Thursday, December 31, 2015

Monday, December 21, 2015

Jesus Is Our Peace


by Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)

My Soul, there is a country
    Afar beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
    All skilful in the wars;
There, above noise and danger
    Sweet Peace sits, crown'd with smiles,
And One born in a manger
    Commands the beauteous files. 
He is thy gracious friend
    And (O my Soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend, 
    To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
    There grows the flow'r of peace,
The rose that cannot wither,
    Thy fortress, and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges,
    For none can thee secure,
But One, who never changes,
    Thy God, thy life, thy cure.

"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." Ephesians 2:14-18

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Decide to Relinquish Bitterness

Relinquish is defined as “voluntarily cease to keep or claim; give up.”

Does that sound like something we can make up our minds to do? Yes.

Do we need to feel like doing it before we can decide to do it? No.

We can relinquish bitterness even if we don’t feel like it. 

Why? Because God tells us to. And when we get to the point in life where the only purpose is to please Him, we do what He would have us do through the power and name of Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit in us.

Bitterness and forgiveness are linked. 

Some might say that I have not truly forgiven someone if I am still bitter. But I believe that bitterness is an aspect of hurt that can remain even after we forgive. If we forgive, but don’t take steps to deal with and get beyond the hurt, we will harbor bitterness. 

And bitterness takes up crucial space in our hearts and minds that Christian maturity is waiting to occupy.

Many of us hang on to bitterness like a security blanket. 

I believe this is because we are afraid of being doormats. We are afraid of not being respected. We are afraid of "it" (whatever "it" is) happening to us again. So we cover ourselves in the Teflon of bitterness. 

But let me ask: Does this Teflon truly protect us? Since we’ve been wearing it, has all hurt gone away? Has everyone acted respectfully towards us? Has our Teflon brought about the desired interactions with people? Has it flooded our inbox with apologies from others?

See, we have this warped idea that protecting ourselves with the nursing of old wounds will ensure that we are never hurt again. But that doesn’t work. While I’m over here, obsessing about “that one time,” here comes yet another "time" to whack me alongside the head. Here comes "Mr. or Mrs. Gets-Under-My-Skin" with their usual antics. They haven’t seemed to notice my bitterness. Or maybe my bitterness has made their antics even worse! 

The point is, now bitterness is piling on with every interaction. And we go home and stew. And we say, “Lord, I forgive him or her.” But then we hurt. And that’s where we get stuck: in the hurt.

Lou Priolo, in his short, 60-page booklet titled, Bitterness: The Root That Pollutes, writes:

“When you forgive, you are promising to no longer hold your offender’s trespasses against him. You are also promising to impute your forgiveness to him (much like Christ imputed His righteousness to you when you became a Christian)...When you promise not to impute your offender’s trespasses against him, you are promising to no longer charge him for what he has done. This means you are not going to allow yourself to dwell on the offense. You will refuse to cultivate those seeds of hurt, but rather will immediately pluck them out of the soil of your heart. You will relinquish all “rights” to get even.
When you promise to impute your forgiveness, you credit your offender’s account with your forgiveness, much like Christ credited your heavenly account with His righteousness. You make every effort to think well of him, to pray for him, and to speak well of him, if possible. This promise, to some extent, can be made in the form of a personal commitment in your heart even if your offender does not acknowledge his sins to you. This is what is sometimes referred to as “forgiving someone in your heart.” (see Mark 11:25).

That, to me, is the compelling reason to forgive and to move on from the hurt: because Christ forgives us every time we sin, when we repent; because He took upon Himself the Cross, in much pain and agony, in order to forgive us. To be sure, though our pain may be great, it compares nothing to what Christ experienced.

When I remember my own sin against others (which is always against God too), and the pain I myself have inflicted, I wonder how I could ever harbor a grudge, nurse a wound, or form a hardened heart. As a mom, I have sinned. As a wife, I have sinned. As a daughter, I have sinned. Am I holding others to a standard I myself have not yet attained?

