Don’t Take This Personally


No one’s life has ever been made better by taking more things personally. 

With each gesture, each word or tone of voice that I choose to take as an affront to my worth or goodness I make myself a little more miserable and a little more insufferable.  That child who just rolled his eyes at me?  That behavior must be assaulted!  Because, after all, I don’t deserve such attitude (my thought is not that the child must be disciplined because his soul is in danger; I don’t care so much about that right now).  My spouse didn’t respond the way I’d hoped?  I can’t just overlook that!  Are you kidding me?  That’s an attack on my value and seriousness and weight as a person.  

Each and every little slight or difficulty that I opt to take personally is another handful of seeds that I’m sowing that yield awful, deadly weeds as time goes on.  Weeds that choke out contentment and gladness and good humor.  The more I take personally, the more I can expect to see personal bitterness and strained relationships in my life.  

Word to the unwise:  Take yourself a little less seriously.  Choose to overlook even real and intended insults.  And remember that according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you don’t deserve anyone’s respect.  Remember these things.  You’ll be happier and more pleasant to be around.  

Trust me.  I’m writing from less than 24 hours’ distance from doing this in the wrong direction.  Pride and self-importance made me a mean and hardened man for a few hours last night.  It was unpleasant.  

Take yourself less seriously.  Have less grievances.  Your blood pressure and your closest relationships will reflect the change sooner than you might think.  

A humble heart is more than ready to bear good fruit in place of bad weeds.  

Long, Long Shadows and A Light


Sin never stops where you think it will. 

Your repeated anger leads to latent bitterness which leads to relationship-destroying gossip.  

Your pornography-viewing leads to unmarital sex which leads to one parent raising a child in isolation which leads to crippling resentment.  

Unchecked sin always spreads, and kills where it does.  Like cancer.  

But one of the beautiful mercies of God is that He has given us a community where sin and its scars can be dealt with.  

The church.  


Churches are little cities of imperfect people, people who have been miraculously remade and who, by the grace of a very real and very compassionate God, continually confess and continually turn from the sins they still commit.  They know who they were (spiritually dead evil people), they know who they are (spiritually alive people being slowly made more and more like Jesus), and they know who God is (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who love to save sinners).  And because of these 3 things, these little collections of Gospel people are able to bring wicked and broken and scared and angry humans into their midst and minister to them.  Serve them.  Help to stop the bleeding in their lives.  

The world is home to all stripes of sinners who are in different stages of the pain or disarray or death that sin brings along as its trail.  And there is no one else who can get to the root of the chaos or who can apply supernatural salve to the wounds of all this sin like the church can.  She has been given the Good News that can heal and can save people from their evils, and from the evils that were committed against them.  She can rescue them from the worst of the violence and the trouble and the affliction of this world.  

Which is great, because this is not Mayberry.  This is a world of adultery and ulterior motives and hearts who will cast those they love aside for pleasure or power.  This is a world where sin has left some long, long shadows.  Sons deserted by their fathers, marriages in flames because of selfishness, grown men and women who don’t know how to be men or women.  And there in the heart of this world stands the church, giving the hope and the truth and the life that only she can give.  

This world needs her.  The single mothers and the heroin addicts and the workaholics and the shallowest of womanizers need her.  She is a city on a hill.  

She is where they can come for possibility.  For hope.  For adoption into a forever family.  She is where they can sojourn for all of the things that only Jesus can hand over.  

For everyone trapped in what sin has spoiled, churches are households of transforming mercy.  They are families of forgiveness.  They are little peoples of honest confession and honest love and honest Gospel.  

This is a world of long shadows.  Because sin never stops where it whispers it will.   Sin never keeps that promise.  

But the God of the Cross has given a light that can beat those shadows back.  His church holds that light in her hands, for any and all to come see.  

Poisonous Root

  

I have known people who have chronic physical pain, at least one with intense back and hip problems, who still smile and generally speak to neighbors and family with warmth. I know at least two people who have vicious relatives they have to interact with weekly and yet who still treat the offending family member with grace and relative cheer. They help to support and care for people who insult them and condescend them and gossip about them, and they, by and large, still live out their lives and help these family members with a measure of joy and optimism. I know a person who has been through almost constant financial hardships for at least the last fifteen years, and who still talks to strangers at the grocery store and his family at holiday meals about how his life is good and how he’s grateful to the Lord for getting him through some (often very long) difficult times. I knew happy kids at a Christian orphanage in Haiti, a place where no one had jobs or plumbing, and where none of the kids had parents or what we would think of as a home.  

