What If?

A couple of Sunday evenings ago our Bible class began a new study on 1 Peter. As we were discussing the general circumstances and purpose of this letter, we naturally started talking about the terrible persecution of Peter’s day under the Roman emperor Nero. We compared those times with the much much milder persecution we face today; and that led us to wonder how we might fare under the kind of pressure (including martyrdom) that early Christians faced, and what it would do to the church.

Of course, how we each might fare in the fire (sometimes literal) of serious persecution would be an individual answer in each case. However, one thing for sure, it would certainly cause us to “count the cost” and get “black and white”, “hot or cold”, “all in or all out” about faith in a hurry. Gone would be the deceptive “gray areas” in which so many modern Christians live. Priorities in life would be sharpened in stark relief; spiritual things would come first or not at all. Worship of the Savior, because it could cost you your life, would not be taken lightly. Fellowship would be stronger and more dear. Scriptures would be highly valued, devotedly read or not owned at all, because owning a copy could be a capital crime. The confession of Christ would be courageously made, or not made at all — no maybes about it. Which way do you think you’d fall?

Most of the “fringe” folks in the church, who now tend to be sporadic in attendance, would disappear overnight from any assembly (Matthew 13:20, 21). Some might even betray the church’s meeting places and the identity of members. The average Christian would have to make some life-changing decisions about confession or denial, commitment or abandonment, loyalty or betrayal. Some would leave, some would try to compromise, and others would try to be “secret disciples”; but others would gather courage, “step across the line”, and become much stronger spiritually. Even those in the core of the church (its leadership and most involved members) would be tempted to shrink back (for example, Peter); concerns about their family’s safety would test them (1 Cor. 7:26-35) as they quickly became prime targets for persecution. Most of the church’s core would stand strong, but even some of these might leave. The folks who would be left would be the “real deal”. Which would you be, if serious persecution broke out?

What would be left of such a “whittled down” form of the church? It would be the “true believers”, the committed, the determined, the courageous, and the pious (in the good sense of the word). The fire of persecution, you see, burns away the dross and refines the gold (1 Cor. 3:11-15). Persecution boils away that which waters down the potency of the church, leaving only the virile, distilled essence of real Christian faith. Can you imagine such a church? What would the songs and prayers of their worship be like? How likely would they be to boldly step out on faith, no matter the earthly penalty, no matter the impossibility, no matter the size of the giant? How earnest and convicted would they be about the truth of the Bible? How close and genuine would their fellowship be? How much would they be emphasizing the hope of eternal life? How loving, active, evangelistic, courageous, and focused on the Lord would they be? And paradoxically, how great would their joy be, even as they suffered for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41; James 1:2; Matthew 5:12). No wonder the church grew so quickly in the early centuries — even under persecution! The certainty of their faith combined with the persecution they endured produced world changers!! 

But you know, we needn’t wait for persecution to have a world changing church. We can personally stop straddling the fence now, get serious about our faith now, move from lukewarm to hot now — and urgently encourage others to do the same. Starting now, we can all swear-off ever getting seduced again by “good enough”, when it comes to the Lord’s business; we can set our eyes on the things above and never look back. Consider what it will do for the Lord’s church! Even more, consider what it will do for your eternity!

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Family Communication Rules Avoid Nagging

Over the last several days we’ve been taking a look at some of the most common pitfalls of the way families communicate. This time we’ll be considering a problem that is among the most often complained about, nagging.

Nagging is a constant and disrespectful complaining, criticizing, or fault-finding. It’s aim is to force or manipulate the other person by verbal harassment to do what you want. It is different from a humble, persistent appeal for something truly important or necessary; the attitude of humility or disrespect being one of the key differences.

The unfortunate fact is that nagging often works. Like the drip, drip, dripping of water on a stone, resistance is just worn down, so that the nagger gets what they want. It is manipulation and a variety of extortion: “Give me what I want or I will continue to harass you with my words.” However, “doing whatever works” (in this case, nagging) is not Christian behavior; rather, it is typical worldly conduct.

Because nagging is about words (the strong suit of most women), it is a tool often used by women; Proverbs 27:15 tells us “A constant dripping on a day of steady rain And a contentious woman are alike.” Nagging works, as we noted above, but only temporarily—and with consequences. We’re warned in Proverbs 14:1 “The wise woman builds her house, But the foolish tears it down with her own hands.” The disrespect that accompanies nagging toward husbands and children tears relationships down “brick by brick”.

