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The Boomerang

I never saw it coming from Bruce. He was a retired businessman who agreed to drive Pam and I from the conference center to the hotel room we would staying at for the night so we could preach at his church on Sunday morning. He walked with a limp and didn’t have much to say during the conference. He and his wife quickly volunteered to drive us so I expected they would be nice people but I didn’t think his words would become the focus of my week.
Over lunch, Bruce told me, “The most important lesson I have learned in life is ‘in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.’ (Matthew 7:2) I grew up in a home of rejection. It was the one thing I could count on from my parents. I spent too much of my adult life judging that others would do the same thing. I judged my wife as someone who would reject me so I kept my distance emotionally. I judged people I did business with as people who would reject me so I was either overly cautious with them or overeager to please them. Amazingly, they all seemed to reject me when I needed them the most. I insured they would do the very thing I wanted them not to do.”
My first thought when he finished was, “the judgments we put on people are like boomerangs that are guaranteed to come back to us.” A flood of examples flew through my mind:
• The spouse who is consistently complaining about the immaturity of the other seems to constantly get immature reactions.
• The child who is consistently accused of being irresponsible, frustrates her parents with ongoing irresponsibility.
• The friends who talk about how mean other people are seem to be surrounded by mean people.
• The leader who complains about the lack of initiative among the employees is confused by the fact that no one takes initiative.
• The individual who refuses to forgive can always find someone close by who is emotionally unhealthy.
• The person who is afraid of failure, rejection or, abandonment is usually in close contact with people who trigger the fear.
I am not advocating that we ignore reality because there are harmful people in the world and we need to learn to set healthy boundaries that allow for personal growth and protect the most important people in our lives. But, I am also determined to see the potential in the people I care about and to train myself to focus on what they can be rather than on the imperfections we all possess and must wrestle with.
I want to be surrounded by responsible, compassionate, forward-thinking, innovative people. I, therefore, need to judge the people in my life as responsible, compassionate, forward-thinking and innovative. As I help them see these traits in themselves, they will, likewise, see those same traits in me.
Let the boomerang fly!

The Power of Who

We all become like the people we spend time with. In a warning, the Bible states the principle as, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33) In an inspiring challenge, the Bible proclaims, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7) The principle is the same, “Who we hang around with affects who we become.”
This is one of the major themes of the book of Judges. In chapter 3, we are reminded that:
• Our relationships shape our spiritual convictions. “They [the Israelites] took their [previous inhabitants of Canaan] daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.” (v. 6) It has long been known that men are greatly influenced by the women in their lives. Even in “modern times” studies show that men tend to change their behavior when they are around women so that they become less competitive, gentler in their conversation and more careful about their attitudes and behaviors. Women, on the other hand, do not change their ways of interacting and behaving much when they are around males. For the nation of Israel, this meant that the men shifted to the spiritual heritage of their wives much more often than the wives were won over.
On a side note, this is one of the reasons men get so angry with women. They are incredibly influenced by the most important women in their lives and they get defensive when that influence doesn’t feel right. Too often men then overreact. It is not right for us men to do this but it is a common reaction. It would be better for us to calmly communicate and learn to negotiate effectively but history has shown that it is an advanced skill for most men.
On another side note, we need to keep proclaiming for the benefit of those who are not married that “Who” you choose has the potential to determine “What” you will believe.
• Our relationships shape our morals. “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.” (v. 7) The people of Israel didn’t set out to make God angry and make bad choices. They didn’t make it their goal to be rebellious or “do evil.” They simply failed to see the consequences of being intimate with people who didn’t share their convictions in life. We are certainly on the earth to be an influence for good. If we want to maintain that influence, we need to choose as our closest allies those who share our moral convictions. It has always been my goal to be friends with people who disagree with me but I am determined that my closest friends will hold tightly to the lifestyle choices I depend on.
• Our relationships shape our opportunities. “He raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them . . . So the land had peace for forty years.” (v. 9-11) The people did better simply because of the presence of Othniel. He was a leader. He had a clear vision of what the nation ought to do. He was solid in his convictions, steady in his morals and sold out to the mission. The rest of the people gained confidence from him and discovered a new way of life.
Lord, remind us today that who we choose to align our lives with will greatly determine what we are capable of in life.

