mom?”

And guess what – we learned French.  My kids learned basic phrases and at least enough to show that we were trying hard to engage in the French culture.  And guess what else.  Even though I’m a grandmother, and everyone EVERYWHERE says you can’t learn a new language after age 40, I did learn it – and I found out that I LOVED learning it!  So after our trip was over and we were all back in the States, I continued learning French, and I continue to love it.

(My efforts paid off big-time, too, when I went to a French-speaking country in Africa last year and had to get through airport security during the Ebola outbreak with only French.  That was no easy task!)

The thing is – no one thought it was really worth doing.  No one thought I was serious, and NO ONE really thought I would be able to do it.

But I did.  

Because I just never listened to them.  It’s not that I didn’t hear them – I just didn’t pay any attention to them.

My sister-in-law asked me a long time ago how my siblings and I got such “I can do that” spirits.  I didn’t really have an answer for her then, because, to be frank, I never knew that our attitudes about facing challenges were anything other than ordinary.  But that question has stuck with me over the years and I think I’ve come to a conclusion.

Why do we look at life and think, “I can do that”?  

Because no one was ever around to tell us we couldn’t.  

Now, I’m not advocating leaving your children alone for extended periods of time the way we were – we got into a lot of trouble that having an adult in the general vicinity might have spared us from.  But my mom was working and we were often – usually – on our own.  We didn’t really run in a pack – we each did our own things.  And no one was around to tell us we couldn’t.

If we wanted to cook something we did.  We burned things (and ourselves) but we learned how.  And then we enjoyed the fruits of our labor — because no one told us we couldn’t.

If we wanted to build something we found a way to do it (and knew the neighbors who would give us scraps of wood and bits of this or that that could be used).  I remember figuring out that I could take drawers out of discarded furniture and make miniature rooms out of them.  I stacked them on top of each other and made whole houses.  I used old clothing for curtain material and learned how to use an electric jig saw (God only knows why the neighbor trusted me with that on my own – I was 9!) to make decorative “roofing.”  I braided rugs out of blue jean hems that my aunt cut off of her jeans that were too long.  I’m sure these creations were ghastly looking in reality, but to me they were castles that any queen would have been honored to live in.  I built them — because no one told me I couldn’t.

When I wanted to learn how to sew I found someone who would show me the basics and then I sewed my little fingers off using any and every scrap of fabric I could hustle out of anyone — because no one told me I couldn’t.

I was a terrible reader – actually, I still am.  I have to say the words I read in my head or I can’t understand what I’m reading, so I am s.l.o.w.  But I love to read.  (I think I like knowing what is in the books better than the actual reading of them, but you get the picture.)  I want to know, and slowness means I can’t read as fast as someone else, but I figured out along the way that I could still end up reading a lot of books in 15 minute increments — because no one told me I couldn’t.

Now being without any parental supervision wasn’t the best for us for a whole host of other reasons, but one good thing that came out of it was that (when my grandmother wasn’t around at least) there was also no one being critical of us.  We had the freedom to dream and experiment and fail and try again.  We made colossal messes (yeah – we got in big trouble) but that never seemed to deter us from trying the next great idea that came into our minds.  If something sounded like a great idea the only question that ever came up was, “Why not?”

So when I became a mother I decided early on that I was going to ask myself “why not?” when my kids wanted to do something rather than just say “no.”  

Sometimes there are good reasons not to do something – but mostly there aren’t.

Fear of failure, of what others will think, of doing something unnecessary or “foolish,” or even of making colossal messes – none of these are good reasons to say, “no.”

And I’m going to shock some of you by telling you that even “safety” isn’t always a good reason to say, “no.”  Scrapes and bruises are part of the learning process.  Falling down and failing are part of the learning process.  Dealing with disappointing results, frustrations, defeats, and even losses are all part of the learning process.  OK – I’m not talking about the life-and-death things you really do need to say “no” to – I’m talking about the things like climbing trees and swinging on rope swings out over the pond and sitting on the porch roof and shooting BB guns kind of stuff.  Why would we want to keep that from our children?  Why not walk through those things with our children instead?

