Strife, the Ugly Opposite

Last week I wrote about peace. This week, the topic is one of its ugly opposites, strife. (Once again I’m drawing in part from a talk by Joyce Meyer.) While peace is powerful, strife is terrible. We all want to (or should want to!) keep it out of our lives.  Remember this line from last week’s blog?

Avoid “acceptable sins” like jealousy and unforgiveness. How are you doing with that?

Are you jealous? Watch out! Read this:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight” (James 4:1-2).

Are you ungrateful? I believe that’s often a close cousin to jealousy. I’ll be writing about gratitude soon!

Are you good at forgiveness? Satan wants us to believe we have every right to harbor unforgiveness, at least in certain circumstances. That’s a big fat lie. Are you mad at somebody? Have you broken off a relationship because you refuse to forgive? We tell ourselves we’re justified and in good company, that most Christians are mad at somebody. But we are never justified in our unforgiveness.

“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Colossians 3:13).

Can any of us truly say we have suffered a wrong greater than crucifixion? Dare we risk being refused forgiveness by our Father in heaven? Is there any excuse for blatantly ignoring God’s command to forgive? Maybe you want to forgive, but feel that you can’t. Love and forgiveness are not feelings, but decisions.

Decide to forgive. Pray for the person you need to forgive. Bless (and don’t curse) them. Be good to them. (Go on, make the devil mad.) Let God work, regardless of your feelings.

And when the bitter feelings come again, as they well might, start the process all over again.

Photo by Andre Tan on Unsplash

Part II: Forgive by Beth Smith

In Matthew 6:14-15(NIV), Jesus said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  The longer we harbor unforgiveness, the deeper the root gets, and the more it affects our attitudes and our relationships. Let’s examine our hearts for any unconfessed unforgiveness. Then, finally once and for all, confess it and give the person or situation over to God.

To forgive someone doesn’t mean that we approve of their actions, nor are we excusing what was done. We’re not saying, “Oh, that’s okay. Just forget it.” We’re simply making a choice to forgive the person and leave him in God’s hands. Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. This is very serious business and vital to our relationship with God. Don’t let the devil or your mind tell you, “You didn’t really forgive. You don’t feel any different.”

Just say, “Oh yes I did! My feelings are up to God. I choose to forgive.” When we forgive, we become able to plant those seeds of love and reap a harvest.

  • We can sow peace. We don’t have to be right all of the time. We don’t need to argue about everything.
  • We can sow encouragement. We can look for the good in people and tell them about it.
  • We can sow patience. No, “they” do not need to do “it” right this minute.
  • We can sow gentleness. The seeds of a soft answer, a tender word, a pat on the back, or a hug can help overcome an angry situation.

Many years ago, I attended a Bible study that centered on improving marriages. (Deep inside, I felt that my husband Bert should be attending. Certainly, he needed it more than I.) The main points of the three-session seminar were the Triple “A” system. We were to concentrate on: adapting to, admiring, and appreciating our husbands. (Well, phooey, now I knew Bert should be doing it. He always got his way. I was the one who needed to be admired and appreciated.) But I did the Triple “A” system. I planted those three seeds. And guess what! After sixty-five years of marriage, Bert does the Triple A system better than I do. I may have sown the seeds, but, oh, what a healthy harvest God has produced for me!

Sometimes we may wonder if we are capable of planting good seeds. The Bible says we can.

  • Grace abounds to us so that we can abound in good works” (2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV).
  • For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV).

What we do might seem as small as little seeds, but our acts of love, sometimes fueled by forgiveness, can produce a joyful harvest. What we sow, we will reap.

Grace

Last month, I spoke at a wedding. In preparation, I asked the bride and groom to each tell me why they loved the other. Their answers were marvelous, and I had fun sharing them with the whole congregation. I followed up by saying, “And when you find yourselves frustrated with one another, probably over something that doesn’t really matter, remember the words you’ve shared with one another today. They will help you show one another grace.”

Last week, I got mad at my husband. Once in a while he does something that hurts my feelings, always something that doesn’t really matter, and it silences my joy for far too long. I still need to get better at showing grace*.

Long ago, I wrote these words. “We need to get along. To cut each other slack. To put up with inconvenience. To encourage one another. Petty grievances, and the discord they can create, are as old as the hills. When moments of hurt or anger threaten to weaken your relationships and silence your joy, remember that we have a common enemy, Satan, who seeks to divide us, to entice us into choosing offense and harboring hurt. At the same time, we share our common Lord, who calls us to forgive, to overlook, and to show grace.

Ken Werlein of Faithbridge church said, “No matter what someone does to provoke us, we have done the same and more to provoke the wrath of God. Yet God forgives us and offers us his forgiveness, his love and kindness every single day. Thus, even when we find no earthly reason to offer grace to a fellow human being, we have a wealth of heavenly reasons to do so.”