I know other people who start to remove joy from a room after a few sentences of conversation. Who view life as unfair (chiefly as it relates to them), and view themselves as having been subjected to a particularly, uniquely tragic existence.  People who are offended very easily and who forgive with great difficulty.  They overlook almost no wrong that is done to them, but their eyes somehow miss their own poisonous tongues and violent, heart-held grudges.  

What’s the difference between these two groups of people?  Why does the first set remain pleasant and hopeful through pain and the other become bitter or despairing?

Generally speaking, the answer doesn’t lie in the circumstances around them, but the kind of heart and attitude within them.   

Now, I am often in that second group.  I’m repenting of it and seeking Jesus’ grace for change in it, but I still often am.  But I’m blessed in that two of the people closest to me are in the first group, and as I’ve watched them go through every bit the pain I have (and if I’m honest, more), I’ve been forced to acknowledge that the roots of my bitterness and anger are my own sinful motivations and idolatries and sense of entitlement. 

The good part is that healing and forgiveness and change can happen when turning from my sin and believing in Jesus’ grace for me have occurred.  Repentance and faith can lead to the Holy Spirit’s changing the darkest, angriest parts of my heart.  

If you think you might be in that second group, I’ll exhort you with the same words I need to hear:  Resist the temptation to blame your circumstances for your sin.  Their may be legitimately difficult circumstances around you, you may truly be being harmed by others, but the heart is where sin comes from.  

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 

1 John 1:9-10

There is no forgiveness without repentance, and almost as tragic is that there is no change, either.  To continue to lay the blame for your anger, grudge holding, or gossip on the doorstep of your circumstances is chain yourself to that way of life indefinitely.  

Bitterness, like all sin, kills.  Kills relationships, kills the heart, and can even kill the body.  And of course, in the end, after eating your earthly life from the inside out, kills your soul by sending you to Hell.

But praise be to God that Jesus gives life.  Full-throated, self-spending, unimaginable life.  

By grace through faith in Him alone, Jesus can work back the poison of the bitter person’s heart.  Purer blood has never been bled, and it’s offered free of charge to every sinner who asks in faith.  

Trade death for life.  

It hurts, having that poison spilled from your veins, but a lot less than dying.  

Plus the good part lasts forever.  

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.

Hebrews 12:15

30 Seconds On Grace

  
Christian, the grace you extend is the grace you really believe in. 

If you do not forgive the sins and mistakes of others, it is because, regardless of what you say, you do not approach God with the posture of one who has been forgiven of wrongdoing.  

Instead, you see yourself as more righteous than those who have wronged or inconvenienced you.  And so, unlike Jesus Christ, who truly was holier than those who wronged Him, you refuse to extend them mercy.  While Jesus spent Himself on His enemies’ forgiveness and rescue, you plant yourself on a throne of judgment and refuse to be gracious.  

What do you really believe about grace?  If you want to know how you really see yourself in relation to God, don’t look at your words.  

Look at how you forgive.  

And this could just as easily be a letter to myself.  

30 Seconds on Work

  

If work is about trying to prove yourself, you’ll never be really content or happy with it. But if it’s about diligently trying to bring beauty out of and order to creation? That’s something you can live with.  

In short, if your work is your identity, you’ll end up paralyzed or miserable. But if it’s a vocation, it can be rewarding and meaningful.

Work can’t bear the weight of your heart. It wasn’t meant to. 

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

From Genesis 2

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

From Matthew 11

60 Seconds of Christmas Cheer

  
I just want to take a second to celebrate and commend Jesus the Savior, whose entering this fractured world we commemorate on Christmas.  

If you feel like a failure, a hopeless or depressed mess of a man or woman, He can be Good News for you.  

If you have bought the lies materialism and worldly success sell, and now feel exhausted or disillusioned or hollow, He can be Good News for you.  

If you’re angry and don’t know why or how to fix it, He can be your way out.  

If you’re addicted to lust and bear all the scars from it, He can rescue you.  

Christmas is, or at least should be, a reminder of the most beautiful message ever given to humanity, one from God to us:  I am offering you redemption.  

One of my favorite parts in A Christmas Carol is when the Ghost of Christmas Past tells Scrooge why he has come to him.  

“Your reclamation.”  

He came for Scrooge’s reclamation.  It’s a beautiful echo of the Gospel of Christ, I think.  God has come to reclaim his people from their wickedness and spiritual death.  He has come to save them from His just wrath for all evil.  He was born as a human to be what they could not be and do what they could not do. 