Giving my kids the freedom to dream and try and fail and fly was good and right.  It taught them to keep working at things even when it was hard.  It taught them that hard work and tenacity pays off in expected and unexpected ways.  It taught them to be courageous enough to take the right kinds of risks, and that failing at something is not the same as being a failure.  

But most of all, I believe it taught them that I love them not their performance.  They knew that I would be there to rejoice in their successes, but that I would also be there to pick up the pieces when things fell apart – and that tomorrow I would encourage them to try again.  Isn’t that how God loves us?

You see I believe with all of my heart that God gave us an imagination so that we could dream big thoughts and then do big things.  We were not created for the ordinary only – we were created for the extra-ordinary, too.  Our created world is full of wonder and brilliance that a stifled, critical, “safe” childhood will never allow to be revealed..  I have made lots of mistakes over the years to be sure, but I do not regret having a “why not?” attitude while discipling my children into young men and women.

I wouldn’t change that for the world.

And now that my kids are almost all out of the house and grown, it doesn’t need to end – I can still live life in a “why not?” kind of way.

My latest adventure?  Starting my own soap-making business!  Lovely Bee Soaps (in French lovely bee is La Jolie Abeille — because I know you were wondering and it’s WAY cool that I know!) began as a way to bless my neighbors last Christmas.  Making hundreds of little bars of lovely, luxury, oh-so-beautifully-smelling soaps was not a business idea at all, but an affordable way to give something hand-made to our whole neighborhood.

But after we gave them out to neighbors and family and friends, people began asking me to sell them some.  Truthfully, at first I was inclined to say, “Oh no – I just did that as a little hobby sort of thing… just to be nice.”  But after years of training my mind I caught myself and said, “Why not?” instead.

Going from hobby to business is much harder than I thought it would be.  The work that needs to go into learning things that I never dreamed I would need to know is crushing sometimes.  Trying recipes and fragrances is great fun, but labeling things so that the FDA doesn’t come and shut me down, or so that my customers know what they’re getting and want to come back – are all new things!  The website needs work – a LOT… (www.lovelybeesoaps.com – if you look and it’s not up yet you’ll know I’m still learning that, too!), and marketing is a new game… and accounting and pricing…. It’s all brand new to me.  But why not?

If this works it will be a way to earn income without me leaving our home.  If this works I have the opportunity to enrich people’s lives through the small luxury (or la petite jolie) of really, really nice soaps.  If this works I’ve created at least one job (mine) and maybe more!  If this works it could be GREAT!  And if it doesn’t, oh well.  I tried and failed.  I’ll still get up as long as I have breath and pour myself into whatever it is the Lord has in front of me to do.  It won’t be the end of the world.

Love your kids enough to let them dream and try and succeed and fail.  They will love you for it.
And if you know anyone who is looking for shaving soap, no lie, I found the BEST recipe ever — everyone who uses it raves about it and comes back for more!  (Seriously – I tested the foam on this stuff and it was still stiff and luxurious after 20 minutes!)  Send me a note and I’ll hook you up!

And the next time inspiration hits you (or one of your kids!) stifle the urge to protest and give the gift instead of asking, “hey – why not?”

You can’t make God any happier with you than He already is…

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So stop trying.

I know – that goes against all the things you think you’ve been taught.

Be good.

Be nice.

Be generous.

Be compassionate.

Be better.

And the implied message at the end of all those directives is, “so you make (or keep) God happy with you.”

The trouble is – it’s all wrong.  It’s a big fat lie that we actually seem to like telling ourselves and one another.

One of the most helpful pieces of advice I’ve ever received was this:  “You can’t make God any happier with you than He already is…”

If you are a believer – a follower of Jesus who knows for certain that you’ve been forgiven – lifted out of a filthy ocean of disgusting sin that you not only dug for yourself but filled bucket by bucket and were hopelessly flailing about in with no hope of getting yourself out of much less cleaned up from – then God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be.