Nagging, however, isn’t the sole domain of women; men are guilty of it, too. It’s one thing to be respectfully consistent and even persistent about standards and expectations, as husbands and as fathers. But when it gets accompanied by eye-rolling, name-calling, and nasty attitudes it shifts from appropriate husbanding and fathering to angry, destructive nagging. The wise man reminds us in Proverbs 10:19, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.”

And kids, you aren’t immune from this warning either. The attitudes and habits of nagging that show up later in marriage and family are usually developed as children and teens—toward siblings, parents, teachers, and even friends. Do your present self and future family a big favor, nip it in the bud now. Refuse to sink to level of disrespectful complaining, criticizing, and fault-finding. Refuse to harass others in order to manipulate them to do what you want. Take Paul’s advice here, especially the second part of the command, (1 Timothy 4:12) “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”

Whether used by men, women, children, or parents; nagging isn’t good. It is worldly, it is not pleasant, it does not yield any permanent results, almost always produces resentment, and promotes avoidance rather than unity (nobody wants to hang around a nag). So, watch out how you communicate your complaints, petitions, critiques, and persistence; let your words and attitude reflect respect and love toward others. It is what Jesus did and what disciples of Jesus must cultivate in their own communications—just as Paul taught (Ephesians 4:29), “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

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Family Communications, Part 6; Upon Confession & Repentance, Forgive!

In the last installment of this series of blog postings, we took a look at how important it is to confess and ask forgiveness, when you’re wrong. By the way, just in case it hasn’t occurred to you, you will occasionally be wrong — yeah, really. However, confessing and asking forgiveness is only half of the solution to family communication failures; the other half is the actual forgiveness.

Far too many families and relationships are plagued by the diseases of unforgiveness, grudge carrying, and revenge tradition. We get our feelings hurt or we don’t get what we want, and we decide that we are right and justified in “getting even”. It’s a powerful temptation, but if we intend to make our families and other relationships functional (as opposed to dysfunctional) we need to grow up and learn better habits.

First we need to leave justice where it belongs, in the hands of governmental authorities (for matters of crime—see Romans 13:1-4) or in the hands of God (see Romans 12:17-21). Revenge is not ours—ever, and even grudges are forbidden (Lev. 19:18). Never let the words, “But he did it to me first,” cross either your mind or your lips again. Do you believe in God? Then believe that He will take care of all wrongs at the right time, and do a much better job of it than we ever could.

Second, when confession, apology, and forgiveness is asked for, then forgive. Give it ungrudgingly for three reasons. Your own forgiveness depends on it (Matt. 6:12); don’t endanger your own salvation. It is the example God Himself has given us (Eph. 4:32); you wouldn’t want God to give forgiveness to you grudgingly, would you? And reluctant, half-hearted forgiveness sends a relationship-destroying message to the person seeking forgiveness; it says, “I’m not really sure I want to.”

Third, learn that forgiveness is actually possible; some people don’t think it is. Their error comes from a misunderstanding; they think that forgiveness means forgetting the offense, “forgive and forget”. Forgiveness, however, is not about forgetting the offense, but rather about treating the other person as if it had never happened. When God forgives; He treats us as if we had never sinned, had never been the Hell-bound sinners we were (if you are now a Christian), and had never become enemies. We, instead, are made heirs of Heaven. Read and think about Luke 15:11-32. And the wonderful by-product of this deliberate decision to treat the person as if it never happened is that before long our feelings really do change and we actually do start to forget. Wonderful family heal can come, all by acting better than we feel.

Fourth, don’t bring the offense up again in an unforgiving way. Don’t use past offenses as a way to win an argument or beat someone

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Family Communications, Part 5; When You’re Wrong, Admit It and Ask Forgiveness

Have you ever known someone who “couldn’t be wrong”? My bet is that you’ll say “YES!” And maybe an eye-roll or a head tilted toward the person you have in mind will accompany your answer.

This is a problem that most men have. Men are often afraid, that if they apologize or admit that they’re wrong, they’ll lose the respect of others. Real leaders, respected people—so goes the flawed theory—never make mistakes.

However, women have this problem, too. How many men—and even women—have you heard joking about how the most important words for a new husband to learn is “Yes, dear” and “You’re right, I’m sorry”?

And teens famously have this problem—knowing better than mom or dad or teachers or anyone trying to offer advice. Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “When I was a boy of seventeen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-five, I was astonished at how much he had learned in eight years.”