James 1:19 instructs us to, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

This week, I’ll be asking the Lord to help me follow that command. Join me?

  • “Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult” (Proverbs 12:16).
  • “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).

* And, since I prepare these blogs in advance, I need to add here that today, as I review this, I no longer remember what Steve did or why I was upset. All the more reason to show grace right away!

Silence Is NOT Golden

An earlier blog of mine extols the wisdom of Thumper. In essence, that cartoon cottontail said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, keep quiet.” Taken to the extreme, though, that word of advice can do terrible damage. So here’s another thought: never stop talking.

I know of siblings who refuse to speak to one another, spouses who have gone days without a word, and friendships that have nearly slipped away as resentment dissolved into silence. I fell into that trap myself and nearly lost a now precious relationship. While we may be tempted to count our quiet resolve as a noble response to injustice, a refusal to speak says far more than any words. What it says can be, whether intentional or not, very cruel. “I hate you. I hope that my silence is causing you pain. I no longer value you. I want to pretend you do not exist.”

Silence gone longer becomes so much stronger. The initial wound that causes a rift may fade over the years, but by then the tear in the fabric of friendship or family ties may gape so wide that neither party knows how to mend it. Never stop talking.

Forgiveness is easier earlier. No, it’s not easy, just easier. And it’s demanded by our Lord. We do not have the right to resent. We have been forgiven, and we are commanded to forgive. When our children are small, we teach them the process of apology and forgiveness. “Susie, say ‘I’m sorry.’ Now, Sally, say, ‘I forgive you.’” But the two are not inextricably linked. We can apologize even if we fear that our apology will be met with a refusal to forgive. And we can—we must—forgive, even when an apology never comes. It doesn’t matter who “started it.”

1 Peter 2 speaks volumes on this issue. I’ve pasted a portion of it below, setting in bold type the phrases I find most convicting. Never stop talking is simply one of a thousand corollaries to this far more important directive: never stop forgiving.

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good…But now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy…

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us…

 Show proper respect to everyoneFor it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God…Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Granting Extra Grace

Have you ever goofed ? Forgotten to do a book report? Backed into a parked car? Given away a secret… Of course you have. Me too. Sometimes we have a reason for our missteps, perhaps lost sleep or a distracting tragedy. Sometimes, we just mess up.

We are now living in days of distraction. Days of concern and unnoticed self-absorption. I hope you will join me in this challenge:

Choose to be one of those who grants extra grace. If you are slighted, offended or inconvenienced in the weeks ahead, chalk it up to the offender’s lack of sleep or focus or to their unseen hardship. Absorb the discomfort inflicted by another with a great degree of patience and understanding, whether it is deserved or not.

“What would Jesus do?” is a time-worn question now, but it’s still a valid one. He would act with extra grace. He DID act with extra grace, in indescribable ways. And, while calling us to do the same, he enables us to do the same. So, we have a responsibility to follow in his footsteps. This is a part of loving one another as Christ loves us, a Bible lesson we’ve all been taught and can easily spout, but now have a chance to live out on a daily basis.

And that’s enough for today.

Tell me, though, if you have the time to comment, where is it the hardest for you to follow in His steps? And how are you managing?

 

He Lived Well and Loved Hard

We were back in Houston for the funeral of a long-time friend named Mike. The service was honoring, both to the Lord and to the one He had called home. One sentence, spoken by Mike’s grandson, remains with me:

He lived well and loved hard.

I had to ask myself, am I doing that? What does it look like? How would our Lord have us live well and love hard? An hour before the funeral, driving around our old neighborhood, we’d stopped for a taco at a simple Mexican restaurant where one wall was full of those popular wooden signs that say so much in so few words. One said this:

  • Love spoken here.
  • Joy chosen here.
  • Grace given here.

That, my friends, is in great part how we live well and love hard.

We speak love—to our Lord, to those around us, and to ourselves, sometimes with words, but more often with actions. The Bible is full of reasons to love, ways to love, and commands to love. It requires humility, selflessness, and a willingness to do whatever we feel God is calling us to do. When we ask him to help us love, he will provide creative answers and the wherewithal to follow through on his directions.

We choose joy—no matter what. Joy doesn’t always happen to us, or envelop us, or even well up within us. Most of the time we have to choose it, to wake up in the morning and say, “God made this day, and I will rejoice in it. I will make a conscious effort to see his presence in every moment.” This habit heightens the niceties of life and gives perspective to the uglier side of living on a fallen planet.

We give grace—both deserved and undeserved. Spilled milk? An angry look? A hurtful comment? A selfish choice? God said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” He didn’t say, “Love people when they behave.” And so, we give grace, even when the only reason we can think of to do so is in remembrance of the grace that God has given us.

As you go about your day today—and every day hereafter—I hope you will speak love, choose joy, and give grace. And then, maybe one day, someone will say that you lived well and loved hard!

photo: @peterbucks via Unsplash.com