If you are a disciple of the Son of God – a sinner who has repented and hates not only the sinful storehouse you built but also the fact that you are prone to building it again – then God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be.

If you are aching to know God better and love Him more because he put the desire into your heart of stone-turned-to-flesh – then God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be.

Did you catch that?  God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be!

The real question each of us must face when considering our mortality is not, “Am I at peace with God?”  Rather, it is this:  “Is God at peace with me?”

And if you’ve seen your hopeless condition and run to Jesus for rescue, because you know that his life and his death and his resurrection have satisfied all the demands God has made on us that we couldn’t satisfy – and that it has been offered to you freely – then God is at peace with you.  He is happy with you and cannot be made happier.

His delight has been made free to you – though it was enormously costly to Him – and He is happy to offer it to you.

And the glorious irony is that God is happy with us precisely because of the offer.  For when he sees you and me – sinners rescued from the miry pits of our own making, saved from destruction and an endless eternity of heartache and despair – he sees his beloved Jesus.  Period.

The exchange was so utterly complete that when Jesus became sin for us, he filled us up with himself – and that is all God sees.  Perfect, complete, clean, pure.

God is already as happy with you as He can be, because when he sees you, if you belong to him, he sees his Son in you perfectly reflected and shining in beautiful glory.

You can’t make God any happier with you than He already is, because when He sees you, He sees His Son.

But there was more to the advice.

“You cannot make God any happier with you than He already is.  And indeed, you must not try.”

I can hear you now (because, truthfully, I’ve said the same things).

What?!?  What about following the 10 Commandments?  What about all the Old Testament Commandments – or the New Testament ones??  What about all the places in the Bible that tell us to do this or not do that?  What about all the RULES?!?

Being good is good, and it can reflect that you’ve had your heart changed – but it will not make God any happier with you than He already is.

Being kind is good, and it can be an indication of Who you belong to – but it will not make God any happier with you than He already is.

Giving generously, being compassionate, showing mercy – all good, and definitely character traits of someone who loves well, but… you got it.  They will not make God any happier with you than He already is.

In fact, if that is your motive, you are believing a false Gospel.  You are, in effect, saying, “Thanks Jesus for the death on the cross and all, but I’ve got it from here.  Really.  I’m good.”

For some ridiculous reason we would rather bear the terrible burden of trying to satisfy God ourselves than trust in the freedom that Christ has provided.  How does that make sense?  And yet, I talk with more people than not who claim to know and follow Jesus who are running around trying to make God happy! 

STOP!

Think about it.  If you’re still having to work hard to earn God’s favor – what exactly did you get freed from?  If you really believe that Jesus saved you, why aren’t you living like you’re saved from the crushing burden of trying to do all that God requires?

I’m asking you the same questions I had to ask myself once.  I realized I wasn’t living like I really believed what I said I believed.  I was running around working hard to make God happy.  But you know what – I knew in my heart nothing I did could ever be good enough.  There was always something I could have – should have – done better.  There was always work left undone.  I got lazy or sloppy in my pursuit of perfection and that really messes with this whole happy God thing!  Unbelievably, I had even convinced myself that I could keep starting over with a clean slate – but that’s not true!

If Jesus’ work wasn’t enough, what hope did I have of making God happy?  If Jesus’ death and resurrection was just a starting point, what could I possibly conjure up that was better than what He had already done?

And that, my friends, is precisely the point.  I can’t.  You can’t.  No one can.  We really were hopelessly lost in our own foolish, stupid, selfish, lazy, mean-spirited, ugly, swiftly-filling, ocean-sized pit of sin.  But the rescue has already been completed, and it is spectacularly sufficient and good.  Trying to add anything to it to somehow gain God’s approval would be like doing your laundry in that cess-pool you created and offering it back to God with the hopes that He will somehow like it better than the radiant robes of righteousness that Jesus has already provided.  Just stop.