In other words, pretty much everyone has had this problem to one degree or the other. And since we’ve all suffered from this problem, we can all answer the question authoritatively: “How much did it really contribute to good communication?” Zero, nada, nothing, right? In fact, whether it is an idea that was off-base, or hurtful words that were spoken, or offensive deeds that were done; the unwillingness to admit fault is a big communication killer. The impasse or offense becomes the constant elephant in the room. Just like Isaiah described how sin separates men and God—“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” Isaiah 59:2—so also sin separates people.

The offender often just hopes, out of embarrassment or pride, that the others will simply forget about it and everyone will just pretend it never happened. As someone who does a lot of counseling, believe me when I tell you that’s it’s just not the way that things work.

As a minister, let me simply quote James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Confessing your sins (wrongs) to the person you wronged, admitting it, and sincerely asking for forgiveness is the Christian thing to do. This gives relationships, communications, and reconciliation the very best chance to thrive and flourish. And, yes, there can be a hiccup in communication principle, when the offended person refuses to forgive— we’ll talk about that next week.

In the meantime, admitting it, when we’re wrong, is not only a command from God to be obeyed, not ignored; it is the fast track to really talking, to true understanding, to personal (and spiritual) growth, and the healing of resentment, distrust, and divisions. Is there a wall between you and someone else? Remember the offense, admit your part of the problem, apologize, and tear down the wall.

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Family Commuication, Part 4; Avoid Using a Loud or Angry Tone

We’ve been thinking about healthy communication skills in this blog space for the last several days. We’ve talked about the importance of listening and letting the other person finish talking, the clear wisdom of thinking before you speak, and “speaking the truth in love.” But good, effective, and Christian communication has even more facets to it. For today, let’s talk about avoiding loud, angry voices.

It has been said that somewhere between 60% and 90% of communication is non-verbal (depending on who you are and the circumstances you’re in). That is to say that the words that we use are only part, the minority part, of how people understand us. This non-verbal communication includes things like body language, facial expressions, gestures, and tone. Often we use the “right” words, but with the wrong tone; and then we wonder how the discussion turned into an argument and then into a shouting match. The problem was that what we were saying was “colored” (darkly) by the way were saying it.

God knew this a long time ago as He inspired the wise man, Solomon, to write, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger,” (Proverbs 15:1), and “By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, And a soft tongue breaks the bone.” Proverbs 25:15.

Psychological studies have been done on what happens to communication, when the volume gets turned up. The short version is that the louder you are the less likely you are to be heard; the softer you speak (even a whisper) the more likely you are to be heard.

We’ve all been there before, right? As person 1’s voice gets louder, person 2 feels compelled to get at least as loud or louder—which compels person 1 to get louder still, and so forth until an irrational, out of control screaming match results. It doesn’t matter that you are using words, communicating what you really wanted to say isn’t happening. And I’m sure that I really don’t need to remind you that such verbal escalation to can lead to violence.

On the other hand, when a loud voice is answered with a softer voice, the loud voice tends to feel compelled to dial back his/her volume, too (nobody wants to be the only hot-head). And if a still softer voice is used in response, the overall volume and emotional intensity goes down, until finally actual words are being heard, rationality is restored, and real communication gets accomplished. “A gentle answer turns away wrath….”

Taking God’s advice on this isn’t easy. If (when) we are provoked to anger, it will take deliberate thought and a lot of self-control to not get loud. Emotions naturally provoke loudness, and loudness naturally provokes more emotion—not rational thought, listening, and “getting” what the other person is saying. So, applying this principle—especially when provoked—will take some effort. But it’s worth the effort for fewer “knock-down, drag-outs”, for fewer serious apologies that need to be made, and for real understanding.

So, get it out of your mind that louder wins, that louder is stronger or righter, or that louder guarantees that the other person will hear what you have to say. That’s all Satanic lies and the fast lane to “Dysfunction Junction”. Employ a softer voice, perhaps even a whisper at times, and prepare to be amazed at how much of what you wanted to communicate is actually received by others.

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Family Commuication, Part 3; Speaking the Truth in Love

We’ve been thinking about healthy communication skills in this bulletin space for the last couple of weeks. We’ve talked about the importance of listening and letting the other person finish talking, and the clear wisdom of thinking before you speak. These, all by themselves, could lead to significant decline in misunderstandings and hurt feelings, whether in our personal families or in the church; but there are still more communication principles that will help. Another is “Speaking the truth in love.”