I commend to you Jesus.  On December 25th, we celebrate His becoming what only an impossibly good God would be willing to become.  

How Idols Make You Waste Your Life

  
Something happened the other day, and all I could think about was how it affected me.
I stewed. I simmered. I was like a crock pot filled with sin and anger and replayed grievances. Wouldn’t want to open that lid, trust me; what I was cooking in there was not at all appetizing.

A set of circumstances played out in front of me, and without praising God for giving me another day of breath, without thinking deeply about what the other people around me might need or how I could serve them, without realizing how my own wickedness was the very moisture creating this thick, black cloud in my heart and mind, I thought. And thought. And thought.  

I revisited every way that I had been wronged. I kept chewing on the things that I needed that I wasn’t getting. All I wanted was _____________, I thought. That’s it! Come on, I’m not asking for much! Minute after minute after minute of self-centered, self-focused ingratitude.  

Can I tell you something from experience? The more you dwell on yourself, the less happy you’ll be. I’ll concede that it may not apply universally, but my yesterday and my Bible tell me it’s true in the way that proverbs are: Most of the time for most people.  

At any one moment in this 24 (or so) hour period, I could have stopped obsessing over what had happened to me and picked up my Bible and asked God to amaze me with who He is as I read about Him. Did you know God loves to startle His children with His own beauty? He will joyfully, tenderly give His overpowering Holy Spirit to those who ask in faith. The God of Jesus Christ loves to give good gifts to His kids, and the greatest gift in the universe is Himself. I could have taken a deep breath, laughed off how seriously I was taking myself, and said, “All right, God, I’m sorry. I apologize for thinking so, so much about myself and so little about you. Can you help me change that? I’m going to pick up your Word in faith, Father.” I could have.  

But I didn’t.  

So minute after minute became hour after hour. I went to bed angry and bitter and feeling wronged. That, of course, led to waking up with thick, palpable shame hanging over me as I threw the blankets off. That shame ended up bringing me to repentance, thankfully, later in the morning. But I had wasted hours of my life obsessing over myself and my grievances. I hadn’t praised my beautiful, all-satisfying Abba. I hadn’t been a joyful and forgiving husband, father, and friend (much) because I hadn’t meditated on my God and His Gospel. I had wasted a day on morbid, compulsive self-focus that could’ve been spent enjoying Jesus and caring for others. 

I hadn’t been joyful because I hadn’t meditated on the only thing that gives real joy: The sweet, awesome, breathtaking glory of Jesus Christ.   

The emotions of my mind and heart reveal what I’m worshiping. If I get bitter, angry, or despairing, I’m almost certainly worshiping an idol. Those are the emotions of a heart clutching and clawing for something that can be taken from it, a created thing rather than the Creator. I get bitter because I didn’t get the free time I worshiped. I get angry because I didn’t get the attention I idolized. I despair because I don’t see any way I’ll get my hands on the romantic affection or pay raise or recognition I’ve set all my hopes on. Negative emotions spring from worshiping idols because idols can decay and be stolen.  

But if I’m exuding peace, joy, faith, and above all love, I’m worshiping and finding my identity in the unchanging love of my Savior. Worshiping God never produces sinful emotions or sinful actions; worshiping idols always does. 

Now, if someone had told me all this while I was in the midst of my simmering yesterday, I would’ve either lashed out or I would’ve hated their guts quietly, internally. That’s what my idol-clutching, self-obsessed flesh would have reacted with. But once God’s grace softened my hands, once my fingers dropped from the idol that following morning, I’d been humbled to the point where I could (at least somewhat) honestly say, “Yeah, I need to love God more and my ____________ less. If I was satisfied by Him and in love with Him as much as He deserves, I wouldn’t be stewing, here.”

So, if this is you, don’t lose a day of your life like I did. There’s no guarantee this day won’t be your last. Don’t waste any more time stewing, thinking about the ways that things you’re worshiping were taken from you, or not given to you the way you wanted, or have never been given to you at all. Let the idols drop from your hands. Lift your eyes up from looking inside yourself. Stop simmering on all the ways you have been wronged. Instead of all that, ask God to amaze you with His glory, which will outshine all your favorite idols and can never be taken from you.  

It’s early in the day. Look to the Lord in faith. Make this one count.  

It’s a freeing and joyful thing to drop an idol and look to Jesus for meaning and identity, instead. The thing’ll tell you need it, but just put your fingers in your ears and let it fall to the floor.  

Idols always lie.