You cannot make God any happier with you than He already is.  And indeed, you must not try.  For when He sees you He sees His beloved Son, and His work is beautifully sufficient and good.  Jesus has freed you – now go and live in the joy of knowing you are free indeed!

Stop Teaching Your Children to Be Nice…

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You’ve heard it, I’m sure, a thousand times – “be nice!”

Most of us have contributed to the chorus of mothers and fathers bending low, looking their little ones in the eye, and in the face of some conflict with siblings or peers instructing them to, “be nice!”

STOP IT!

Webster’s defines “nice” as:

          Pleasing; agreeable; delightful.

         To behave in a friendly, ingratiating, or conciliatory manner.

Those are all “nice” ways of behaving – of interacting with our fellow human beings.

But are they good?

If we consider the messages that these words convey we will start to notice a nasty trend…  At the root of each of them is people pleasing.  What we usually mean when we tell our kids to “be nice” is to give in, yield, capitulate, surrender.

If they are simply defending their own selfishness, then yes, by all means, encourage them to yield to righteousness.  But there are better ways to instruct them in that then simply saying, “be nice.”  Calling out their selfishness is a great place to start.

But all too often, what we want when we tell our children to “be nice” is for them to stop whatever behavior is taking place so that they (and we) avoid conflict.  Have you ever interrupted your child telling auntie that she needs Jesus because you know that auntie is a dyed-in-the-wool God-hater who has already raged in furious indignation over your “arrogance” in telling her how to live her life?  What if God is pleased to use the voice of a little child to disarm her fury and penetrate her heart of stone?

What we do when we tell our kids to “be nice” is interrupt a different lesson that ought to occur.  Even if auntie decides to rage at your little one – isn’t that a good (albeit hard) lesson to walk through with your child?

We know that God often teaches us the most profound lessons through the hardest things.  Why do we want to take those things away from our children?

Following are five reasons I can think of – I’m sure there are more.

We teach our children to “be nice” so that…

  1. Conflicts will either stop or not arise at all rather than teach them how to resolve conflict in a God-honoring way (which is harder, takes more time, and more prayers for wisdom than we ever dreamed we’d need!).
  2. They will be well-liked among their peers.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being well-regarded amongst one’s peers, but if we give the message to our children that this is our goal rather than the pleasant outcome of living with integrity, we have simply begun laying the foundation of building up little Pharisees rather than Disciples of Jesus.  We are teaching them to care more about what others think about them than what God thinks about them.
  3. They will be well-liked among our  Our children see to the heart of this pride with laser-like accuracy.  We might not say it out loud, but we say it loud and clear nonetheless:  “it matters more to mom (or dad) what my friends think of me than the person you are turning out to be.”  (ouch!)
  4. They will climb the social ladders set before them.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being successful in relationships – that’s actually a good gift from the Lord.  But when we teach them that climbing social ladders is important we distort and pervert the true nature of God-honoring relationships. Rather than being willing to invest in the life of the other person because they have value and worth as image-bearers of the Almighty, we actually train them in manipulation techniques; I’ll be nice to you if you give me social standing – I’ll give you social standing if you “stroke” me by being “nice.”  Incidentally, these are the “friendships” that crumble in the face of hardship, but understanding what they are based on makes it clear why they collapse when “nice-ness” is gone.
  5. Because we want them perceived as those who get along, don’t rock the boat, keep things smooth and so on.  We want to save our children from the heartache of trials and tribulations.  We want things to be easy and comfortable for our kids… because that is what we really want for ourselves. (ouch again!)

Our culture has elevated “nice” to a place of pre-eminance.  We demand that “being nice” rule our public discourse.  We demand that “being nice” rule our educational institutions.  We operate in a way that places “being nice” as the highest form of virtue and have ceased to tolerate anything that disrupts the peace and harmony of “nice-ness.”

But is this what the Bible teaches us to value?

In a singular and resounding word – No!