As a part of a lengthy list of things that Christians should learn to do, the apostle Paul taught, “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,” Ephesians 4:15. There are two parts to doing this right, when we are communicating with family.

First, speak the truth, don’t exaggerate. It is incredibly tempting to exaggerate or use hyperbole, when we are upset: “You always…”, “I never…”, “Stop yelling at me!”, “You’re just like your (insert disliked relative here)”, etc. Exaggeration and hyperbole usually offends the other person because of what they believe to be a lie, and often only serves to escalate the emotions and sidetrack us from the real issue at hand. Not exaggerating takes deliberate thought (think before you speak) to speak the real (not exaggerated) truth. This will take effort to remember and practice, but you don’t want others to exaggerate things about you, right? So, don’t exaggerate. As the old police TV show used to say, “Just the facts, ma’m.”

Second, the truth needs to be spoken in love. Speaking the truth can be painful, and many times the truth is actually used as a weapon. Have you ever heard someone say something to someone else that was actually cruel, and then heard them say, “Well, I’m just telling the truth!” This is so common that our first assumption about someone telling us the truth is often that they are just trying to hurt us (there’s an application here to effective evangelism, too, but I digress). Truth should never be “weaponized”, used to slam or maliciously hurt others. Truth should be used to help; and when it is spoken in love, in the best interest of the other person, it does. Even hard things can be said, if the one hearing them knows that you don’t say them to hurt.

This, of course, puts a burden on the one speaking truth, that the hearer knows that no harm is  meant. How? Just a suggestion: “I need to tell you something, but first, do you know that I love you?” Put it in your own words, of course; but such a simple and sincere statement before telling the truth (not an exaggeration) could be extremely powerful. Taking the time and making the effort to make sure the other person knows that truth is being spoken in love is well worth both the time and the effort.

Imagine how much shorter disagreements within a family could be, if everyone were practicing the whole principle of “speaking the truth in love”. There’d be fewer assumptions made, more relational intimacy, tighter family bonds, more openness, fewer grudges nursed (because “I just can’t talk to him/her about X”), more contentious issues really resolved, and fewer old problems revisited.

Bless yourself, your personal family, and your church family with “speaking the truth in love” in all your communications.

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Family Communications, Think Before You Speak

Good communication is the foundation of human relationships. When we fall short in communicating with each other misunderstandings happen, emotions (usually the negative ones) are stirred, and ties get strained or broken. In yesterday’s blog posting I urged the principle of listening and letting the other person finish talking. This week let’s think about the next step, thinking before speaking.

One of the most common issues in family counseling is “a communication problem”. What people most often mean is that the other person isn’t talking; and true-enough, that is often a problem. But I have also seen a lot of times in which the communication problem wasn’t that the other person wasn’t talking, but that one party was 1) talking way too much and 2) saying all the wrong things.

You see, not all communication is good communication. Some people think that good communication is all about saying everything that has ever run through their mind—letting it all hang out, so to speak. Not so. In fact, the word of God strongly disagrees:

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Proverbs 29:20

“When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” Proverbs 10:19

“So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” James 3:5, 6

Communication is good; but it is only good, when it has been preceded by some thought. A modern proverb puts it, “Engage brain before putting mouth in gear.” Especially in family settings, where we are our most unguarded and vulnerable, it is important to say things to one another that will actually help, not merely the things that we “want to get off our chest”. This applies whether you are a husband, wife, mom, dad, boy, girl, or teen.

We sometimes think that the unwholesome words that Paul calls sin in Ephesians 4:29 is only about swearing or vulgar language, but it applies just as well to family communications. “Wholesome” refers to what is good for health; and we’d do ourselves and our families a favor by asking ourselves (thinking) whether our family communications are health-giving or just venting.

Proverbs 14:1 tells us, “The wise woman builds her house, But the foolish tears it down with her own hands.” While this proverb is addressed to women (who do have greater verbal powers than men), the principle applies across the board to every family member. Thinking before speaking not only helps us avoid tearing down; but it also builds real family closeness.

This sort of communication takes at least four Christian virtues: 1) self-control (not saying everything you’re thinking), 2) love (acting in the best interest of the person and the family), 3) compassion (sensitivity toward the other person’s weaknesses), and 4) courage (to speak the truth in love).

At home, do you think before speaking!

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