Thursday, August 17, 2017


"Preparing for life's challenges demands the regular refocusing of our priorities, dreams, desires, goals, and plans so that they are being brought in line with God's agenda. It involves counteracting the subtle and not-so-subtle attempts by the enemy to get us to think and operate independently of God." 
Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, and founder and president of The Urban Alternative. He is also chaplain for the NBA's Dallas Mavericks

On that note, I launch a series on evil. 

I begin with this quote because evil, at its most basic level, is separation from God. 

The enemy can be worldly, satanic, or fleshly. 

I have no intention of solving the problem of evil. I am not of the mind that thinks evil can be eradicated from the planet. I believe it exists, always has existed and always will exist because man has free will to choose it. 

Jesus Himself says,

"In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." John 16:33b

Obviously I cannot exhaust every avenue down which evil travels, nor every house in which it lodges. 

My intent is to heed the words of Paul to the saints at Ephesus, who were faithful in Christ Jesus, to "be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil." Ephesians 5:15-16.

"Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil." Proverbs 3:7

"Let your eyes look directly ahead
And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.
Watch the path of your feet
And all your ways will be established.
Do not turn to the right nor to the left;
Turn your foot from evil." Proverbs 4:25-27

"But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them your Word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth." John 17:13-19

"But evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:13-17

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Talking Things Out vs. Gossip

We all encounter situations and people in the course of life that cause us to be perplexed, vexed, sad, frustrated, hurt, confused and wondering what, if anything, we can do.

To keep it all inside of us can be counter-productive and even detrimental to our health. When something is bothering us, it can affect everyone around us, and interfere with our creativity, work and daily life.

We can, and must, always sit with God and tell him everything. Yes, He already knows and has observed the situation. But we pour out our hearts, listen for His wisdom, and pray for everyone involved, including ourselves.

And then, if that doesn’t bring peace, or if seeking the Godly counsel of a trusted Christian is what He leads us to, we obey.

The Bible is very clear on not going it alone in times of trial. We seek God first, and then we seek another person if that is what is called for.

When I attended Moody Theological Seminary, a professor there provided the best distinction ever between what constitutes gossip and what constitutes seeking actual help and comfort from another person.

His guideline is this:

When we go to someone to discuss a problem or concern, we must ask ourselves if this person is part of the solution.

If the person is not part of the solution, then we have to look at our motivations as to why we would include them in the sharing of a delicate matter.

The beauty in this is that it keeps us from gossip and from going to fifteen different people just to vent and commiserate.

When we select a person—of Christian trust and integrity—who can actually provide help with a solution, and we sincerely intend to take steps to solve the problem (not just continue to vent and do nothing about it), and this person has committed to not repeating our conversation, then we have not gossiped. We have instead found true fellowship with someone who, like iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17), will join us in mutual discipleship going forward.

Finally, we return to God after seeking another’s counsel and “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

copyright Barb Harwood

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” Proverbs 12:15

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5

Saturday, August 12, 2017

When the Gossip is About Us

Charles Spurgeon writes,

“The best way to deal with slander is to pray about it: God will either remove it, or remove the sting from it. Our own attempts at clearing ourselves are usually failures; we are like the boy who wished to remove the blot from his copy, and by his bungling made it ten times worse.”

Things to keep in mind when people talk about us behind our back, either negatively--to disparage us--or in a manner that shares our personal news before we get a chance to share our news ourselves:

This act of gossip is more about them than about the people they are talking about.

Thomas Fuller says

“There is nothing that so much gratifies an ill tongue as when it finds an angry heart.”

Gossips and busybodies are, at heart, petty, jealous, antagonistic, competitive and frustrated individuals.

And yet, as Frederick Faber says,

“I find great numbers of moderately good people who think it fine to talk scandal. They regard it as a sort of evidence of their own goodness.”

Many, if not most people, who gossip or conversationally meddle in the lives of others, hold an unrealistically high regard for themselves. Ironically, they hold this regard out of deep insecurities and lack of confidence (which explains the condition of the heart mentioned above).

If we know someone to be a gossip (and because we have heard how they talk about others, we can guarantee that they also talk about us), and they are a friend, co-worker, relative, close neighbor or fellow church congregant, we have three choices as to how to go forward in relationship with them:

First, we can address their gossip, lovingly but firmly. We can do this directly,

“Jane, I feel uncomfortable when other people are brought up in the conversation like this. I really don’t want to go there.”

Or indirectly by changing the subject:

“Well, I certainly can’t comment on that, but I can say this weather has been great for my garden!”

If addressing the problem has no effect, and we loathe the idea of always having to deflect gossip when we are with this person, the next plan is to put distance between our self and the person.

Sin has consequences. Gossip is a sin. Gossip has consequences—especially if we have let the gossip know we do not want to listen to or participate in conversation that is outside of God’s will. 

We are Biblically justified in separating ourselves from gossip. This is called setting healthy boundaries: boundaries that breed goodwill in ourselves and with others because it doesn’t give the gossip an audience.

If we are in situations in which we are forced to be social, such as family holiday gatherings and work events, it may be difficult to entirely separate ourselves from certain people. But we can locate the folks at the gathering who are not talking ill of others and hang out with them, or, if none are to be found, we make our obligatory appearance and leave the party after a short stay.

Again, we can only control our own tongue. And that is what we do in all situations, regardless of how others talk.

Finally, we become wise in never saying anything of any personal importance to a person with loose lips.

With these kinds of people, it is best to hold our personal life very close to the vest and never say anything about our selves or our children that we would not want printed on the front page of the newspaper!

I have very few trusted comrades, one of whom is my husband, with whom I share my heart and day-to-day life. I do not throw what is sacred to me into the hands of those whose only desire is to use what I have said as fodder for their “concern”, tsk tsking, “dismay”, political correctness and negative estimation of how, in general, I choose to live my life.  

In the end, what people say about us is out of our control. We can attempt to nip their words in the bud, or remove ourselves from their presence, but until and unless a gossip’s heart changes, the gossip will continue.

It is best, and our joy, to walk with our heads held high in the affirmation and guidance of the Lord, and in the comfort and assurance of friendships with people on this earth who do respect us enough to not talk about us behind our backs, nor look for every possible way to find fault.

We can have compassion, albeit from a distance, for those who remain in their inner prison of feeling as though they must always make their thoughts and their words about other people. We must take them, and ourselves, to God in prayer, along with any hurtful, frustrating or misleading pronouncements they’ve spoken.

That’s where we leave them and their words. And then, we walk away.

copyright Barb Harwood

“The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom,
and humility comes before honor.” Proverbs 15:33

“All a man’s ways seem innocent to him,
but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Proverbs 16:2

“The LORD detests all the proud of heart.
Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.” Proverbs 16:5

“Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for;
through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil.” Proverbs 16:6

“When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD,
he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.” Proverbs 16:7

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

And Now, A Word on Facebook

The reason I’m not on social media such as Facebook and Instagram is because, for the most part, it’s not real.

Oh, the photos of where people live and travel—be they exotic, bucolic or uber-hipster-urban, are real. And the people in the photos are real.

It’s how the photos are selected, filtered and arranged that is suspect.

Often times, what looks good on film, looks good on Facebook, even if, in reality, it’s sheer boasting, exaggeration, delusion or folly.

These self-orchestrated filmstrips of people’s lives have a tendency to play with the minds of those posting, as well as those looking.

As a communications major in college, I studied, at length, Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase,

 “The medium is the message.” 

His slick proclamation makes so much more sense to me now, in the age of digital media, than it ever did back in the early 1980’s, when I first heard it!

The “form of a medium,” as Wikipedia explains his quote, “embeds itself in any message it would transmit or convey, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.”

Facebook, Instagram—any place where life can be staged or professionally photo shot—becomes the design studio of a person’s wished-for psyche or drummed up persona.

With photos, we can present ourselves in whatever light we want.

And when our moods don’t match the smiling face we’ve assured the world of, or someone else seems to be winning the “great life” competition, we begin to either doubt or hate ourselves for the discrepancy. We loathe others because surely, we convince ourselves, they experience no discrepancies, and they actually are the ever-so-cheerful souls that show up daily in their feeds.

People can take another, darker route as well. 

Those who love drama or devil’s-advocacy can have a ball on Facebook, toying more with their observer’s minds than their own. They go all “bad-A” and hope they are getting someone’s goat in doing so, or they pose as a disaffected punker while in actuality they work in IT and live as normally as the next person.

"Enough!" You doth protest. 

You love Facebook, and have no clue as to what I’m talking about! Great. Continue to share those pictures of kids and grandkids (the reason I so often hear people give for being on Facebook).

I hope you don’t mind my asking if those kids and grandkids gave their permission, and actually want, you to parade them to the world on your personal page? (that’s a whole other topic: are images of children and grandchildren the child’s private property which the adults in their life have co-opted—stolen—for that adult’s own purposes? My heart breaks for all of the children who are being used by parents for the parents’ own self-promotion on Facebook).

If all is good with your life on Facebook, I applaud you. Enjoy. If you are “yourself” on Facebook and don’t feel that it keeps you at arm’s length from even your closest pals, then don’t read another word.

But for those who want to stop Facebook, but so far haven’t been able to, and for those who don’t even know why they want to stop, but wish they could, perhaps these words will help clarify what might be creating your angst.

For the people I have talked to who were bothered by Facebook but not quite sure why, when they finally closed their accounts and removed themselves from it, life got instantly better. They realized they didn’t need to “keep in touch” or “see what was happening.” 

In fact, they were much more at peace not knowing.

They looked at their own motivations: why did I feel I needed to know what my kids were doing (or the neighbor, Aunt Mazie or old high school classmates)? 

Is it because my kids never talk to me, so this is the only way I can be in their life? Well, many parents are discovering that that one-way street isn’t very satisfying, nor is it a sign of maturity on their kids’ part.

If people value their relationships with friends and family, they’ll make an effort to relate to them beyond, and in the absence of, Facebook (and not need to quantify every interaction with friends and family on Facebook!)

Everything about Facebook is motivation (for those posting and those looking), and motivations are easy to check, especially if we have a standard against which to check them, and that is Christ. He will absolutely let us know where our true motivations lie, and if they are sinful or not.

The saddest thing with Facebook—sad because it is so unnecessary—is that people look to and experience it as actual reality. More often than not, it is instead an open-ended, subjective format in which what we see very often isn’t even remotely close to what’s really going on.

At some point, Facebook users risk losing sight of, and the beauty in, the authentic and genuine. They stunt themselves by never learning sincere, non-competitive interaction with others. They lose the concept of healthy boundaries.

Without this transparency and practice of one to one in-person communication, real life, and real people, will, over time, become unrecognizable, and eventually, fade away.

copyright Barb Harwood

Although I’m sure he wasn’t writing about social media, Tom Petty’s song Don’t Fade On Me sums up my take on the effects of social media:

Don’t Fade On Me by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell (partial lyrics)

I remember you so clearly
The first one through the door
I return to find you drifting
Too far from the shore

I remember feeling this way
You can lose it without knowing
You wake up and you don’t notice
Which way the wind is blowing

Don’t fade
Don’t fade on me...

...Was it love that took you under?
Or did you know too much?
Was it something you could picture?
But never could quite touch?

Don’t fade
Don’t fade on me.