Here is what the Bible says about our expectations of “getting along”:

  • If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18-20)

Living as believers guarantees that we will not be well-received.  Let that sink in.

Don’t get me wrong – we’re not to go looking for conflicts, strife, and persecution.  They’ll come along just fine on their own – trust me.  And when our troubles are caused by our own foolishness or wickedness, we need to own the consequences, repent, and learn the lessons we can from them.

But in the course of living lives defined by the transformation of the Gospel within us – lives marked by Spirit-given gifts – we will not always be perceived as being “nice.”  And as parents, it’s our job to prepare our children for the blows that will come as a result of being a disciple of Jesus.

Standing against sin will always bring with it trials of various kinds.

Rather than teaching our children to “be nice” how about if we use words like these as each situation demands:

Be…

    • Loving.
    • Kind
    • Strong.
    • Of good courage
    • Forgiving.
    • Merciful.
    • Truthful.
    • Patient.
    • Gentle.
    • A man/woman of integrity.
    • Compassionate.
    • Humble.
    • Generous.
    • Wise.
    • Someone who stands up for the widows and orphans among you.
    • Holy.

Each of these things will require you to take the time to explain them to your children according to their understanding.  You will need to show them, for example, why avoiding a difficult conflict is not actually good for the other person – even when confrontation opens us up to false accusations and gossip.  You can help them see how God is providing an opportunity to enter into the sufferings of Christ by allowing them to experience insults, and malicious claims against them the way Jesus did before he was crucified.  You can help your child learn to bear the weight of other’s sin in this way because Jesus did it for him – and you will be, at the same time, helping your child to love his Savior all the more as the realization of the cost of the Cross becomes clearer to him through his own suffering.

We are not called to be people-pleasing, ease-and-comfort seeking survivors of this world.  We are called to be God-glorifying, disciple-seeking, victorious citizens of the next.  Let’s help one another teach our children how to do the same.

Further thoughts on Luke 10:2… the laborers

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“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Luke 10:2

The Laborers

I have spent most of my life being surrounded by laborers.  Farm laborers, factory laborers, ship yard laborers, and landscape laborers just to name a few.  I have visited other countries where this is also true – on any given morning on any given street the hustle and bustle everywhere was of laborers who did everything from laundry to construction, and some simply walked along the roads each day and picked up trash.  I have seen trains in big cities packed to the seeming breaking point of laborers shuffling from home to job and back again.  Every day, no matter what else in life is swirling about, people working for others do just that – they get up, go out, and they work hard – for someone else.

People who are motivated know how to work.  The term “laborers” carries with it the understanding of hard, physical exertion.  Jesus was not talking about tourists, or onlookers.  He wasn’t referring to passers-by, or those whose station in life has made it so that they have others do their work for them.

No, Jesus was talking about the grit and grime of exhausting, sweat-producing, ongoing work.  

So who are these laborers?  Who is Jesus referring to?

In one sense surely Jesus was talking about the disciples who would start his church.  The world was ripe for a huge harvest and after his work was done, the harvest began.  But in another very real sense there is another group of workers who must sit up and listen as we heed Jesus’ words.  For in the same way that he was speaking to his disciples (and also to us) when he said, “go, therefore, into all the world and make disciples…” he was speaking to the same future disciples when he spoke the words of Luke 10:2.

We are those workers!  We are the ones who are to live giving our lives and energy and devotion to the sweet and rewarding task he has called us to.  Isn’t it wonderful to know that you have been hand-picked by the maker of the universe to be in his service?

But let me ask you something that might make you wince a little….

When was the last time you broke a sweat for the Gospel?  When was the last time you fell into bed exhausted from your efforts to woo people to the warmth and peace of the Love of Christ?  When was the last time you labored to see another soul brought to Christ?  When was the last time you were working so hard at this that you thought you couldn’t go on?

(I’m asking myself these questions, too.)