I Can’t Believe I Said That

I was having a great time with Pam yesterday. We were laughing and getting caught up with one another as we shared stories of the week. Then, for some unknown reason, I blurted out something that was just really insensitive. It was one of those moments in life when you realize just a little too late that what you are saying is not going to accomplish anything good. I was stunned at myself because I wasn’t trying to be mean. There are times, to be sure, when my attitude is childish and I say things with a little bite in my tongue but this wasn’t one of them. I was enjoying Pam’s company and I wasn’t aware of anything that was bugging me.
Without hesitation, I followed up the insensitive announcement with, “I can’t believe I just said that. That was so insensitive. I obviously wasn’t thinking because I would never have planned to say what I just said.”
I looked at Pam to see how she was doing and I could tell she was a little stunned also, so I kept talking. “Really, Pam, I can’t believe I just said that. I don’t even believe the words that came out of my mouth. That was so weird. I didn’t even have time to reel them back in, they just blurted out like they had a mind of their own. Whoa, that was really insensitive.”
Fortunately, my rambling rescued the mood. What could have been a hurtful, lingering memory got us both laughing. Pam gave me the benefit of the doubt because I guess I have a long enough track record of sensitivity toward her and she accepts the principle that the tongue has a mind of its own and gets carried away sometimes.
It was a perfect example for me of James 3:2-10, “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check . . . the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark . . . It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell . . . With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
So, what exactly did I say to Pam that was so insensitive? Well, it wasn’t a good thing to say the first time and I am not foolish enough to repeat it. You will just have to imagine what it might have been based on your own experience.

It’s Personal

The most astounding thing to me about Christianity is that it’s personal. When Jesus invaded my life, he dealt with my heart and began directing my life as an individual. I have grown to discover that my life is part of a worldwide, history-wide plan but God guides me and you specifically to fulfill our parts of the puzzle. This is why some passages in the Bible stand out and become intensely personal.
1 John 4 is one of those passages for me. As I read it again this morning, I was struck by how much of this chapter has been an intricate part of my life. Verse 4 started it all, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” I had been reading the Bible after seeing the movie, “The Exorcist,” when I was sixteen years old. The movie shook me up because I heard it was based on something true and I couldn’t see much difference between me and the girl on the screen. The question that haunted me was, “If anything like that could happen to her, what would keep it from happening to me?” I hoped the Bible was going to have something for me and when I read, “. . .the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world,” the light went on for me. That night I asked Jesus to live within my heart and to guide my life.
Verse 7 then opened a new world for me, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” My mom was racked with various fears so we lived a pretty isolated life. We didn’t have family friends and there was a general distrust of people in my home. When I met Jesus and started attending a Bible study with other teenagers, I discovered a group of real friends who genuinely cared about one another and were solidly committed to each other. It was awesome.
Since meeting Jesus, I am amazed at how many times I have quoted verse 18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” I realize now this verse became important because of the fear I grew up around but it has grown to be a major theme in life. I respect God immensely but I am not afraid of Him because I know He loves me. I have had the privilege of introducing many people to my Savior as I have explained that they don’t need to be afraid of Him either. I have seen numerous individuals break through barriers in their lives as they have grasped the truth of God’s love and willingness to work on their behalf. Life is filled with the unknown for all of us but we can face it without fear when we are convinced that God loves us.
Finally, verse 19 is engraved on the inside of my wedding ring. Pam and I adopted this phrase as our motto from the earliest moments in our journey together, “We love because he first loved us.” We are both convinced we have the strength to love one another because we discovered the personal love of God in our hearts. He is bigger than our disappointments and greater than our irritations as His love renews our interest in one another year after year.
At times, I feel 1 John 4 was written for me. I know this is not entirely true because God has much bigger things going on than just my life but I am convinced He had me in mind when He led John to put these words on paper. What passage has become this personal in your journey?

Give and Take

Following God’s will is always risky because it is a supernatural journey that cannot be accomplished by human ingenuity or strength. That is why we call it a walk of faith. We take the risk of obeying even though we recognize it is impossible on our own. As a faithful partner, God gives the resources to actually do what He has asked us to do.
Daniel is yet another example of how this principle works. He and his friends took the risk of obeying God when it came to eating differently than the other men they were competing with. In response, “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.” (Daniel 1:17) God gave them what they needed to succeed. The implication was that their own abilities were not enough. They were going to be asked to do things that were beyond human intellect and strength. But, the answers were not out of reach because God was willing to give them the resources.
Daniel is an extreme example of the principle because he was chosen to change history but our challenges are no less remarkable. We are all asked, on a daily basis, to do things that are beyond our human capabilities. Galatians 5 spells this out for us. “Stand firm.” (v. 1) “Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh.” (v. 13) “Serve one another humbly in love.” (v. 13) “You, my brothers and sister, were called to be free.” (v. 13) “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (v. 14) I don’t know about you but, when I try to do these do things out of sheer will, I am sporadically successful. I can do them for a little while but then I either lose focus, lose the will or get so frustrated with the people I am trying to serve that I give up.
Fortunately, God is willing to give the resources. “Walk by the Spirit . . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (v. 16, 22, 23) As I take the risk to stand, serve, and love freely (without conditions or self-imposed expectations) God gives me the personal character and resolve I need to stay the course and pull it off.
I need to be reminded of this often. Intellectually, I know I live in a world of brokenness but I keep forgetting that when it comes to doing business and interacting with people. Getting business done is challenging with seemingly endless obstacles to overcome. Caring about people just seems to expose their weaknesses and stubbornness. I know this but I still expect it to be different. When I am focused on my abilities, I want people to be easier to deal with and business to fall together with less effort. As a result, it is always a choice of faith to stand with people, serve them humbly and love them despite their imperfections. I am just thankful that the Holy Spirit is committed to give me what I need to stay in the race.
Jesus, thank you for being an active partner in life who gives.

Figuring Out Father

A friend recently asked me, “If your father wasn’t a good role model, is it hard to figure out how to relate to God as your Heavenly Father?” It is such a good question because we all assume God is kind of like our dads. Intellectually, we know that He is perfect, wise and loving but our emotions don’t always listen to our minds. We spent our most formative years adjusting to our dads so our impression of what it means to be a father is ingrained in our instincts. If your dad was a solid example, this is good news. Your understanding of God as your Heavenly Father will be healthy, dependable and encouraging. If, however, your dad was unpredictable, severely inconsistent, uninvolved or non-existent, you have a lot to overcome.
This question was hovering in my mind when I read Ephesians 5:17-20 today. I noticed in this passage a number of truths about God as our Dad that I want to hold onto and make instinctive:
• He wants us to find and fulfill our unique contribution to life. “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” God has a will and it includes us. His will is mature, focused and effective. That is why the opposite of it is referred to as foolishness. God knows who you are and what you were designed for. As a faithful Father, He is working to help you discover your purpose.
• He wants us to be energetic and powerful. “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” When someone is under the influence of alcohol, he says things he wouldn’t normally say, does things he wouldn’t normally do and has a boldness about him that is not characteristic of his ordinary life. In the same way, the Holy Spirit was put in us by our Father to give us words, actions and attitudes that can influence others.
• He wants us to have healthy relationships. The natural result of being under the influence of the Holy Spirit is we speak “to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” And we will “sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” This doesn’t mean we walk around singing all the time and answering everyone with music. It does mean we will naturally encourage others to grow and we will seek to include Jesus in our lives in a daily, natural way.
• He wants us to have a positive, grateful attitude. “. . . always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Zig Ziglar is famous for saying, “A positive attitude will not allow you to everything. But a positive attitude will allow you to do everything better than a negative attitude will.”
These are things all of our dads ought to have equipped us for in life. Some of you reading this can rejoice because your dad did that for you. Others of you just feel a void. We can all move forward from here, however. We can learn from God’s word the truth about God as our Father and we can help the next generation get a head start.

Objectively Subjective

“My eighteen year old daughter asked me, ‘How can I tell if a young man I am interested in is the man I ought to marry?’ What would you tell her?” I was curious to know how serious the relationship was so I hesitated in answering. It was quite possible the daughter was in an unhealthy relationship and her dad was looking for ammunition to get her away from a current young man. It was also possible this was a sincere question from an emerging young lady. This concerned dad must have seen what he thought was confusion on my part because he asked me, “Is there even an answer to the question or am I just on my own to figure it out?”
I shared with him that there are both objective and subjective factors to consider. On the objective side, there are character issues to look at. I encouraged him to have his daughter make a list of the traits she was looking for in a man she would consider spending her life with. There are numerous passages in the Bible that discuss the importance of personal character. Ephesians 5 is one such passage that encourages each of us to pursue the following convictions:
• Persistent love. “Walk in the ways of love, just as Christ loved us.” (v. 2) This is the kind of love that willingly sacrifices and looks out for the best interests of others. It is not, “I love because I want something from you.” It is, “I love because that is who I am.”
• Moral excellence. “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.” (v. 3) People who can be trusted for a lifetime have the powerful passions of their life under control. It is not that we want our desires and drive in life numbed. We just want to have the forces of our life focused on healthy, encouraging, productive activities rather than selfish gratification.
• Ethical encouragement. “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” (v. 4) The Holy Spirit who is in us has a positive attitude and looks for ways to build others up. Words are either powerful allies or destructive weapons and we must each decide how we are going use them.
• Committed to truth. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” (v. 8 ) When we meet Jesus, we encounter the source of truth and we get exposed to everything that is true about life. If we are going to be consistent in our relationship with Him, we will seek to apply truth to our lives on a regular basis.
This is a short list of the type of character God is trying to build in us. The list can certainly get so long that no one can ever measure up, but it is helpful to identify key character traits that make for healthy relationships. Then ask the questions, “Am I growing in these areas myself?” and “Am I willing to wait for someone who is also growing in these areas?”
The pursuit doesn’t stop with the objective list, however. We all have subjective preferences that include personality, body type, sense of humor, sense of purpose, career pursuit and social interest. I encourage young people to boldly identify these subjective preferences because they are a big part of what attracts us to other people. When the objective list and the subjective list converge in a relationship, we have strong confidence it has what it takes to build a life together. Of course, there are no 100 percent guarantees in any relationship because we are confronted with significant decisions every year that have the power to alter our lives. It is, however, likely that people of solid character who are attracted to each other for good reasons are going to decide to work through the issues of life together rather than use them against each other.
God, give us both objective and subjective wisdom in our relational choices.