Lest we think, “Yeah, do I protect myself going forward?” Lou Priolo, in his book, addresses this:

“Forgiveness is not the same as trust. If someone sins against you, it is incumbent upon you as a Christian to forgive that person as you have been forgiven by God in Christ (cf. Matt. 18:21-35). However, it is incumbent upon that person to earn back the trust he lost as a result of his sin. Forgiveness should be immediate. Trust may take time (see Matt. 25:14-31; Luke 16:10-12). But please be warned: to withhold trust after it has been earned is unloving. The Bible says that ‘love believes all things’ (1 Cor. 13:7). This means that if we love someone, in the absence of hard evidence to the contrary, we will put the best possible interpretation on what he does—in this case, believing that the fruit of repentance he has brought forth is genuine. And whether or not you are able to quickly trust your offender, you must always trust God to work through him and to protect you from danger.”

If the person is not a believing Christian, pray that God would get their attention. I always say, you can’t expect non-Christians to act like Christians. And sadly, due to our fallen-ness, even Christians will not always act like Christians.

Lou Priolo assures us that the answer to all of this is to trust God: with our hurt (trust that He sees it and can heal it); and our future protection (to overcome evil with good). 

Nothing escapes God. Others may behave poorly and unfairly. God sees that. However, God calls us, His children, to a higher standard: the standard spelled out in His Word and prompted by the Holy Spirit in us. We need to set our radio dial to God, not the world and people around us, and tune in to Him alone. Only then can we be sure that, come what may, we are not part of the problem. And bitterness will not take root.

copyright Barb Harwood

"For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Ephesians 4:29-32

"Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. Hebrews 12:14-15

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Instagram Husband

The husband in this video could be anyone: wife, son, daughter, boy-or-girlfriend

One person's response to watching this was that first they laughed, but then they cried. Nothing like humor to hit a point home (please forgive the use of one expletive). 

What I wonder about most is the children who are the constant focus of Facebook write-ups and Instagram photo-shoots. Have we asked their permission? And what is the developmental result of constantly being on stage for mom or dad, not to mention the wider world? Where has all the privacy gone?

Maybe this year, we bring back the old film camera, and when the 12 or 36 exposures are used up, we put the camera away and live out what will become future memories, not stage them. And they will be our very own memories: intimate, close, meaningful to us, and meant for us, not the world. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Driven by Indignation?

Here is a great quote from author Tom Wolfe that I believe would be beneficial to keep in mind as we listen to, and discuss, political candidates this season:

     "I make a distinction between intellectuals and people of intellectual achievement...
      An intellectual feeds on indignation and really can't get by without it...An intellectual is a person who is knowledgeable in one field but speaks out only in others." Tom Wolfe

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Natural Man vs. Supernatural God

Are you disgusted with how you act at times? Are you embarrassed over words you’ve spoken, or how your emotions invade like an alien force, causing you to become a person you later regret? 

And even though you are aware of missteps, does it seem that, as time goes on, you only become more defensive and vindictive? Do you feel your heart hardening and yet continue to believe you are a compassionate and loving individual? Do you let yourself off the hook by convincing yourself, “It’s only natural for me to be this way”?

It’s true that it is completely natural to act, think and behave as described. I don’t condemn anyone for an honest admission that they raised their hand at one or more of the above. Oftentimes, the ugly self that seems to come out of nowhere is a result of inner jealousy, rivalry, competitiveness, animosity, dislike of others, frustration and a belief that we can always be in control.

I don’t condemn anyone for finding themself thus; I don’t have to. When we are caught in this state, which I call naturalness, we are already condemned! Our misery and lack of peace confirm it.

And we will continue to condemn ourselves when we allow our natural man/woman to take over, thinking it to be this grand human experience!

God, on the other hand, is Supernatural.

Super, meaning above, beyond, highest and totally superior to and outside of the natural. So, while God created the flowers, and “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1), God is not IN the flowers. God is not a flower. Rather, the flower points to God. God is glorified via the flower, which He alone created.

Everything originates through God (Genesis, Nehemiah 9:6 and Hebrews 1:1-2, along with many other verses, including several in Psalms and Isaiah) and all of creation lives in a natural state. 

By natural, I mean that, just like the flowers, people are created by God, but are not God. When we believe in Christ, His Holy Spirit enters us, but that does not make us God

The Bible calls the Holy Spirit an “advocate” and “Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17, 26; John 16:7; John 15:26). This Spirit is sent by God, not us, and answers to God, not us. We maintain a natural state even after salvation, in that we are not God.

Now, this will only make sense if we actually have the Spirit inside of us to reveal this truth to us: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

This is how we, as natural beings, can overcome our natural state: through the Spirit of Christ who lives in us when we bow to Him as Lord and Savior.

This is how we “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and this is how we add to our faith “goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (2 Peter 1:5-7).

This is how we live Supernatural lives: through “His divine power” that “has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who has called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

This is how we stop living according to our nature and start living according to the divine power within us.

copyright Barb Harwood

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Being Right With God

There is no greater feeling in the world than being right with God. And this isn’t a one-time deal. It’s intentionally ongoing, every moment.

We do it by answering to Him alone: when someone makes a sarcastic and hurtful remark, when headlines scare us, when politics threaten to dominate, when a relationship is challenged and charged with emotion, when negativity wants to take all of this, we say,

 “I stand in the love of Christ and shall not be moved. I will not cave in to the world or my perceived right to be hurt or offended. I will not cave in to anger or holding a grudge. I will answer to God and not myself or man. I will maintain a clear conscience of being in His will, come what may. His estimation of the condition of my heart is all that matters. It is this estimation, coming from Him alone, that saves me from darkness within.”

copyright Barb Harwood

“Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” Romans 13:13-14

Monday, November 23, 2015

Affirmation Affliction

Early in my marriage, and for more than 20 years into it, my criticisms of my husband and he of me were not legitimate because they originated from a place of self-centeredness (the same is true for our parenting). Even if the criticism was of an obvious behavior, like not keeping the house clean, the criticism arose from a place of personal displeasure and not from an other-centered desire for the well being and maturing of the spouse.

Only when God, through the ongoing process of His Word, Holy Spirit and the authority and saving grace of Jesus Christ, showed me that I was allowing the little world I lived in to revolve around me in every way, could I begin replacing my perspective with the Triune God’s.

When we begin to unwrap the layers upon layers of why things bother us, or why people frustrate us, or why some people do one thing and it drives us crazy, but another person—or even I—do the same thing and it doesn’t, we begin to see that our take on things, left to itself, leads to tension.

A major culprit in all of this is our incessant need for affirmation, which is a rampant form of pride. We feel that we need to affirm our rights, unmet needs, goals, hopes and opinions. And we need to have others affirm us through reading our minds, understanding us, always saying the right thing to us, never stepping on our toes, handling us gently, knowing our preferences and, especially, meeting our physical needs and emotional neediness.

However, much of what we call “affirmation” is merely appeasement, enabling and tolerating. Is that what we want? To be enabled, appeased and tolerated? That is often the “affirmation” we receive for constantly affirming ourselves vocally in our conversations, actions and attitudes. It is a vicious cycle: I outwardly affirm myself in hopes that I strong-arm the affirmation I desire back from others. What a way to live.

Affirmation, in its holy and right state, is of God, from Him and through Him. He will never affirm self-centeredness. And He will give us all the time in the world to come to the epiphany that self-promotion and self-satisfaction is exactly what we have been trying to obtain!

We need to get it though our head—and to our heart—once and for all that only God can affirm and He will only affirm what is in His will to affirm. This is what sets us free from the neediness of our own, and others, affirmation. This is what allows us to rest completely in Him, and not in ourselves or others.

How do we get there? It can be a complicated process, and an ongoing one at that. Yet it always comes down to how much time in honest reflection—in total openness to God’s estimation of us—we are willing to commit, always and only before God. Past and present feedback from others may or may not be helpful. In every moment we stand before and answer to God, and He will never give His peace where it isn’t. So we check our hearts, which can be deceitful beyond measure, constantly with Him.

And whatever God affirms—through His Word, Holy Spirit and Christ—we go with. And whatever He doesn’t, we don’t.

copyright Barb Harwood

“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10