I wrote once about the joy I found in cleaning a particularly filthy bathroom because I realized I was doing it for the Lord.  That has remained a powerful lesson in my life.  It doesn’t matter what God asks me to do, I’m happiest doing that, knowing Who it is that I am really serving, than I am doing anything else!  There is great joy – giddy, delightful, soul-rejuvenating joy – when we know that our work is for the Lord of the Harvest!

Work is hard, but work is good.  Sometimes I have to remind my kids that work was not part of the curse when sin entered the world.  God gave Adam work to do before Eve came along!  Work is our mission.  Work is sweet and rewarding.  We were made for work!

Toil is what came about as part of the curse.  Toil is that relentless, exhausting, fruitless struggle that brings about no product for all our effort and barely keeps us from losing ground.  Toil is part of our existence right now, but work is, too.

Being a laborer in Christ’s harvest is magnificent work.  If you’re finding that you are lacking joy in your mission, let me lovingly suggest that you might be toiling for the wrong harvest, because Jesus promises that his burden is easy and his yoke is light.

Praying Luke 10:2

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At the beginning of 2015 I answered a request to pray Luke 10:2 every day, at 10:02 – that the Lord of the Harvest would send more workers to the harvest with, “sure, I can do that.”

“And he (Jesus) said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”  Luke 10:2

At first, the challenge seemed doable – set my alarm and pray for workers each day… no big deal.

Boy was I wrong.

Let me be perfectly honest here:

First of all, having an alarm go off every day, like…er… clockwork, can be irritating.  I mean really irritating.  It must be connected with my pride somehow, and not wanting anyone to tell me what to do – even when I am the one telling me what to do.  Which is so ridiculous I hate to even admit it, but it’s true.  I guess that is why new habits – even ones we know to be good for us – are hard to establish.  But irritating hardly seems like a strong enough word.

Secondly, praying “God, please send more workers to the harvest,” day after day gets old… fast.  And that was after only about the 2nd or 3rd day!

But we’re told to pray.  And we’re told to pray about this specifically.

So, hoping to build a good discipline into my life and actually desiring (though my sinful, selfish, lazy self would war against this) to pray with diligence and fervor about the things that are important to God, I pressed on.  I started with, “Lord, show me how to pray for more workers.  I’m dull and weary right now – I got nothin’!”

Wow.  I mean, WOW!!!

I was amazed at all the ways God showed me I could begin to pray.  Once I got past “Lord send more workers,” the floodgates began to open and ideas and insights are new and fresh all the time.  Here are just a few of the ways he has taught me to pray more specifically to the Lord of the Harvest:

– Lord, help us to train workers.

– Lord, help us to encourage them.

– Lord, help us to support them.

– Help us to care for, and know them well.

– Lord, help us to identify who your workers are!

– Lord, show us the fields.  Keep our minds keen and our eyes sharp to see them.

– Lord, keep our hearts soft toward the opportunities to go to different fields.

– Give us courage to go to fields that seem wild and untamed.

– Give us grace to send workers to even the most plowed and subdued, knowing that in every generation, there is a harvest.

– Lord, help us to overcome the dullness that keeps us from working, seeing, reaping.

– Lord, help us to be the workers you send!

– Help us to obey when you call us to go.

– Lord, keep us from ever hindering other workers.

– Lord, show us how to work in your fields.

– Lord, teach us what we need to know to be your workers.

– Lord, make us into workers who produce good workers.

– Help us to do the hard work of weeding out things that would choke your harvest.

– Lord, help us to be fruitful in our efforts.  Help us to be faithful in them.

– Lord, help us to work hard and not be lazy, as we see the day approaching.

– Lord, teach us to number our days, so that we may get hearts of wisdom.

– Give us the wisdom we need to know how to pray, go, and work.

I have only begun to scratch the surface of how we can pray Luke 10:2, but I have already been amazed by the depths of what God has revealed to me through the simple act of choosing to pray one verse every day… and it’s only April.

Will you join me in this obedient, yet beautiful task?

Share with us what you learn, and how you learn to pray.  We will all be better able to pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest!